The Magnificent 7 in Mogadishu
by patrick maselis - 5 years ago
Story written by Valérie Maselis, daughter of Patrick Maselis
This story began long before I started writing this. The amazing moments we shared are nearly impossible to describe on paper but hopefully with these written recollections and the vast footage taken, you will grasp an understanding of our wonderful adventure.
I am subject to my own interpretation of facts, and the female logic may have tweaked reality at some points, but when does it not? I do not expect five of the seven members of the magnificent seven to understand this. Nevertheless the main purpose of this journal is to keep the memory alive and details vivid so we never forget what we experienced between Tuesday June 26th and Friday June 29th of the year 2012.
For the magnificent seven, globetrotters family and friends.
- Tuesday June 26th 2012 -
Two days after my brothers final exam and my MBA graduation we went on a trip, a special trip. A trip, most would describe as torture, expensive, tiring, life threatening and stressful i.e. a typical Maselis family vacation. Not really knowing what we got ourselves into we blindly followed our leader, my father, Patrick Maselis. I firmly believe, that without him and his passion for traveling I would have probably celebrated my MBA graduation on a boring yacht somewhere in the South of France drinking champagne in the sunshine. As for the rest of the group, who knows what convinced them to join our wondrous adventure, but alas we were off, the magnificent seven.
4:00 AM on a Tuesday morning, as we awoke to catch our first flight from Brussels to Zurich followed by a connecting flight from Zurich to Nairobi the trip began, not exciting at all,
except Patrick VDA felt he could go home after taking the “thrilling” train in Zurich to terminal two, still thousands of kilometers away from our final destination.
The aircraft, an A330 took good care of us: we ran into Jürgen, an old unexpected acquaintance, food and drinks were provided with overflow, movies, magazines and newspapers were at our disposal. Time flew by.
Once we arrived in Nairobi we passed security control with the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, we got excited too early on, we had to wait for our passports anyway. However, it made us look pretty important not even having to wait at that VIP line. After leaving the airport we battled traffic jams to get to our hotel.
Traffic was not on our side that night. However upon arriving at the hotel, it seemed that Geoffroy, who arrived from Kinshasa, faced even worse conditions. The 3 kilometers from the airport to the hotel, took him longer than the flight itself.
Apart from our good friend Geoffroy we also met Jimmy. Jimmy is one of our safety guards. He gave us a safety briefing in the privacy of Geoffroy’s room. We went over best and worst case scenarios. Everyone was laughing with a hint of insecurity.
After the briefing we decided the best way to digest was by having dinner accompanied with some beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. After hours of traveling and traffic jams, I was starving; unfortunately this restaurant was one that served neither fast food nor food fast. When we got served everyone enjoyed his possible last supper.
- Wednesday 27th June 2012 -
At 4:30 AM the phone rings. Making my way out of the mosquito net to pick up the phone I hear a gentle voice reminding me it’s time to wake up, “Good morning, this is your wake up call.”
“God, I’m tired” was my first reaction, followed by an immediate affirmative mumbling of my brother. He went off wakening my father.
Within record time, considering the time of day, we got up, showered and were surprised by an early morning continental breakfast.
The first challenges were encountered, blackberry chargers were still waiting at home in Belgium to be packed and downloading a newspaper is not as simple a task hence our location Nairobi Kenya.
At 5:30 AM, Jimmy led us into two vehicles. Jimmy, who seemed a bit nervous, especially when the second car surpassed us. We had to stay in formation as briefed the night before.
Once arrived at the airport, the magnificent seven, who did not look so magnificent at the time, had to face wet floors in order to get their passport stamped. Yellow cards needed to be completed by each group member. After this heavy task, we encountered the African mentality for the first and last time that day. We fell 25 minutes behind schedule, which made Jimmy even more nervous, although he did not show. In my opinion though, 25 minutes was still within the acceptable African norms. Even my father seemed very relaxed at the time.
Finally we got back to our cars, which dropped us 100 meter further down the road. We had our luggage checked, and the completed yellow cards were eagerly collected. Upon exiting we found piles of yellow cards next to the trash.
