Tag Archives: Mog

Bugging out

Around mid-March, Marc Pigeon arrived in camp. George Krois and Earl Lozo were already there. John Juke arrived not long after. As I was cleaning out my kit from the helicopter, Jean-Marc walked up and asked if he could keep my compass, map and signal mirror. I was happy to let Marc have the compass and Michelin map, but I kept the mirror. The Silva Ranger compass had a mirror attached to the lid and he could use it for signaling if needed.

Caravan

There would be no more desert caravans in my life.

I had done my agreed-upon time, and I would now be heading home, via Nairobi, Amsterdam and London. I was in a good mood when I climbed aboard the Somali Air DC-3 heading south to Mog. A couple of days later I was headed to Nairobi, and then onto an East African Airways flight north.

I spent a little time in Amsterdam chasing Dutch girls riding bicycles, but it was too cool and rainy after my time spent near the equator. I was chilled the entire time. I left for London but the weather there obviously wasn’t any better.

I walked around London seeing the sights and generally doing the tourist thing. On a couple of occasions I stopped to ask people for directions, but I gave that up when I discovered that no one out in the streets actually spoke any English. I can’t begin to think what it’s like in London today, but I can’t help imagining that there isn’t a single soul residing there who speaks English now.

To make matters worse while in London, when I finally met the native varieties who could speak English, every damned one of them made an automatic assumption that I was American. It goes without saying that pissed me off to no end. Finally I got tired of explaining, gave up and agreed wholeheartedly with the stupid bastards each time it was mentioned. By the time I left that miserable island in the middle of nowhere I had professed to be a resident of every American city the silly buggers put me in.

My taxi-ride to the airport sums up my London experiences. At about the halfway mark on the way to Heathrow, one of the rear tires came off the axle and went rolling down the highway in front of the cab. I considered it a perfect conclusion to my stay in the city.

After arriving back in Canada, I did my check ride and headed off on a contract with Manitoba Hydro at Conawapa.

John Juke left us in 2011.

Ass-kicking not allowed

We had been down in Mog on an R&R for four or five days. When we returned to camp we learned that one of Conoco’s agents, Bob Johnston, a tall gangly young guy, had been removed from the camp and sent packing.

It seems that some time after we all departed for the bright lights of the big city, the Muslim contingent of the camp – which was obviously substantial – had set up a prayer circle in front of Bob’s tent. It wasn’t so much the prayer circle that annoyed Bob, however. What bothered him the most was the human alarm clock that was wailing in front of his tent every morning as regular as sunrise.

To me, it appeared as though the camp’s Muslims had it in for Bob. And true, Bob’s manner could be just a tad obnoxious and abrasive at times. This time, he should have been smart enough to admit defeat and have the boys move his tent to a more distant and quiet location, but that wasn’t Bob.

Finally he had enough, and one morning the over-exuberant Bob got out of bed, put on his boots and kicked the praying ass of every man that was bent over in front of his tent. Needless to say, even in 1975, Bob’s ability to kick Muslim ass went over like a lead balloon.

Conoco played it smart and hustled his ass out of the country post haste. Considering that at the end of January ten religious sheikhs had been lined up against a wall and shot [1] by the Somali government for religious interference, I figure Bob got off pretty light in the punishment department.

We never saw him again.

[1] Political Islam in Somalia, Georg-Sebastian Holzer, p.24.

R&R Mogadishu

Thank you, Sammy

I have Sammy Pollock to thank for cluing me in about Muslims. Sammy was one of Viking Helicopter’s Ottawa engineers, an old Africa hand who had spent many years on the continent. After he heard that I was heading to the Dark Continent, he pulled me aside and made me memorize a phrase [1] that stood me in good stead throughout my stay. I will be forever grateful to Sammy for doing that for me.

We love you good time

While in Mogadishu I always tried to stay at the Hotel Juba. It was pretty classy for its time, and the best place in town in 1975. The older hotels and their lobbies – both inside and out – were filled with khat-chewing layabouts, and at the time I wouldn’t have given a nickel for a room in any of them. Although, there was this one time…

Overlooking the grounds of the Hotel Juba with pool and patio. Not so bad in 1975 after coming into town for a little R&R.

