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Shooting From Somalia

August 21, 2016


“How much would you pay to get in that building?” I asked.

“Oohh  … a hundred bucks.” he replied.

I said, “I’d go twenty.  If we both went twenty, that would be forty.”


“Wanna try it?” I continued.


He got out his billfold and looked to see what he had.  He only had one dollar.  Said, with a slight hint of relief, “I guess I’m not a very prepared photographer.”

I looked in my billfold.  I slowly counted.  I had a lot of ones.  I had thirty-eight total.  Together that made thirty-nine.  One dollar short.  I said I probably had four quarters in the car.  He said he probably did also.  We decided to go for it.

With that, Mark Goodman and I set off for the Somali Towers.   They are the tall apartment buildings on the West Bank occupied almost entirely by Somalis.  It’s a city within a city. All we had to do was find someone who spoke English who lived on an upper floor on the west side that would let two not-dressed-the-best strangers carrying black equipment into their apartment to shoot from their balcony.

We got to the tower of choice and went into the entry.  As people came and went we attempted to ask and explain, not knowing who was understanding what.  We weren’t having much success

Mark decided we looked too intimidating.  He took his tripod and put it on the floor in the corner.  He thought it looked too much like a weapon.  I wasn’t convinced that was the problem.  I kept mine.

We found the older people, the parents and grandparents, did not understand us   …or at least pretended not to.  The kids did, but they could not invite us in.

Then I spotted them.   I told Mark, “Here they come.”  It was an older gentleman with, who looked to be, his son.  It was.  The son translated for the father.  Mark explained.  They asked how long.  Mark said twenty minutes.  I was thinking longer.  The father said yes.

They brought us up to their apartment on the 14th floor facing west.  They asked us to wait outside  …something about his wife.

When told to come in, I walked right in.  Mark, being more thoughtful, asked if we should remove our shoes.  I didn’t hear the answer and kept walking.  The father stopped me and pointed at my shoes.  I felt bad.  I thought, “That was rather rude of me.”  The father was very gracious.

There was just one problem.  There was no way to get to the balcony.  The “balcony” was only about 18 inches deep and used only by pigeons.  The sofa and table were in front of the sliding door.  The father was gesturing towards the door and sofa.  It wasn’t clear what the gestures meant.  Was he saying we could shoot from inside over the top of the sofa?  I gestured at the balcony hoping we could get out there.  They eventually understood and started moving furniture.   To move the sofa other furniture had to move first.  Did not mean to be quite so disruptive.   They were very accommodating.  Said it was not a problem.

We squeezed out onto the balcony.  There was no way to totally avoid the pigeon poop.  I stood in one spot the whole time.

The view was tops.  The son had explained on the way up that they had chosen this apartment for the view.  Unfortunately, it was not the best time of the week nor the best time of the day nor the best sunset nor was the stadium lit to our expectations.  But it wasn’t bad:

As we were leaving, I asked if they had an email address we could sent a photo to.  They did.

We thanked them and offered to put the furniture back.  They insisted not.

I gave the father twenty dollars.  He smiled broadly and said, “Thank you.”  I felt a bit guilty however – wondered if I should have given him the thirty-nine Mark and I were prepared to give (we both forgot our quarters).  I think I’ll email them some beautiful evening, ask if I can come and take another photo and give them the other twenty.

As we left Somalia and headed back to our cars, Mark said, “Bet Mike Plucker doesn’t have that shot.”









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