I am not the greatest at keeping up relationships with people I meet abroad. This is a skill I wish I were better at. Perhaps one day I'll improve myself in this area, but generally, I always lose touch with friends, colleagues, locals - people I have dined with, drank with, huddled in fear with, laughed with, have been helped by, or who I may have been able to help myself. I have always said that the reason I love my job is because of the people we meet while doing it. It seems that depending on the people we encounter in our journeys it can be the best thing about our work, or sometimes the worst.
Working for a newspaper, we rarely get the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a story overseas. We fly in, do our work, and get out again - hopefully without incident, and with everyone's health intact. It is never easy to witness terrible living conditions, peoples' suffering, fear in every face you see, and the struggle to stay alive amidst disease, or conflict. Like many of my colleagues, I come home to a beautiful suburban home - we even have the picket fence out front - and my beautiful wife, and two amazing children. Life goes on. But always there are special moments when I allow myself, or as is the case today, am forced to think about the people whose lives have intersected with mine if only for a very brief time.
Yesterday was one of those days.
Yesterday the world learned that two journalists - both Canadian - had been the latest victims of the decades-long conflict in Somalia's war-torn capital, Mogadishu.
Mahad Ahmed Elmi, a popular radio talk-show host, was gunned down outside of his office at around 7 a.m.
Later in the day, while returning from his friend Elmi's funeral, where he had spoken with sadness and anger, the founder and co-owner of HornAfrik – Ali Iman Sharmarke – died when his four-wheel drive hit an explosive device in the road.
"It demonstrates the conditions that Somali reporters are working under. The perpetrators want to silence our voices in order to commit their crimes."- Sharmarke
The Reuters story is here.
For eight years Sharmarke reported from the worlds most war-torn city. Like so many Somalis he fled to Canada with his family in 1991, but although he was immensely proud of his adopted country, he returned to his homeland in 1999, and with two friends established Somalia's first independent radio station.
In 2002 the trio were honored by Canadian Journalists For Free Expression.
When I traveled to Mogadishu last fall with reporter Michelle Shephard, for The Toronto Star, Mr. Sharmarke helped to arrange many of the trip's details. Michelle had met him earlier in Toronto, and she says it was because of him that we began looking seriously at doing the trip.
During our short stay in Mogadishu, we met with Mr. Sharmarke on four ocassions. In a shaded area of the HorneAfrik compound, we sat on pillows, and were offered fruit juice to drink, although our hosts were fasting during Ramadan at the time. In that relatively cool, comfortable oasis our conversation revolved around politics, journalism, and even cats. He seemed very pleased to host fellow Canadian journalists who were interested in Somalia's story, and willing to take risks to be there. I made a few images while we spoke, sadly in case something ever happened to any of these brave men. On the way out of the compound, we were shown where a grenade had exploded after being thrown over the compound wall only days earlier. They were generous to wait until after our short break was over. Perhaps our sanctuary from the searing heat, and the potential violence on the streets wouldn't have been so comfortable had we known of the grenade sooner.
Later in the evening we met with Mr. Sharmarke again, and this time his demeanor was completely different. Bluntly he told us that following their coverage of a women's protest of the Islamists' takeover of the port city of Kismayo, in the south, those loyal to the Islamists had closed their station there. The man looked exhausted.
For eight years Mr. Sharmarke had somehow survived the conflict between countless warlords, and most recently between the Islamists and the fragile Ethiopian-backed interim government. This ended yesterday, and as yet nobody has claimed responsibility for his death.
Inside the HorneAfrik office in Mogadishu, there are many inspirational paintings and posters on the wall. One of these is especially representative of the beliefs of Mr. Sharmarke and his brave colleagues. It reads, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
The world has lost two of its journalists, and I can only say that it was an honor to have spent even a short time in the company of one of them.