Beaches and fashion: Showing another side of Somalia

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A quick scroll of Ugaaso Boocow’s Instagram account reveals photo after photo of pristine beaches, exotic fruit cocktails and fashionable clothing. Like so many other users of the social network, Ugaaso is a young woman who loves to show off her life through photos and selfies. But the difference is that Ugaaso — who has 70,000 followers — lives in Somalia, one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

Can the smiling photos of Ugaaso, wearing colorful clothes and big sunglasses, posing in front of beautiful landscapes, give people another idea of Somalia? Ugaaso hopes so. She wants to show that there is a fun side to Mogadishu, despite the insecurity.

The beach in Mogadishu. All photos published on her Instagram account.

The beach in Mogadishu. All photos published on her Instagram account.

Somalia has been locked in civil war since 1991. Several periods of famine have also devastated the country. Today, it is partially controlled by the al Qaeda-linked Islamist group al-Shabaab, which regularly targets the capital Mogadishu. Earlier this week, the militants detonated a car bomb outside the ministry of higher education, killing at least 19 people.

Despite all this, Ugaaso looks far from scared in her many smiling selfies. When people accuse her of hiding the chaos of the Somali capital behind picturesque photos of the beach, she jokes that her critics might just be jealous: “Well, do you have beaches in your city?” Aside from posting photos, Ugaaso also likes to post selfie videos. In these short sketches, she makes gentle fun of her fellow Somalis.

“I want to tell a different story, to show that there is beauty in the chaos”

Ugaaso Abukar Boocow, 27, is an assistant in the Human Resources department of the ministry of reconstruction.

I opened my Instagram account a year ago, when I was still living in Canada, but I really started using it when I moved back to Somalia, in August 2014, to be with my mom. A lot of my Canadian friends wanted to know about my life here and whether I was safe, so I started to post pictures of myself regularly. It was easier than calling each of them one by one. Soon, my Instagram became a virtual window into Somalia. I didn’t plan it – it just happened naturally. There are so many negative images and stereotypes about my country, so I wanted to show my own image of it. I wanted to show the beaches and the hope, the courage and the beauty of Somalis.

Friends taking selfies on the beach at Mogadishu.

Friends taking selfies on the beach at Mogadishu.

At first, it was surprising to get so many followers but now I am just grateful to those people who are interested in my country. It’s become an obligation and a responsibility to post photos and videos. In general, the comments that I receive are very positive. What touches me the most is that people say they are proud of me. I want to show that there is beauty in the chaos. I work, I travel… I try to be a role model for Somali women and to help improve the situation for women in the country. It will be a long process but I hope to contribute to changes in society.

Beachside dining in Mogadishu.

Beachside dining in Mogadishu.

Striking a pose.

Striking a pose.

Shopping in town.

Shopping in town.

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