Overlooking the grounds of the Hotel Juba with pool and patio. Not so bad in 1975 after coming into town for a little R&R. The pool was empty because of the prolonged drought at the time.

Jean-Marc and I ended up in Mog looking for a little relaxation. We took up residence on the bar stools of this one noisy den of iniquity because it appeared to have the best-looking women – but then, that was all relative to how drunk we became. The bars served liquor to westerners, but it was forbidden for anyone else. Of course, we both ended up shitfaced, and the Muslim bar-girls, who were drinking “coka” (Coca-Cola), were stone cold sober. All the time.

After turning down several of the uglier girls (which, given the nature of the beast, was pretty hard to tell in the dark bar) we settled on a couple of beauties who managed to speak better inglese than the others. In blackest night we ended up escorting our two favourite b-girls to their – how shall I say this – home adventure palace. After duly forking over the required shillings, we ended up in side-by-side rooms. Needless to say, the walls at best were paper thin, and each of us could hear what the other was saying, and doing.

After a suitable interlude, I could hear a man laughing, and then this girl’s voice saying, “Mama-mia, I don’t suck. I’m Muslim!”

Well damned if I didn’t almost fall out of bed laughing my ass off.

I’ve often wished Marc was still with us so that I could tell that story and get his reaction one more time. Unfortunately, he departed this earth a number of years later while flying in British Columbia.

Ed meets the Canadian Ambassador to Kenya in Mog

One of the incidents I had completely forgotten about occurred in Mog while we were all on an R&R. Some of the boys had gotten off of the beaten path one night and ended up wandering around Mog on foot in a bit of a fog early in the a.m.

Ed Pucci had this Team Canada hockey jersey that he wore on special occasions. That morning, the Canadian Ambassador to Kenya happened to be on tour in his limo. When he recognized the jersey, he had his driver pull over to the side of the road and accosted Ed and the boys and had them regale him with their tale of why they were in-country.

Small world.

Sadly, Ed Pucci and his sense of humour is no longer with us.

The benefits of clan warfare

Here’s the Hotel Juba today, from a satellite shot. Everything showing in the picture above is gone, except for the main building. If you zoom out, at the bottom of the shot even the residences across the street (see photo, above) have been destroyed. It’s such a shame. What a great way to advertise the benefits of clan warfare and Muslim extremism. As if the country wasn’t poor enough, now it’s completely broke, and broken, and I doubt that it will ever return to be even a shadow of its former self.

The benefits of clan warfare? None.

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Recent satellite view of the Hotel Juba grounds

The Hotel Juba today, wracked by gunfire and RPG attacks. The only rooms available are out front under tents.

The Hotel Juba today, wracked by gunfire and RPG attacks. The only rooms available are out front under tents.

[1] Right, Sammy’s phrase.

Salam ala’am alaikum, salam alaikum salam.

It worked every time I needed it to get my drunk ass out of a jam while I was wandering around a dark alley looking for my hotel – and believe me, I ended up in some very dark alleys. Whether it was a citizen; a police officer; a woman; every time I greeted a Muslim with that phrase, they took me wherever I needed to be, safely and securely. Thanks again, Sammy.

I wonder if that phrase would work today. Back to top

Flight delayed

Somali mapOur DC-3 captain had delayed our takeoff for Mogadishu as long as he could, and once airborne was now balking at continuing the flight to the capital city. Since we couldn’t possibly arrive in Mog before curfew and airport lockdown, we were forced to land at Galkayo for the night. Thanks to the co-pilot, we later discovered that the Captain had a girlfriend in Galkayo.

Our R&R expedition to the capital city was delayed.

No problem.

Alcohol is forbidden in many Muslim countries, but we had a smuggled bottle or two of rum with which to drown our sorrows. We looked for a restaurant that looked reasonably clean. Eventually we found one that met our criteria, and after a lengthy discussion fueled by copious quantities of rum, we all decided to order spaghetti because it had to be boiled.