The call sign of the aircraft was 5Y-W something (H) something (B). Nobody remembered the exact combination. This caused confusion. A Fokker with a similar call sign was right in front of us and met the adventurous standards, a cargo aircraft as seen in the theatre. We were all convinced that this would be the start of our adventure.
However, soon the magnificent seven realized, that they had it all wrong. Tietje travel arranged a smaller, more comfortable jet. The adventure was postponed, and we all got some more rest in a magnificent seat.
After one hour and thirty minutes of flight at a cruising altitude of 41000 feet, we arrived upon our destination: Mogadishu, Somalia. Not knowing what to expect we left our 5Y W something something safe heaven.
Dominik aka Dom, which indeed suits his personality better, was waiting for us on the tarmac. He is the founder and CEO of Newport Africa; his company provides 24h support, as seen on the business card, to very important people such as ourselves.
Bearing in mind that only 2 days earlier a suicide bombing disturbed the peace within the city. Jimmy tried to comfort us the night before during the safety briefing: “We have the advantage that nobody knows that we are coming. These bombings need to be planned. Although they are usually very effective…” It is only reasonable that we approached such organization.
We were transported, in formation, to the guesthouse of Bashir, Bashir appeared to be some sort of local godfather. GPS’s were installed and local phones distributed. The formation consisted of 7 cars. The fist car held 8 fully equipped military men responsible for examining the safety of the location upon our arrival. The following 3 cars held, the Vanden Avennes, the Masjes and the new family that we will refer to as de Spiegel-kerkes. The 6th car held the other 8 military men, also responsible for the safe completion of the mission: “getting the magnificent seven back in that aircraft” as stated by Dom. The last vehicle, also holding 8 soldiers, drove in between us overviewing the overall organization.
In the guesthouse a second breakfast was provided consisting of pancakes with a Nutella variant from Italian origin, goat liver - according to Margaux very tasty, I trust in her opinion – and fresh juices.
After the refreshment the adventure truly begun, bulletproof jackets were distributed. It created some sort of weird buzz. Pictures were taken, but our feeling of safety did not enhance, it was on the contrary. As a military convoy we left the guesthouse, destination unknown to all, including the drivers. This was one of Jimmy’s guidelines in order to guarantee our safety. Nobody can know where we are going. Only the first driver will receive coordinates as we continue our journey. Even we were left in the dark, which we realized only later during the expedition. Not the complete list of “tourist attractions” we were about to visit were communicated to us.
The first one on the list however, everyone was excited about, the location were Black Hawk went down. As the perimeter was found safe by the military convoy we exited the vehicles, and went looking for the remaining parts of the helicopter, and went looking and looking... Without a guide, one would pass by this historic location without ever noticing the tail of the helicopter well hidden in the bush. Before we even realized what was going on, we found ourselves back in the cars, moving to our next location.
Jimmy emphasized on moving quickly, we cannot stay in one location longer than 15 minutes, again for safety reasons. This only enhanced the adventurous excitement at every location.
On our next stop we found two American tanks, which at the time tried to save the pilots from the black hawk. Unfortunately for them, they did not live to tell their story, fortunately for us we can.
On our way to the old parliament, we stopped at a refugee camp. Curious children came up, desperate to be photographed. Mothers were watching from a safe distance. We were mistaken for Turkish tourists, as they are the only white people the Somalians ever encounter. The Turkish presence is undeniable. “It is their way of getting back a leading role on the world scene after being blocked from the EU membership, they take responsibility of the Muslim world, by helping out their Muslim brothers when everyone else failed” according to Dom. The old parliament was left in ruins, as was the five star hotel next to the basketball stadium.
Around the corner, we found what was once the mosque. A picture “before” the war can be found on Tietje’s postcards, and “after” all our cameras hold evidence off. When fleeing back into our cars, we finally got to tape the military climbing back onto their pick up with the loaded guns and extra ammunition loosely tied around their backs. On the background you can hear Tietje saying, “What a beautiful trip.” Not quite what one would expect hearing when viewing such film?
