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Click to hear a voice reading - Part 1

SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF SUEZ

By

Gene C. McCoy

Prologue to a Novel

From the Straits of Aden south to the Equator the coastline of East Africa is a barren desert plain which over the centuries has been eroded by the Indian Ocean so that only an outcrop of limestone, pockmarked by wind driven sea spray, remains. For centuries the land was isolated and immune to outside influence. A coral barrier reef parallels the shore and serves as a natural protector against sharks and other predatory invaders in search of an easy meal, slaves or women. This was the place were the haughty and independent Lilith sought refuge when she was driven from the Garden of Eden. Her spirit is pervasive and lingering.

At about four degrees north latitude, a break in the reef affords entry to a small sheltered cove. In ancient times, slavers, traders and brigands, who plied the coast following the monsoon trade winds, brought their dhows and galleons in to seek refuge from heavy seas. They replenished water supplies and bargained for hides and meats with the nomadic herdsmen who roamed the countryside in search of water and grazing land for their stock.

These rowdy mariners found the fine featured natives to be noble, handsome and with a fine sense of humor, but too wispy and fragile to be worth taking to the slave markets. The women were docile and shy with large, almond shaped, eyes and small firm breasts capped with long purple nipples. The sailors considered the painful circumcision performed on the girls as they bloomed to puberty barbaric and cruel. But it so enhanced the sensual pleasures of physical love, they were willing to overlook the negative aspects of this primitive rite which seemed the only link these people had with their African neighbors.

On a promontory to the south of the "Window" as the break in the reef was called, a row of stick and mud "shambas" grew up and were eventually replaced by more permanent constructions as Arabic and European building techniques were introduced. A handful of the more enterprising natives left their nomadic brothers to set up stalls where mangos, bananas and papayas, brought from the river country not far away, could be traded to the hungry travelers for brilliant oriental silks, coffee from Zanzibar or beads and silver from the Arabian Peninsula.

Click to hear a voice reading - Part 2

During the heat of the day the sailors could pass their time in the cool, high-ceilinged coffee houses, situated in such a way so as to catch the sea breezes, Or they could lie with the women in a hashish or khat induced euphoria that exaggerated the firmness of the women's breasts, the length of their nipples, and eased the passage of time.

The town grew. Many nomads abandoned the rigors of bush life for the easier and more sophisticated ways of the city. It was not long before the lack of sewage and drainage facilities,coupled with the equitorial desert heat, made the seaside less pleasant. The town inched its way up the red sand dunes that rise up behind the pitted limestone cliffs. The wealthier of the new merchant class built villas and surrounded them with walls. From the river bottom they brought black soil so that bougainvillaea and hibiscus plants soon shaded their terraces that overlooked the sea. Flame trees with their dazzling red flower gave relief from the blistering equatorial sun in the afternoons. By evening it was pleasant to sip tea under the Southern Cross while listening to the music carried up the hill on the breezes from the herdsmen's camps on the outskirts of town.

Wealthy traders and ships' captains were treated to feasts of roasted goat's meat, samuzzas stuffed with spiced peppery greens, camel steak, and sweets made from honey and fermented goat's milk. For Christians there were European wines; oriental teas and thick Arabic coffee were available for the faithful of Islam. Special guests were honored with virgin daughters,presented after meals freshly bathed and scented with jasmine. The girls were taken to bedrooms on the second level of the villas to lie with the guests on rich Persian rugs and silk cushions while watching the slow, rolling waves breaking over the reef. For those of another persuasion there were slim-hipped Bajuni boys who, in order to learn their trade as fishermen, were committed to a ships's master who used them as sailors,companions and sexual partners.

The town prospered and it was known from Aden to Dar es Salaam as a place for satisfaction of sensual desires, easy living and vice. It was natural that it should become a haven for every sort of adventurer and outcast. Money was the equalizer of men. No inquires were made about one's past.

Click to hear a voice reading - Part 3

As slavery in the civilized parts of the world began to disappear, the easy money on which the town had grown became scarce. Fewer ships called the port. For those who had accumulated enough gold it was an easy trip by dhow to the south where in the more fertile areas of Kenya and Tanganyika European settlers were arriving. Commerce was replacing trafficking in human misery. The coffee houses closed. The villas on the dunes were abandoned and soon weathered away into decay and ruin,eventually to be reclaimed by the shifting red sands.

After this brief flourish the town drifted back to obscurity where it slept for the next several hundred years. In the pre World War II period the Italians made a half-hearted effort to colonize the area. It was not until the "Cold War" and the declarations of African independence that it again received attention from the rest of the world.

With the coming of the competition for African favor among the world's great powers, ambassadors from the major capitals were sent to represent their governments. Agriculturists, medical teams and teachers were brought in to stimulate the wakening of these nomadic anachronisms. Like their predecessors, these new foreign visitors found the people handsome and likeable. The women were as appealing to this group of diplomats and technicians as they had been to the ancient mariners and slavers.

On the red sand dunes the villas were rebuilt, this time to house ambassadors, embassy officers and representatives of the aid giving organizations. Using the same black, river bottom,soil as the former merchant princes gardens were planted. In the evenings the sea breezes were filled with the laughter of people practicing the ancient rite of attending diplomatic cocktail parties and receptions.

Click to hear a voice reading - Part 4

Along the narrow strip of sand behind the barrier reef, that came to be known as the Lido, simple beach huts sprouted up. Weary families sought relief from the heat and monotony of diplomatic entertaining by sun bathing, swimming in the sea and sipping long gin drinks. At the far end of this row of scrubby beach huts an enterprising Somali opened the Lido Club where youthful diplomats, teachers, medical volunteers and oil men danced the latest western dances with the sloe eyed native women who followed their ancient profession.

In the center of town little improvement had been made inthe drainage and sewage facilities. The accumulation of humanity and desert heat produced the same unpleasant odors. Cripples, lepers and syphilitics crawled the dusty streets in search of baksheesh. Gangs of abandoned children roamed the souk awaiting an opportunity to snatch a purse from a European woman, or press their naked emaciated bodies against her crisp linen dress.

The high point of any week was the day that the once-a-week Alitalia jetliner arrived from Rome with new faces, mail and imported delicacies. On these days the entire community gathered in the airport in a holiday atmosphere to greet new arrivals, or bid farewell to the fortunate ones who were leaving. They exchanged the same gossip that was bandied about at the never ending round of cocktail parties and receptions.

Heat, bitterness, boredom and frustration left husbands and wives on the verge of divorce and separation and with little physical interest in one another. It was natural that many kept their minds alive by carrying out little flirtations with an attractive member of the opposite sex. More marriages were saved by a liaison than were broken. For most people the planning,cunning and excitement of conducting a love affair in this climate of compulsive socializing was almost equal to the relief of an illicit physical union. For others, the targets, the objects of their affection, or other obsessions, became their raison d'etre.

And just below the surface there was always the spirit of Lilith, the seductress, the child-killer who appeared to old men in their dreams. This, was Mogadishu.

Read Somewhere South of Suez