I will step off the plane in Mogadishu in one week. Under most circumstances that would be a strange experience, but coming from Kabul it is all the more unusual. I hope to make the most of my layover in Dubai to freely wander around the streets, enjoy the feeling of entering a restaurant without being checked for weapons, or having to analyze surrounding buildings for sight lines and escape routes every time I sit in traffic. Kabul isn't all that dangerous, but one has to be constantly vigilant of their surroundings and Mogadishu isn't really all that different.
The other strange thing has been the experience of thinking about Kabul within my pre-departure ritual. Over the years I've developed a process to prepare mentally and physically before entering complicated places. I like to take up an exercise regimen, consume copious amounts of powdered weight-gainer from the health food store, and spend weeks slowly packing my back before departure. I start by accumulating everything that I think would be worthwhile, from flashlights and pocketknives to socks and candy bars, then over the last few days chip away at that pile to determine what is essential, what is not, and how it all fits in my bag. I like my back to be no more than 50% full, leaving room to pick stuff up on the way, do my best to keep it light. But Kabul has me questioning the necessity of this whole process. After all, I can find all of those things here, so why did I bring any of them in advance? It has me questioning what to bring to Mogadishu, and what to leave at home. Especially strange since this time home is Kabul.
For years I've dreamt of working in postwar reconstruction and urban planning in Mogadishu, but I always imagined it would be far into the future. I am grateful to my project partners for the opportunity, and while wide-eyed at timing, I feel good about it. I look forward to working with local officials to solve various infrastructure and population problems. Right now the issue of land ownership claims among returnees is a major issue for the city and I look forward to tackling this problem among others. Will definitely update the blog a couple times before leaving but the story doesn't end there. If this first visit goes well, I'll be back quite a bit over the course of the year.