‘You will see some changes,’ Bashir said.
Bashir owns the Peace Hotel in Mogadishu. He was welcoming me there for… it must have been for the fifth or sixth time. He joined me for a coffee in the hotel’s leafy garden café.
I like Bashir. I like his energy and his optimism. I appreciate his hotel, too. It’s much more pleasant staying there than in one of the camps within the protected ring of the airport. Mind you, the Peace Hotel is well protected, too, with its barricaded entrance, blast-proof walls, and bullet-proof vehicles for trips deeper into the city.
When I went up to the rooms I found that they have been upgraded; having a colourful décor, a TV with more channels than you could possibly view in a week’s stay, a hot water shower, and that indicator of basic comfort – a bedside lamp that means you don’t have to get out of bed and walk across the room to switch off the light when you are too tired to watch or listen or read any more.
There must be a new chef, too, because the menu is more generous, often with chips as well as rice or that impossible to eat gracefully food, spaghetti, with eggs done any way you like, and with a variety of cold juices. On Friday evenings you can enjoy a barbecue to music on the rooftop.
There is also a new receptionist. Nancy is a Kenyan – one of ten employed at the hotel. She has worked in Mombasa and in Dubai. I asked her why she applied for a job in Mogadishu. ‘For the exploration and the adventure, I guess,’ she said with a smile. But she hastened to add that she has found the city far less insecure and intimidating than the impression she had got from the media. Not that she goes much into the city, but she says that the hotel organises trips to the beach for staff groups – and this she enjoys very much.
Nancy is a good spokesperson for the Peace Hotel, She praises the efficiency of the management, the friendliness of the staff, and the quality of the service.
Drinking a sweet lemon juice in the café that first evening, Bashir joined us and said, ‘There’s somewhere I want to take you before you leave. I want to show you what I am creating out on the beach’.
And so he did. It was the late afternoon of our last full day there. In his Landcruiser, and with four armed guards sitting on the back of a pathfinder pick-up truck, Bashir drove us out through the narrow streets of the city and five or so kilometres to the south along a sandy beach road.
Eventually we came to a huge walled plot, 27 acres of it, with nothing on either side but straggly bush and empty beach – miles and miles of empty beach, and a view of the distant white buildings of the city to the north. Lorries were arriving with sand to fill in what must have once been a quarry.
Bashir drove us down to the beach and to where a row of freshly planted palm trees were standing proud against the sea breeze. Then he told us about his plans. The first facility to be opened will be a restaurant. There will be a swimming pool. And there will be all manner of water sports. Later, there will be beach chalets.
‘It will be somewhere for the young people of the city,’ he said. ‘Right now, they have so few places to go and so little to do. It will be popular – for sure.’
On the way back, Bashir took us beyond the hotel and to another plot he is developing.
‘Look around you,’ he said, ‘Look at all the new buildings going up. There is a new confidence in the city now.’
Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation