Russian roulette in Somalia

The woman next to me in back of the truck whispers prayers and grips the seat as one would grip a branch they caught while falling from a cliff. The road is bumpy, but not abnormally so, and I hold on tight enough to avoid falling into the lap of the man across from me each time we hit a pothole. The dust is billowing behind us like smoke from a furnace. It feels like a furnace. The windows are open just enough to allow the suffocating fog of brown powder to fill the truck, but closed enough to make our enclosure an oven full of gingerbread men.
The driver slows down as we reach our turn, but quickly speeds up again. Speed is safer. Driving in this part of the country at all is gamble. A gamble with very high stakes. The men next to each door grip their AK-47s. The other woman’s prayers get louder as we veer off the road for a moment to avoid the mini-crater left by a roadside bomb. The man in the corner wipes the sweat from his forehead; I’m not sure if it’s from the heat or nerves.
We see another vehicle driving towards us in the distance. Every muscle tenses, and even the roaring engine seems to hush its tones for affect. We pick up a bit of speed and drive on the side of the road. Following the cues of the others, I pull my hijab across my face and duck down away from the window. The woman has stopped praying.
Finally, the other truck passes, and looking back at it I can see the guards with semiautomatics posted at each door, similar to us. There are several audible sighs, and the woman besides me offers a prayer of thanks. Then we all continue to stare intently at the road, awaiting the next turn, the next vehicle, the next roadblock.

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