During the course of the evening festivities some of us decided that we should hire a vehicle and driver to take us south to Mogadishu, an overland distance of about 600 kilometers as the crow flies. Fortunately, saner heads prevailed – probably because we were out of rum – and we decided to find local accommodation.

A hotel for goats

The hotel we finally found that night was something else. The sheet (yes, there was only one) was a filthy gray. There were no doors on the rooms, nor was there glass in the windows. Thus, each of us had our own open-aired room.

Sometime during my drunken slumber I was awakened by something, unsure about what it might be. When I finally came to, I discovered that a goat had wandered into my room and was licking my toes! My feet needed a bath, but I was more inclined to a shower. The goat must have turned up his nose at my sandals on the floor.

The Somali Air DC-3 got us into Mog the next day, only slightly hung over but none the worse for our overnight adventure.

Miles and miles of sandy coastline

Miles and miles of sandy beach. This continues up and down for almost the entire length of Somalia's Indian Ocean coastline. Every ten days or so we'd fly the 20 or 30 minutes east for a little R&R along the coast.

Gitanes and a DC-3

The Hotel Juba, Mogadishu, in better days

The Hotel Juba, Mogadishu, in better days. Image from a postcard.

In Nairobi, my visa finally came through and now I was on a Somali Airlines 737 bound for Mogadishu, or “Mog” as it’s known. I arrived on a Thursday and found a taxi to the Hotel Juba, named for the river which flows far to the west of the city. I flipped on the breaker and went out to find something to eat while the water got hot.

Later, a Friday-morning phone call to the American Embassy put me in contact with Conoco in the city, and I was entertained for a day before I was flown out to the desert camp with a load of supplies the next day, Saturday.

The DC-3 swept in low over the desert sand on its final approach to the Conoco airstrip. [1] I looked out the window for any sign of life and saw none. Finally I braced myself for the bumpy landing I knew was coming. I had been told that Somali military flight crews weren’t known for their abilities, and although the DC-3 is very forgiving and the sandy dunes soft, I was happy to finally bump onto the desert tarmac and taxi to nowhere.

I helped the pilots offload in the bright light of early morning and then watched as they climbed back aboard the airplane. Moments later, after both radial engines had coughed to life in a cloud of blue smoke, the DC-3 was pointed down the runway and lifted off through a turmoil of sand and dust. I watched as it turned south, and only for a moment wondered what I had gotten myself into.

The gypsy women of Gitanes fame

The gypsy women of Gitanes fame

It was still early, but I arranged bags and boxes into some semblance of shade against the near-equatorial sun, preparing myself in the event of a long wait. At the time I didn’t know that the camp was only 4k to the southwest of the strip, since I hadn’t seen it looking out the window on the approach.

I had acquired a Gitanes habit for the strong-flavoured cigarettes with the distinct aroma. The fact that they were filterless didn’t help. Not to be outdone by the smoke and dust of the departing DC-3, I lit one, inhaled, coughed and hunkered down.

Half an hour later I was picked up and flown to the base camp by one of the company helicopters flown by a contract pilot whose name I can’t remember now. We landed in a cloud of dust and dirt and sand. Now I know why our main and tail rotor blades were lasting only a couple of hundred hours max, I thought to myself.

Base camp

Conoco base camp – Somalia 1975

The base camp was a row of dark green tents, with a smaller complement of bleached gray tents for the flight and maintenance crews. The whole camp looked better from the air than the ground, but I figured that it would end up being just like home for the duration – and in fact it turned out to be a reasonably good camp.

I grabbed my duffel from the back of the 500 and wandered over to what looked like the cook tent and introduced myself to the party chief. After a cup of coffee he led me to my tent – four-sided, walled, with a camp bed and mattress, a nightstand and a washstand. I stowed my gear and wandered out to the helipad to take at look at the equipment that I’d be flying.

[1] Here’s a link to both the strip and the 1975 campsite 4 kilometers southwest via satellite. I didn’t know it at the time, but the camp would turn out to be pretty comfortable. Back to top