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June 17, 2011 / calebdresser


It was Friday evening, and I was reading a book about African history on the roof of the hospital. It had become my habit to go up to the roof and let the tumult of the day fade with the last of the light. The sun was setting into a looming mountain of clouds, leaving a crown of sun-streaks hanging in the air over the capital of a country that doesn’t exist. In a land without water, nature’s recognition of sovereignty seemed as valuable as that of any politician, and I smiled at the clouds I hoped would bring a thundering rain later in the night.

I was finishing a passage on clan warfare in Nigeria when I heard the distant report of a rifle. I looked up. The familiar assemblage of single-story houses and broken concrete walls and rocky, sand-choked lanes stretched off toward the base of a rocky escarpment topped with a radio tower to the southwest. I slid down and crouched behind a low wall, more because I knew my mother would want me to than out of any real sense of danger. The sound had been indistinct, and I wondered if it might have been fireworks. I waited. Cigarette stubs blew in little circles on the chipped concrete roof, bouncing against my shoes. The sound of a second report came down the wind, followed by two more in quick succession.

The shooting was far away, somewhere to the west or south-west. It sounded controlled, disciplined – the shots of a professional soldier at a rifle range, perhaps, or a father teaching his son to shoot. That was one voice, the voice that listened to my Somali friends, the voice that had heard them explain how the judicious leadership of clan elders and national politicians had virtually eliminated violence from Hargeisa. There was another voice, though, a voice planted somewhere in the back of my mind by a fear-mongering American media. The second voice spoke of an angry man speaking angry words and emphasizing each point with gunshot.

From the cover of an angle in the wall, I peered down to the street outside the hospital. A donkey pulling a forty-gallon drum filled with drinking water trotted past. A clot of men lounged beside a khat stall, chewing with the relaxed familiarity of the cows on a friend’s farm in New Hampshire. Women sat by the road with little piles of fruit spread out on blankets and pieces of folded plastic. They had nothing to fear.

In the end, I decided to finish my reading. If I went downstairs to hide in my room, I would concede a symbolic, unnecessary victory to an enemy I had never met. Terrorism only works if people are terrified. The shooting was far away, and I had no real reason to be concerned, other than the ever-present fact that I was an American in the Horn of Africa.

I settled myself on a concrete ledge that ran across the length of the roof. I was invisible from the street and the surrounding hills, my only view the magnificently illuminated clouds of sunset. At my back was a thick wall of concrete blocks. I read the rest of the chapter and part of the next. Shots echoed through the cool air. The pages were crisp and smooth in my hands.


One Comment

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  1. leighandbrian / Jun 18 2011 12:43 pm

    Awesome bog posts, kale! It is great to hear some of the things that you are doing on your trip! It sounds like an absolutely amazing experience!! can’t wait to hear more… 🙂 -lk

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