6OØCW 2012 DXpedition
Somalia….a country known from ancient times as Puntland, it was included in the Ethiopian Kingdom since the second century BC. It was invaded many times by different people and split in numerous small nations till 1887, when it became an English Protectorate under the name of Somaliland name. Between 1915 and 1941 it was part of Italian East Africa together with Eritrea and Ethiopia. In 1960 it became independent and civil wars began. Signs of Italian presence are still evident: culture and infrastructures from our country helped during the last century to develop Somalia. Many persons speak Italian (mostly old people) and it is easy to hear good opinions about our country.
After the previous regime collapsed in early ’90 s , tribal wars divided Somalia in 3 States: Somaliland in the north, Puntland in the center and South in Mogadishu area. There is a “federal government”, even if the situation is not calm and in the South there is the presence of Al Qaeda militias and African soldiers from Ethiopia and Uganda to help to keep order.
Galkayo is a town located in Puntland close to southern border and is considered a dangerous area. Here our friend Dr. Jama lives and works. Last year, during a Skype conversation, we asked him if it was the right period to visit again Somalia (some of our group already visited the country in 2005 and 2006). Without hesitation he replied that it was too dangerous and a visit could be too risky for our safety. This was confirmed by several terrorist attacks during October and November 2011. One of them , by the way, was carried out against Radio Galkayo, a local short-wave broadcasting we helped with antennas and an Acom 1000 p.a. during our last visit. Luckily there were no victims, but we were really worried. The most serious attack took place a few days later, when two humanitarian volunteers (a Dane and an American) were kidnapped. A couple of months later U.S. intelligence found the terrorists’ base and a special forces operation rescued the hostages and killed all terrorists. From that day, the atmosphere was more relaxed and calm and visitors safety was better guaranteed.
Initially we didn’t want to go to Somalia, since we were aiming at other destinations. The planning of the activity for a group like ours needs considering different destinations at the same time, as unexpected events may require quick changes and sudden cancellations. It was the case of our dxpedition to Mali this year, when two days after airplane tickets were bought and hotel down payments made, a civil war between Government Army and Tuareg northern militias forced the Malian Ministry to call us and abort the dxpedition! So, we had to find and get organized for a new country : Somalia! At the beginning we only needed local logistic help, since all team members have a lifelong Somali license. But in a country like Somalia local logistic help is mandatory. Some contacts did not produce results, but then we got in touch with Dr. Jama, who was in Italy for a neurosurgery conference. He reassured us about the local situation, but said that if we wanted to go there , it had to be in May because in that period he would have been in Galkayo and without his presence a dxpedition was impossible.
We started immediately our planning and the Doctor found a good location for us: the villa of the former (now dead) President was sometimes rented to Europeans needing to stay in Galkayo (there are no good hotels in that area). Despite the high rate, we decided to accept this offer considering the large garden, ideal for our antennas. There was also a 70 m tower for microwave links and we already dreamt about hanging a 160 m beam from it! Everything seemed to go right, but Mr. Murphy was working for us: just after the (new) airplane ticket were bought, Dr. Jama called us: the President’s heirs now asked for a full year rental rate of $ 45,000! It was clearly unaffordable. After a couple of hectic ad painful days, Dr. Jama called us saying that he had found a hotel very clos to the University , and that Rector agreed to give us some rooms for our radios and use of the roof for our antennas. It was also a good solution for our safety, given the very close distance of the hotel from our radio stations. We tried to find pictures or descriptions about this location on Internet, but no information was found. We had no alternatives and therefore we confirmed the reservations. Flights were not simple to organize: previous dxpeditions were made through a local airline company which went belly up. So, thanks to our wonderful friend Dr. Jama, we found a carrier connecting Nairobi and Galkayo. We got in touch with Enrico, 5Z4ES, who lives in Nairobi.
Enrico and his wife Lisa were really kind and ready to help: flight infos, ticket reservations, overweight charge negotiations ( more than 130 kg in excess!!!). They came to Nairobi Airport to help us with Visas and custom clearance, and organized a very pleasant night in Nairobi with dinner and hotel rooms to rest for some hours.
THANKS ENRICO! THANKS LISA! It’s great to have friends like you in countries where the smallest problem can cause huge unpleasant consequences !
