“Osamakil! Osamakil! Osamakil!” shouted the soldier as he swung the door to our bedroom wide open. The little sleep that we were able to snatch was cut short.
“Osamakil?” enquired Kaizer, we looked at each other from across the room clueless.
“Yes yes! Osamakil!” he said again as he ran a finger across his neck.
“Oh! Osama Killed.” We both answered. He seemed jubilant at the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed the previous day. This soldier was kitted out in what TV has always portrayed as the typical terrorist. So the sight of him celebrating the death of a terrorism icon confused me.
We jumped out of bed still dressed in our clothes, Kaizer has a lump on his ankle under his sock, and he starts moving it around. It’s a few dollars that he stashed before we left Kenya, emergency cash. The next time this money would see the light of day would be in Nairobi. We both grabbed our toothpaste and bottled water and split to different toilets, it was a bit of a breather as at this point there wasn’t a soldier following us. I picked the toilet closest to our room and thought I had scored until I realized someone forgot to clean up after themselves and the floor was flooded with water, from the showerhead I presumed. As I began drowning in regret of my choice, Kaizer appeared behind me. He had just walked in on the Governor in the toilet. I guess my choice wasn’t that bad after all.
We did what we had accustomed ourselves to; waiting patiently for the Governor’s assistance. There were these women that seemed to only appear in the morning, then linger around in the day and disappear in the evening. The men, on the other hand, tended to huddle and move in group. Just then a group of about 30 men with long beards entered the yard. They all looked like Muslim priests, mullahs, and we could only speculate what the agenda of their meeting would be. We would randomly move around the yard to try and frustrate the soldiers that watched us. The soldiers had a relentless spirit, once they committed, regardless of how uncomfortable the task, they would do it. Eventually we walked back into the house and sat at the couches in the reception area. A soldier carrying a plastic chair followed us, placed the chair next to the couch and sat with us. After some time as the soldier began to snooze. The mullahs then left the house. Kaizer stood up in an attempt to speak with the Governor. The soldier leapt to his feet and intervened. It was clear that Kaizer was starting to lose patience. The Governor has ignored us the whole day and we are running out of time for filming. Kaizer needed answers and he wanted them immediately.
The Governor escorted the men out and as he turned to come back inside, was confronted by Kaizer at the door. “Sorry sir any progress?” Kaizer asked.
“I said I’ll sort it out!” The Governor replied curtly and continued walking. We waited around for another two hours but by then the game was quite clear to us. The governor was simply delaying, keeping us at bay in the process. Hours later, he returned to find us seated at the same couches. “Gentlemen! Have you had anything to eat?”
Even though I was starving every ounce of energy in me wanted to say no.
“Can I offer you something? Maybe pork?” He paused for effect before breaking into a laugh “Pork! Get it? Pork!” And he laughed again, more loudly. We didn’t find that funny. He came and sat with us and instructed two other men to join. “I have been making a few calls and unfortunately I don’t have good news. I tried everything I could to organize your visas but unfortunately I have a directive.”
At this stage I was even more confused. I thought he was the supreme authority here in Puntland.
“There’s going to be a court case for you later tonight, in which it is going to be decided whether you get deported or you get fined and then deported.”
“So either way we get deported?” I asked
“No no, it all depends on the judge’s decision. Right now I need to ask you a few questions just to prepare you for the judges interrogation later.”
“But how can we be deported if we have valid visas, we came here for a project and we would love to complete it.” A clearly agitated Kaizer asked.
“I said it before and I will say it again. This is Puntland and you will do as we require, we don’t recognize that Somalia government. Who put them there? The TGF, GTF or whatever they call them? We don’t care. They are nobody to us.”
“Okay you are deporting us, can we please inform our embassy of your decision.” Kaizer said.
“Firstly the decision hasn’t been made yet. Secondly why do you have such a need to speak to your embassy? What do you want to say to them? That we harmed you? Or kidnapped you? We took good care of you, in fact we kept you safe. Am I wrong?” It became apparent to me that the Governor prioritized his good reputation. It seemed to me that all was going well in Puntland without any media attention and he was determined to keep it that way. Why spoil a good plan by harming two young filmmakers.
“Oh well.” He finally relented. “I’ll call your embassy.” And started dialing on his phone.
“Hello! Hello! I’ve been holding for the last 10 minutes and you guys keep sending me around in circles, I have a Canadian citizen here in custody in Puntland who do I need to speak to?” The Governor very annoyed. “What? Hold again!” He said as he hung up the phone. “Bloody Canadian service, nobody knows who I need to talk to. I can’t afford to keep calling like this. So I’m going to call for the last time and if they can’t help, you are on your own.” He redials. “Hello. Hi can I speak to someone responsible for arrested Canadians outside of Canada.” He turns to look at Kaizer “Finally! Hello. I am the Governor of Puntland… Puntland!” He rolls his eyes and faces the ceiling. “Puntland!! I have in front of me a Canadian and a South African citizen who have been arrested for entering the country illegally… Yes they had no visas… No! Puntland visas… PUNTLAND! Anyway we might deport them tomorrow depending on the outcome of the court case later today. I just thought we should inform you. Thank you.” And as he hung up he shouted, “Bloody Canadians!” Then he turned to us and sat down.
