Russian roulette in Somalia
The woman next to me in the 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 air around us, but closed enough to make
our truck 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 some small explosion. 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.