From the Mosque onto the beach, quite a view with all those bullet proof jackets on. The wind could not lighten the overheated jackets, shoes got wet, but nothing brought the spirit of the magnificent seven down. We even managed to collect 1000 Somalia shilling each, the equivalent of 1 eurocent but instantly of much greater value to us.
Next up was K1, kilometer one. Everything in Mogadishu is expressed in kilometers. K1 represents the beginning of the city. Once, this place held the best Italian restaurant in town. We can barely imagine how it smelled or looked like. The K1 also held “ra ra ra”, the post office on the corner. A quick picture was taken and up to the next location we went.
On our way to a little piece of heaven, that sustained the war better than the mosque. Our guide talked about music, Mogadishu music to be precise. He seemed so surprised, we were driving for 3 hours straight and we have not heard a single gun shot. This must be our lucky day than. Our false sense of security got confirmed.
Sooner rather than later we arrived at the Italian cathedral. The smells produced by the piles of dirt hid the opulence of the cathedral. Upon entering, we experienced the greatness it once was and still is. Maybe we were just lucky, but the light was breathtaking. The pillars of the cathedral sustained 20 years of intense war, they still stand up straight reaching for the sky.
Speechless we approached our next location the fish market. The organized chaos, a characteristic found as with their Italian colonizers, was unmistakable. The fish was all over the place, small fish, big fish, fish on the floor, fish on the counter, whole fish, pieces of fish etc. Unfortunately, no lobster, as so longed for by Tietje. Surprisingly noticing the lack of any ice or freezers, it did not smell fishy (can also be interpreted literally, the organized chaos felt quite safe).
Approaching what once was a five star hotel and what now more looks like a ruin with a five star view, we were ready for a snack. Especially after seeing all the delights the ocean holds. We were able to enter a ruin opposing the five star hotel, to enjoy the view. Peaceful it seemed, but when zooming in we saw the impact of the bullets and bombings. Everyone agreed that this city must have been like an Italian getaway, but today only our imagination can take us back to those times, when Somali and Italians wandered the streets, ate spaghetti and negotiated the price of the daily caught fish. One thing is certain, drunk they were not and will never be.
Finally we got released out of our harnesses. Bashir took us to his house, were we enjoyed a refreshment and could make use of his sanitary before we went out to find lunch. A 30-minute drive took us trough a desert with different shades of sand and we got glimpses of several African Mission For Somalia compounds. I even noticed someone wearing pink croqs (some sort of very comfortable shoes) I asked myself why I noticed this and it made me smile.
Next the thinkable happened, one of the armed military men fell off the pick up truck. Experiencing the bumps in the road it even was hard for us to sit up straight, imagine being on a pick up.
“Ai ai ai” was my fathers reaction, followed by a “yes, oke oke oke” of the driver, “he’s oke”. Lost in translation, it took us a few seconds to figure out that “ai” translates as “oke” in the local Somali language.
We went off road entering Bashir’s newly purchased land, where a tent and an amazing lunch were waiting for us. I could see my father’s eyes twinkling when Bashir told us lobster would be served. Apart from lobster, lamb and fish were on the menu. A wonderful time we had.
Soon we headed back to the safe house, group pictures were taken along with Margaux getting hold of guns and numerous wedding proposals. Unfortunately for the military men, she did not seem interested.
We headed back to the airport in new outfits. Beautiful Mogadishu T-shirts were purchased for prices we could merely buy a coffee for in Monaco, but was probably a months net worth for the Somali woman.
Upon our arrival we noticed that even our flight was used for smuggling weapons. Dom secretly handed over a 9mm gun, but nothing was left unnoticed by the magnificent seven eagle eyes. However, we did not care to react, afraid of attacking someone with a plausible loaded gun.
Once back in our safe heaven, we took off, or at least, we thought we took off, but we did not seem to gain any altitude. Cruising at 250 feet above sea level for several long quiet minutes, we finally felt an aggressive pitch up maneuver introduced by the captain. After the flight it was explained to us that this was the standard Somali take off procedure. We had to stay low, it’s a safer position in case of someone opening fire aiming at our aircraft. When we reached the cruising flight level one could not deny the exuberant atmosphere. Memories were recalled and more success stories exchanged.
