Arts, Culture & Media

A mother finds meaning in a Mogadishu nightmare

dan portrait 2.jpg

Credit:

courtesy of Kathy Eldon

This photo of Dan Eldon surrounded by Somali children appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world.

The foreign correspondents who covered Somalia in the early 1990s included a lot of war-weary hacks. Dan Eldon wasn't one of those. 

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He was fresh-faced and talented and just 21 years old when he first travelled to the Horn of Africa nation in 1992. He went to photograph the grinding conflict that even then seemed to have been going on forever.

Youth didn't hold Eldon back. He landed a coveted job with Reuters and went to Mogadishu again and again. 

When I was in Somalia in the 1990s, reporting for Monitor Radio, I remember him greeting guests at the front desk of the al-Sahafi Hotel, the high-walled compound where reporters stashed their gear and gathered on the rooftop when the conflict made it too noisy to sleep. The hotelier was helping Dan boost sales for the tee shirts he'd designed, the best known of which announced, "Viva Somalia… thank you for not looting." Dan, a talented photojournalist, didn't seem bothered that the first 200 of those shirts were, in fact, looted. 

Dan was at the al-Sahafi on July 12, 1993, when a group of Somalis ran to the hotel to alert reporters to a bombing by UN forces, then under US leadership. The mission was intended to obliterate a house where a warlord was thought to be hiding. 

Dan's mother, Kathy Eldon, tells the story of what happened to her son next in her new memoir, "In the Heart of Life."  

"Tragically, the warlord wasn't there and it was really a meeting of community leaders discussing the possiblity of peace," she says.  

Eldon estimates that, during the bombing, about 72 Somalis were killed and hundreds were wounded. 

"Dan and a group of other young journalists arrived on the scene to discover terrible chaos and carnage," she says. "The crowd numbered around a thousand in the compound, and was very angry. And they become a mob, and picked up stones and sticks and began to shout that the journalists were to blame."

Four journalists died that day: Hos Maina, Anthony Macharia, Hansi Krauss, and Dan Eldon.

Kathy Eldon's memoir tells the story of her struggle to come to grips with the tragedy. 

"When I started to write this book, it was to tell a story that I hoped would give other women and men a sense that, even when they go through the hardest, most awful, tormenting things, there is still hope," Eldon says. 

She never got over the grief, she admits. But she did get through it. 

"It was like this enormous weight off my head and my spirit, and I was able to really use my life in a much more positive way than if I'd hung on to that rage," she says. 

It's a story a mother should never have to tell.

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