One woman challenges perceptions of Somalia one Instagram post at a time

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Carol Hills: What Libya is going through right now probably sounds very familiar to people in Somalia. That country on the Horn of Africa was also torn apart by militants and warlords and many Somalians simply fled their nation to find safety elsewhere. Among those exiles was Ugaaso Boocow. She fled Somalia as a child and grew up in Toronto. But she recently moved back to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Security there has been vastly improved in recent years, and to keep in touch with friends and family back in Canada, Ugaaso started posting on Instagram. Now her account has 47,000 followers. She says her images are just ordinary slices of life in Somalia.


Ugaaso Boocow: Pictures of natural fruit juice--watermelon and mango, freshly squeezed lemon. Along this coastline in Africa, I would post pictures of the beach, pictures of me hanging out with my friends, just to show that it’s very normal to be out here and to live here and to work here and to be a young woman in this country.


Hills: When did things start to take off and when did you start to get so many followers?


Boocow: Relatively recently. I would say about a month ago. I don’t know what had had happened but large sums of people started following me, largely because I started posting comical videos and then I started posting more videos of the lifestyle here in in Mogadishu.


Hills: What kind of stuff were you posting in the video?


Boocow: The beach with a song that I like, a popular hip hop song; things they can relate to, walking down the street maybe, paved roads, lights--it’s unbelievable the small things that I was posting that were meaningless if you were in Canada--why would you take a picture of a light?--well, that’s because we actually have lights here now, the roads are paved, we have buildings. So, things like that. They fascinated a lot of people for whatever reason.


Hills: So, who’s following you? Is it other Somalis or is it all sorts of people?


Boocow: A lot of people actually. I get lots of emails saying “I’m from Nigeria” or “I’m from Sweden” or “I’m from Holland,” so it’s a very diverse audience that is following me.


Hills: Do you worry at all that internet fame might make you a target?


Boocow: No because there are bigger dogs to go after. I’m not doing anything wrong, to be honest. I don’t think that it should be perceived as something bad. Am I going to be a target? I don’t feel that way.


Hills: If there’s a thread in your post, it’s sort of to use humor to enact change. What do you hope comes out of your Instagram feed?


Boocow: Just a positive connotation alongside the word “Somalia,” the word “Mogadishu,” the word “Africa.”


Hills: I must say, there’s also a sort of feminist slant to your videos. You’re trying to defy women’s roles a bit as well.


Boocow: Definitely. I was raised by a very strong grandmother and she had instilled those values in me at a very early age.


Hills: Are you in it for the long haul? Is Mogadishu your home now?


Boocow: Yes, it is. Mogadishu has always been my home in my heart but I was physically not in Mogadishu for about 20-some-odd years. But Mogadishu has always been and will always be my home.


Hills: Ugaaso Boocow of Somalia, thanks for talking to us about your photos.


Boocow: Thank you so much.