Checking into the hotel I fill in the line for my name, my address, my citizenship, … my next of kin. And yikes, my blood type!
The line to get here has been anything but straight
To get here I took a course to learn about kidnapping (by the way stay calm and don’t resist) and land mines (if you find yourself in an area where you think there are landmines, stop and go backward and retrace your line).
I’m in the highly secure militarized airport of Mogadishu Somalia. I’m facilitating a high-level meeting with heads of UN agencies, donors, and partners.
The immigration line to get here was straight at first. Then a woman with many children came to the front of the line and passed through. Then another woman with more children and more beyond that. People were calm until a young man attempted to do the same. Tempers flare. There’s yelling. A man shoves his face into another’s face and says “Just so you know, you’re NOT getting ahead of me.”
I’ve been in the departure airport for hours, since before sunrise. I’m a seasoned traveler – 45+ countries but this is different. I’m worried I’m going to miss my flight.
But with a sigh of relief and one minute to spare I make it. I make it through the line.
Although we technically have assigned seating, what was straight lines for the seating is now actually open seating.
We take off on the UN-approved flight.
It’s a short time till we land along a thin line between the blue ocean dotted with whipping cream waves (there’s no reef here so the surf is big) and the dusty desert. It’s a really small airport full of planes – big gray fat-bellied cargo planes, sleek UN helicopters, and commercial planes. The wind from the choppers taking off is whipping my hair all over the place as well as the colourful hijabs of women around me.
I’ve landed in the secure airport. Everything happens here. I won’t leave the airport for four days.
Now I’m in a small dusty open-air room. The paint is peeling. I can see all the colours that the building was before. All of our hand luggage is in a straight line so the dogs can sniff it. Another security checkpoint.
There’s a line here between even hot and cold.
A man person clad in a huge winter jacket moves past me.
But for me it’s hot. I want to be wearing shorts and a tank top but instead, I’m wearing long pants and a long sleeve shirt as I don’t want to cross the cultural line (though the sweat on my upper left begs to differ).
I get past multiple heavy security checks. I’ve lived in Nairobi for 10 years during and since several terrorist attacks so I’m used to security but this is a whole other line.
My guide shuffles me through more security to the car. It’s an armored vehicle. I struggle to open the door which weighs a ton. I tuck my tall self into my seat, with my hips slung low so I can see through the smaller window.
The line of traffic is long. We move slowly through the heat. I could walk to the compound faster but that’s impossible. Over the next few days I visit different compounds all within the airport.
When I do leave the compound I’m staying in it’s always in a bulletproof car that follows dusty lines in the dirt road.
I check into the hotel and add my blood type to the check-in form. I know my blood type because I volunteered with my kid the day after Westgate terrorist attack in Nairobi.
I’m surrounded by lines and noise. For four days there’s concrete and steel bunkers, there’s the grumbling noise of the engines straining to push the many armored cars around the compound and the planes. Planes constantly taking off and landing right overhead. They’re so close it’s almost like I can reach out and touch the belly of them as they fly overhead. I go for a walk in the small compound and in a darkened corner
I find a bunker full of ambulances all lined up in straight lines. I hope they don’t have to be used anytime soon.
On a lighter note, I have my very own Top Gun moment. Just as the sun is setting and it’s all glowing and dewy, there’s a bunch of sweaty hot shirtless guys playing volleyball and as I walk by one of them yells out and asks me to play.
The biggest line, the one I’m here for, is to facilitate a high-level meeting between a bunch of UN agency heads, donors, and partners. Somalia‘s in dire straits. The rains have failed four times now. It looks like we’re crossing a line into officially declaring famine.
There’s a line between the humanitarian focus, which is all about saving lives now, and a development focus, which focuses more on the long term. All day I walk the line. I’m aiming to bend the line. We move away from straight lines. Away from dichotomies of yes or no, black or white, right or wrong. We move towards curvy lines, to yes and.
We make progress and at the end of the long hard day, we celebrate on the roof.
For the first time since arriving in the compound, I can see, not just hear, the Indian ocean. It’s all curvy frothy wavy lines.
The little plane lands back home in Nairobi but I’m not out of my seat fast enough and everyone behind me is pushing to get out. So elbows up and out I push my way into the line to get off the plane.
And I come to a deep, peaceful appreciation of the wavy lines that brought me here. I’m a long way from the West Coast Canada suburb I grew up in where the houses are all lined up in straight lines. And while these wavy lines of my life can sometimes annoy me to no end when I want certainty and familiarity, I love living this curvy-lined life.
Now go on and learn, laugh and lead
- I recently learned about the concept of integrated complexity which falls along these lines. Find out more about that here.
- Hilarious behaviour of two dogs who snarl and growl at each other, but only when there’s a line (aka a fence) in the way.
- Think about the straight ‘lines’ in your own life and how you can bend them.
P.S. Let’s stay connected. Free weekly coaching by email on how to use humanity and humour to problem solve, right here.