Posts filed under ‘Mediascape’

written on the walls

Here are some writings and drawings on some walls in Aden, Yemen 

I never saw anybody writing or drawing on walls, but I think it’s safe to assume that the authors and artists are children and teenagers.

Some of the drawings are very symbolic. I’ll leave the analyses to you.

Where possible, I have translated some of the Arabic words and phrases. Some don’t need translation.



The brick wall featured above is the outer wall of Qala’a Seera, or Seera Castle, an Ottoman (or Portuguese) fort perched on a small mountain. The fort looks over the Aden Gulf on one side and the Seera and Crater districts of Aden on another. Lots of young people come up here to chew qat and take in the view (and a few couples come up here despite the stares). 





Skull and crossbone stuff in Aden is more popular than you might imagine; air fresheners, t-shirts, jewelry, etc. The Arabic words written around the image are names of the artist(s) and their friends, I think. 





A Kalashnikov with bayonet on the right. The writing, from the top left and down, is hard to read, but a few words say: “al Jihad..Hamas…men of Palestine” and the name “Othman” in the bottom right corner.


The word ‘Gaza’ is written on the upper left, next to what appears to be a military helicopter. ‘The Arabs’ is written below and to the left of ‘Gaza’, near what looks like a faucet. 


Hey Arabic readers, can any of you decipher this?


Again, I had some trouble with the Arabic, but this is quite possibly a rendering of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Drawings of the Dome, and the al-Aqsa Mosque, appear on walls throughout the city. img_5990Here’s another example of the Dome of the Rock. The word ‘Palestine’ is written across the dome. 


These words are printed on a few walls across the street from a beach. It may be a private school or group. The word “Allah” is painted to the right.


Soccer is wildly popular in Yemen, but the Yemeni national club is nothing to write home about. According to embarrassed locals, the players chew too much Qat and chain smoke. European and South American clubs are very popular. On this wall, Arsenal gets a transcontinental shout out. 

 Kids and young adults play soccer just about anywhere it is possible to do so. One group of students I know practices on a ‘field’ that consists of two iron pipes at either end of a long, open dirt space covered with jagged rocks. The field sits atop a British-era landfill. 



November 16, 2008 at 1:45 pm 1 comment

Black Hawk Down

The movie Black Hawk Down was on MBC2 last night.

Mark Bowden wrote Black Hawk Down. It was published in 1999. 

Black Hawk Down takes place in 1993, when 18 American soldiers were killed during a raid in Mogadishu. They were withdrawn shortly thereafter. Bill Clinton was the president then.

Before the credits, we are shown graphic images of starving Somalis. Interspersed among the images are messages that read, in order of appearance:





Years of warfare among rival clans causes famine on a biblical scale.
300,000 civilians die of starvation.

Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the most powerful of the warlords, rules the capital Mogadishu.

He seizes international food shipments at the ports. Hunger is his weapon.

The world responds. Behind a force of 20,000 U.S. Marines, food is delivered and order is restored.
April 1993

 Aidid waits until the Marines withdraw, and then declares war on the remaining U.N. peacekeepers.
In June, Aidid’s militia ambush and slaughter 24 Pakistani soldiers, and begin targeting American personnel.

In late August, America’s elite soldiers, Delta Force, Army Rangers and the 160th SOAR are sent to Mogadishu to remove Aidid and restore order.

According’s Mickey Kaus (partially quoting author Mark Bowden):

Muhammad Farrah Aidid was the recognized leader of the Habr Gidr, “a large and powerful clan planted deep in Somalia’s past and present political culture,” in Bowden’s words…

The Habr Gidr were the militarily more powerful of two main groups contending for control of Mogadishu. If the U.S. had killed Aideed, citizens of the Habr Gidr areas wouldn’t generally have felt liberated, like Afghans freed from the Taliban. They would more likely have been pissed off. 

 Later in the article, Kaus talks about an event that wasn’t mentioned in the movie:

On July 12, months before the Ranger raid, in an incident unremarked in all the Black Hawk Down hype, U.S. and U.N. forces attacked a Habr Gidr clan meeting. The meeting included clan elders, intellectuals, poets. It was held at the house of Aideed’s self-styled “defense” minister, but included Habr Gidr members who planned to argue against Aideed’s anti-U.N. stance. Indeed, the meeting had been called to consider a Howe “peace initiative,” according to Bowden.

The aim of the mission depicted in the movie was to detain two of Aidid’s aims. They hoped to capture Aidid as well.

The names of the dead Marines appear at the end of the movie, before the credits roll.

Over a thousand Somalis died as well. None of their names appear.