“Now where were we? Yes, so you are journalists?” He asked as he held ready a pen to write in his file, “No not Journalists, filmmakers” Kaizer, “Not Journalists… So then can I see your accreditation.” He asked.
Kaizer shook his head. “Like I said we are not journalists, so we don’t have any journalistic accreditation.”
The Governor and muttered and scribbled ‘No accreditation’ in his file.
“Well as it stands it doesn’t look that great for you but we’ll have to wait a few hours to hear what the judge has to say.”
“So what time are we leaving?” I asked.
“No you are not leaving!”
“No I mean leaving for the court case.” I clarified.
“No the judge is coming here, so you, my friend, are not going anywhere.” He then smiled. “Do you care to pray with us?”
We sat at a distance watching the Governor and his troops praying. I kept wondering about his schizophrenic tendencies, how he would shout and the next moment smile with us. Seemingly kind and vicious at the same time. The more I thought on this the more uneasy I became. A woman dressed in purple, looking like semi-royalty entered the yard. She was still fully covered, like the rest of the women in Puntland, but she had jewelry draped around her neck and wrists. All the women we have seen seemed invisible to the men, like bodiless shadows drifting in the mist yet this woman managed to get a few second glances from the men. We had read that it was illegal for men to have physical contact with women in public so we waited eagerly to see what the Governor would do. But he simply gestured her into the mansion.
As we waited we started reminiscing about our hometowns and our loved ones and how desperate we were to see them again. The more we spoke about where we had come from the more some of the political and racial topics of our respective countries came up. We wondered if there was any place in the world where race wasn’t an issue. The mysterious lady in purple left the premises and on cue a van drove in. Three men jumped out of it and walked towards the house, the governor summoned us to join them. We sat across that epic table once again and like he did before he pulled out his file and pen and carefully placed his iPhone next to it. The man on my far right with red hair and a red beard followed suit by also pulling out a file and a pen. The Governor informed us that the man with the red beard was in fact the judge and that this was the court case.
“Can you permit us to record the proceedings?” Kaizer asked. “What?!” The Governor shouted. “There you go again disrespecting our culture, what do you think this is? Where do you think you are?” He then started ranting in Somaal and the other men joined in, shaking their heads and occasionally glancing at us. The more the rant went on the louder it became and the more the judge scribbled in his file. At this stage I had my forehead resting on the surface of the table, my entire life at the mercy of a Somaal judgement.
“So there, nobody is allowed to record anything! We made special arrangements for the judge to come here so that your case may be dealt with promptly.” The Governor finally explained. The judge looked at us from above the rim of his glasses and turned to the Governor and communicated something in Somaal.
“Unfortunately a judgment has been reached. You have been found guilty. You will be deported tomorrow back to Nairobi, plus you have to pay a fine of 1000 dollars. 500 dollars for each of you.”
“1000 dollars?!” I appealed. “We don’t have that kind of money”
“How much money do you have then? Don’t lie to me! I could strip search you and your bags you know?” He threatened. That’s the last thing we needed to happen. “Maybe 500 dollars?” Kaizer responded rapidly.
“Well if that’s the case then one of you will have to stay behind.”
Astonished by the Governor’s ultimatum we froze gazing at each other.
Kaizer then said. “Well if you are going to keep anyone here then let it be me.”
All along the judge had been scribbling a statement for us and the Governor instructed us to sign it, the judge passed the document and pointed at the bottom of it where he had sketched an untidy line.
“You need to put your signature there.” Said the Governor.
“But the statement is written in Somaal!” I protested.
“Well it’s quite simple, it just says you are illegal and you are fined and you will be deported.”
That’s three sentences but the statement had more than 10 lines on it! But to avoid further altercations we just signed. The governor then passed the document to one of his helpers and instructed them to type it out, the judge and the other two men left.
An hour later they were still having challenges with the computer. There were three of them huddled around it, arguing. Every 10 minutes or so one of them would have a light bulb moment, but all to no avail. Out of frustration Kaizer offered to help. And I thought, are we about to type out own criminal records? That’s messed up. Their next challenge was the letterhead.
“What should we call it? Puntland Police Force?” Asked the one guy.
“No Puntland Police Department sounds better.” Said the other.
“Or Maybe Puntland Police Services?” Asked the third. The governor entered and broke off the debate. “Just call it Puntland Police. That’s it. Finish off and print me that document!”
A soldier enters with a small plastic bag and gives it to the Governor, who turns to us and says: “This is from my wife. She lives just minutes from here but I live here. There is too much work to be done, I don’t have time for family.” He said proudly.
He then asked us to follow him outside. A few plastic chairs sit under a tree and he sat in the middle. We were uncertain what this was about, so we silently took our seats and sat beside him.
“Did you see that woman who came here earlier dressed in a purple dress?” We nod our heads. “She is from a clan that are outcasts. I asked her to come here to show her that I don’t discriminate.” He said as he took off his shirt. “I come from an elite tribe. I would never allow any of my family to marry into her clan.” We are silent, just perplexed by this conundrum of a man. “The problems of Somalia are caused by outsiders. Somalis live at peace with each other.” The Governor said as a matter of fact. A few guns shots rang into the night, across the yard the fan is still humming. I look at Kaizer and he looks at me. We seem to have the same thought. When will this nightmare end?
Tune in at the same time next week for the final episode.
*All images © Tebogo Malope.