Soon we arrived in Djibouti, where the heat struck us, even though it was a rather chilly day according to the guide. Having survived Somalia, we maintained a positive attitude. The hotel was immense, what a building. However, the check in was less impressive. It took several quarters of hours, people, and patience to arrive in our rooms.
All tired by the adventures earlier that day, we went for dinner. A fixed 5-course menu and a Djibouti group of doctors, pilots and more dignitaries were waiting upon our arrival. Hunger is the best sauce; unfortunately my temper does not like to be hungry. After preparing 650 post cards I sharply mentioned to my father that it better went fast! A comment he did not deserve, but took hearty. I have never had five courses as correctly and quickly served as that night in Djibouti.
When arriving back in our 1149 African suite, the last sentence I heard on June 27th 2012 was by my brother: “They should have the European soccer Championship on the television here in Djibouti!”, soon correcting himself, “No no, this is not self evident.”
These were the last words of a day that was not self evident at all, but nevertheless one we will never forget and will recall on dinner parties, or when we are tired in bed reflecting as I do now.
- Thursday 28th June 2012 -
“OH NO! Spain won!” my brother aggressively shouts at 6:30 AM local Djibouti time, a pre- coffee set back, soon forgotten.
Two hours of extra sleep we were granted that night. Barely enough to feel well rested, but if Peter Vande Veire can postpone his sleep, so can we. The breakfast was amazing, everything you manage to wish for as early as it was, was available on the buffet.
The schedule again was perfectly timed. We needed to be at the Lake Assal before noon, due to the heat. It easily gets up to 55 degrees Celsius this time of year. Assal translates into honey land. Little did we know that the name did not embody the land of milk and honey as Moses promised.
Unfortunately for us, the guide did not care too much about our perfectly timed schedule, nor did he realize, we only had half a day since he prepared a two-day program. He was late. Just after he did not pick up his phone and right before my father turned purple, he showed up. Noticing my father’s mood, everyone quickly got into the car and we started driving… to the fuel station. You could feel the amount of disposable tips being reduced by the second.
The first stop were the stone-engraved drawings of camels, camel-birds or ostriches, and an unknown animal, a mammoth Matthieu joked, knowing those mammals never wandered around in East Africa. However, the guide, not as well educated as my brother, did not sent the irony in my brothers voice and will probably spread the word.
Behind the engraved rocks we found a deserted nomad settlement. Stone beds were the only remains found on scene, the placing of the stones were mathematically calculated, by women of course, in order to ensure nothing would prevent the nomads from getting a good nights rest. The uncalculated risks such as scorpions could not be anticipated. “Nor snoring sounds” Margaux quickly added smiling right at her father.
“Elles ne sont pas méchantes!” the guide ensured us while the angry woman still threw stones at our van aiming to destroy at least a window. The only thing we did was taking an innocent picture of their houses on our way to the Lake Assal.
In the back of the van, I tried to catch some sleep, unimportant never ending stories of the guide got lost partly due to his soft voice and the unsupportable driving behavior of the chauffeur who guided us to unknown territory below sea level.
Upon arrival, at the lake we all experienced the name did not at all reflect the particular location. We stepped out of the van into what appeared to be an overheated science fiction setting that definitely would inspire Tim Burton, filmmaker who uses a quirky atmosphere, as his signature (maker of Big Fish, Lovely Bones and Alice in Wonderland amongst others). It is the hottest location in the African continent and holds their saltiest lake. Everything that is left behind gets mummified in a salty crust.
The guide walked us through this moon-like environment. The temperature is created due to the active volcano housing the lake. This also causes water reaching extreme temperatures. Eggshells are found and photographed, proof of human activity in this deserted region. The water is used to boil eggs and other consumption goods.