In the movie, Sam Shepherd’s character, Major General William F. Garrison, says something to the effect of :

             “This isn’t Iraq. The situation is complicated here.”

The marines in the movie constantly say, ‘huwwa’ as a response to a command, or an acknowledgement of fact. In Arabic, huwwa means ‘he’.

In the movie, the Somali spy who helps the marines is named ‘Abdi. A couple of years ago, I tutored a blind Somali man named ‘Abdi. He was one of approximately 40,000 Somalis who have immigrated to the Twin Cities since the early 1990s. He told me his story in short bursts, and with a quick smile and a reassuring laugh.

Tens of thousands of Somalis—or mostly Somalis, some of them are from other East African countries—have crossed the Gulf of Aden in rickety boats to come to Yemen.

There are over 90,000 Somalis in Yemen.

Somalia’s total fertility rate—the average number of children are born to a healthy woman—is the forth highest in the world, at approximately 6.6. Yemen is the sixth highest, at 6.4.

Yemen’s population is expected to double in 16 years. 

I live in Khormaksar, which is a neighborhood in Aden close to the sea, or gulf. Every day, I pass at least a dozen Somali men who wash cars. Somali women and their children ask for change quite close by. The men never ask for change.

Black Hawk Down is an effectively intense, neo-verite army movie that shows a mostly white army battle a black insurgency.

After an initial limited release, the movie was widely released in the United States on January 18th, 2002, three days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and two days after the U.N. Security Council established an arms embargo and froze the assets of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaida, and the Taliban.

Black Hawk Down grossed over $170,000,000 worldwide.

 In 2003, NovaLogic released a video game for PCs, Xboxs and PS2s called Delta Force: Black Hawk Down. It’s rated T for Teen.  

A review on the site, complained that the computer-generated Somali insurgents were not developed enough. The writer added,

So, it’s basically up to you to play Rambo, running around and shooting all the sitting ducks. In fact, the game even keeps score for you–you can expect to kill more than 1,500 Somalis during the campaign.

June 17, 2008 at 5:44 am Leave a comment

Is he going to steer our convoy in a different direction?

June 4, 2008 at 2:08 pm Leave a comment

making history

Imagine my surprise. I’m sitting on my bed, at the Hotel Daibani in Aden, watching al Jazeera, and I hear, through the rapid jumble of Arabic words, ‘St. Paul, Minnesota’.

St. Paul. Al Jazeera. Did another bridge collapse? A voice of a correspondent crackled across a cell phone. Barack Obamaand Hillary Clinton…elections…votes…South Dakota…count…the economy…Obama…a speech.

Hot scoop: Obama gives a speech!

Why was this speech special? Why was an al Jazeera correspondent reporting from Keillor country? And what the hell was she talking about?

From what I could gather, the reporter was embedded in Obama’s convoy, which had brazenly entered the politically schizophrenic state, and set up camp at the Excel Center. It was a symbolic fort (also the home of the NHL’sMinnesota Wild) where Obama’s battle-hardened antagonist would soon accept the other party’s nomination.

The embedded journalist (or embed as we in the industry like to call it) was reporting Obama’s seeming victory over Clinton’s surprisingly resilient and resourceful insurgency. Obama’s speech sounded as if it might be premature. There were a few dead-enders who couldn’t quite accept our liberation from decades of tyrannical elected officials.

I laid down , trying to put the Arabic words together in my head. Obama, Hillary…speeches, change, freedom. I drifted towards another battle, closer to my room, which had seemed to vanish from the headlines even though it had caused of unimaginable human suffering.

Mission Accomplished?

The next day was quiet. The classes went smoothly, and I didn’t get stuck explaining some obscure English rule that no American has ever followed.

After my second class, one of my favorite students lingered. He frequently stayed after class, and we spent a lot of time talking about verb tenses and shoulds and coulds and runon sentences. He had seen the same al-Jazeera story.

‘It doesnt matter,’ he said, with a wry grin. ‘They…ah…they don’t care who win. Macain. Clinton. No problem. Obama. Ok. One wins and the other laughs. Its ok. They think same…ahhh…Palestine, Iraq, war. They all support…’ and he put his palms up as if there was nothing that could be done.

I said that I had hope for Obama, that he would change things. What things? Things. Then I asked him to write the Arabic word for change on the board.


‘He say ‘change, change’, but no.’

He said goodbye and left. 

I want to believe in change like I want to believe in hope. I want to believe in Obama, and so I’ll vote for him. Hopefully, he’ll win, and make history, as they say. But if he can’t steer our convoy away from the disastrous course it is taking in this region, how much will his achievements matter?


June 4, 2008 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

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