The Foreign Policy web site has a photo essay on Mogadishu, Somalia, from the early 20th century to the 1960s, a “peek into the ‘pleasant’ colonial past of the world’s most dangerous city.” I lived in Mogadishu as a boy in the 1960s, on two separate occasions for a total of a year-and-a-half (the first time my father was doing academic research there—he was a political science specialist of the horn of Africa—, the second time he was director of the US Peace Corps in Somalia). Mogadishu was a pleasant city indeed—I have many memories of it—and more interesting architecturally than any African capital nowadays, at least of the ten or so I have visited in recent years. And the beach was great. My family enjoyed living there and we were quite affected by the destruction of the city and country over the past two decades. My mother, now 81, has written a book of her memories of Mogadishu and with photos, which will be published soon. I’ll put up a link for it when it’s out.
The above photo is a post card my father sent to my sister and me in 1963, and which I’ve had up in my study for years. We were with my mother in India while my father had gone ahead to Mogadishu to find a place to live. Here’s what he wrote
This is a picture of downtown Mogadishu. It is a very small city. Only 90,000 people. Yesterday I went out of the city and saw wild baboons and camels. You can also see wild giraffe and elephants if you go 100 miles to the south. Today I saw a United Arab Airlines Comet jet fly over the city. Everybody here speaks Somali and Italian. Very few speak English, and you will have to learn to speak Somali or Italian. There is a very nice beach here on the Indian Ocean and we will go swimming. There are no sharks near the beach but far away. The school over here is closed in December and will open in January, when you two can go. It is right now 90°F and the sun is shining very brightly. Come soon and bring your swimming trunks!
I did learn a few words of Somali (mostly swear words) and phrases in Italian. Nice American/international community school and with some Somalis (my best friend in the 5th grade’s father later became prime minister). Apart from United Arab Airlines (the future Egypt Air), the only flights to and from the city in the mid-1960s were by Alitalia (DC-8s, three times a week to Rome), Aden Airways (Viscounts, to Aden and Nairobi), and Somali Airlines domestically (DC-3s and Cessnas). In the early 1970s the Soviets built a slaughterhouse on the ocean, so we learned in later years, and from which animal carcasses were dumped in, causing sharks to find a way around the coral reef that protected the beach. Soviet foreign aid. No more swimming in Mogadishu. For Somalia, it was all downhill from there…