To our surprise even fish were found in the water, dead and alive. Some fish that swam too close to the boarders of the volcano, not anticipating the heat, got boiled while doing so. How did those fish get there? A question rapidly answered by Filip, a bright magnificent seven member. The eggs of the fish travel on the feet of birds, which strike down to find water, a very satisfying answer we all agreed on.
On our way back to the Kempinski hotel, we encountered some good news and some bad news. Optimistic spirits as we are, let me tell the good news first. Contemplating whether to go to the park to see the gazelle giraffes or not, we randomly drove into a troop of four enjoying a vegetarian lunch. Rapidly we decided to continue our drive after well documenting this encounter.
Now, the bad news: due to several incidents an accident happened. The incidents were an overloaded truck driven by a drunk driver, high on quat, who lost control of his vehicle and blocked the whole highway. Lucky us, there was an alternative way parallel to the highway guiding us passed the blue truck and bringing us safe to lunch. “Belgium could learn something from the African efficiency.” Margaux laughed.
After lunch and a quick rest the unthinkable happened. Tietje was late for the very first time in his life. Four minutes and thirty-eight seconds after the meeting time he ran out the elevator apologizing followed by the luggage carrier who could not keep up his pace nor understand the fuzz about being late.
We quickly visited Djibouti city, not much to mention there except the fact we have been there and now can mention that there is not much to mention.
Our final destination was the refuge of doctor Lafrance we met the night before during our dinner party. The main objective of his organization was to stop illegal trade of animals at the time. Completing the mission, he now wants to reintroduce the fauna once dominating Djibouti. Not an easy task.
Margaux made friends with the baby cheetahs while Geoffroy, a true African citizen, stole the heart of the oldest cheetah on the domain. The pictures are definitely Christmas card material. Next we saw a well-travelled zebra, living in the UK and Germany before coming to Djibouti, beautiful donkeys, ostriches both in pink and blue but neither beautiful, an albino porcupine and - read closely - a turtle attacking Matthieu.
The very last animal we got to see are known to be the kings and queens of the continent: the lion. We got introduced to: the lion, the lioness and the two baby born cuties enjoying their dinner. We were not invited to see this family from inside the cage. Nobody complained and maintained safe distance except for Geoffroy of course, who wanted to get a good picture of the magnificent seven observing the royal family.
Back to the lodge style bar, we enjoyed home made croque monsieurs and other local and not so local specialties accompanied by a fresh Ethiopian beer, a great ending of a great adventure.
Too soon we had to say our goodbyes to the extraordinary doctor and start our journey home. The airport seemed deserted. Pilots where nowhere to be found nor where the handling agents, music coming from local minarets made us realize that prayers were held, a honored tradition kept by every Muslim, so we prayed to our own God asking not to miss our connecting flight in Addis Abeba. Our prayers got heard just in time, we got through security onto the largest bus we had so far driving to our aircraft with the pilots already on board.
After a very short flight of merely 50 minutes and a European standard take off, we arrived in Addis where we had to say our goodbyes to the first member of the magnificent seven, Order Souverain Militaire Hospitalier de Saint Jean de Jerusalem de Rhodes et de Malte Ambassadeur Près la Republique Democratique du Congo, Geoffroy de Liedekerke.
In the lounge we tried for best and worst to clean ourselves up not to look like savages upon our homecoming. In the aircraft my father’s old habits soon found their way back. His luggage did not fit the overhead compartment, although he tried very hard to make it fit. The other passengers did not understand what was going on, looking at the wild man’s behavior. I took a stilnoct and soon forgot about my whereabouts.
- Friday 29th June 2012 -
After six short hours, we landed in Paris and headed home. The magnificent seven, minus one, split up upon reaching the Belgian boarder continuing each to their homes.
Still confused about the past days, Filip forgot his luggage in our van, a problem easily solved. Filip continued his journey to his wife, Katia, who called him more in the past 30 minutes than the last week. She must find European territory more dangerous than Somalian grounds.
These three extraordinary days we will never forget and cherish deep in our hearts. This trip will be the subject of many conversations. Details will be added, forgotten and reinvented, but the most important is the memory of the adventure we all share.
Thank you for being magnificent,