Ready at Milan Malpensa Airport, but with a sick Silvano sitting on our luggage, Gino and Stefano took charge of check-in and baggage. In a few minutes, thanks to a very professional Swiss hostess, all procedures were competed. It was Sunday 7 May, 7:00 in the morning when we took off to Zurich and Nairobi, where we landed at 18:30 local time. At Nairobi Airport Enrico and Lisa took care of customs and passports. They took us to a beautiful grill restaurant sporting all kinds of meat, including crocodile and ostrich, with the added bonus of a very nice African dance show. Back to the airport very early in the morning after a few hours of sleep, we finally met our very, very old airplane by African Express Airlines (ever heard about them?). Enrico took care personally of our baggage in order to avoid bad surprises and bade us his farewell. When boarded, the plane didn’t show any sign of maintenance since many years! It was narrow, dirty and the smell in the air is hard to describe. We tried to fix Angelo’s seat, as well as a door swinging dangerously. Also the window gaskets were out of place. Unusual operations for Gino who, being a frequent flyer, opted to praying! After a four-hour flight we landed on the Galkayo airport clay runway. Dr. Jama, together with our friend Hussein and a delegation of the Crescent Moon (the local Red Cross), were waiting for us. After quick custom formalities (thanks Doctor!), followed by lunch, we could explore the University roof. Unfortunately, the space insufficient, but we agreed with the hotel owner that we could use also part of his roof, just a few meters away from the University. We tried to take maximum advantage of the available space, but in the end we could have not more than 10 m distance between antennas. This caused a lot of interference and the only solution was to find clean frequencies and operate on different bands, bearing each other. Of the two rooms given us by the University, the smaller was dedicated to SSB and the larger to CW, RTTY and 6 m. We started by installing a Spiderbeam in a torrid 38 degrees C temperature, and we had to stop often for resting in the shadows and drinking lots of water. At 15:00 UTC the first station was on the air, but we didn’t want to stop until the 40/80 vertical was up. At 17:00 2 stations were operating. Mr. Murphy began his duty: no internet connection, despite all our efforts. We decided to delay the first log uploading to the following day. On Tuesday morning we woke up at 5:30 to take advantage of the mild temperature and by the end of the day all antennas were installed and all four stations were operating.
We had huge pileups to face, while we had also many commitments with local authorities, Crescent Moon etc. The Internet troubles, caused by censorship filters, were always with us. But after a call to our friend Giacomo IH9GPI in 5 minutes we received an updated file of software for our online log software with a solution to bypass censorship. “ We fu…..d them this time, too!”
Many different problems affected our operation: a blackout due to a storm, shortage of operators because of dysentery, but we always managed to reach an average rate in excess of 5.000 QSOs per day. We consider this to be a very good result, taking into account that one station was only a beacon for 6 m. and in case of propagation openings we stopped the RTTY activity in order to try contacts this band. So we had in reality 3 stations and 5 operators (almost one per day spent most of his time at the restroom).
About propagation, we realized that it was very variable on the higher bands, with sudden openings and strong signals from Europe or Japan, forcing us often to manage the JA pileups by numbers. We also had very strong QSB in the morning, which causing strong problems and in some cases we had to interrupt a QSO. During the night we had good openings to USA, mostly in 18 and 21 MHz. The propagation to the USA started at about 22:00 UTC and lasted until about sunrise. During the day we received Europe and Asia. Erratic night openings characterized propagation on the lower bands, 80 m in particular. This band was mostly silent. We did not have noise but we could not hear anyone! Signal strength was close to zero and the few QSOs made were completed under very difficult conditions. 40m CW was not too bad, but SSB was almost impossible. Gino and Stefano worked hard to make just a few hundred tiring contacts. 80m SSB was totally impossible, owing to S9+10 noise. Probably we could have logged some A6 or HZ with 5kw, but we soon realized that our location was not suitable for the low bands. We made every effort to satisfy requests, but we regret that the final result was disappointing. About 160m , we did not have enough room on our roof, so we asked permission to place some antennas on another building close to the University. After some days of negotiations the permission was refused. So, no 160 m.
As we described above, the general situation in town was apparently calm, but there were anyhow some problems: during antenna installation some people threw stones at us and we heard many times shots and gunfire but we were not too worried because Dr. Jama provided us with four bodyguards (not contractors but Somali well-trained soldiers) . Local law says that every stranger must have one bodyguard , but our team of 6 had only 4 of them.
Besides radio, the other goal of our trip was to check the progress made thanks to the help that we had provided during previous dxpeditions. We attended at many different ceremonies held in our honor. The most important to us was in Galkayo Hospital, where Vinicio IK2CIO received the nomination of his son Andrea as Ambassador of Peace. Andrea, with his personal donations since he was 5 (now he is 12), helped in building and refurbishing a children pavilion of the Hospital. Another important visit was at the local Crescent Moon facility. There about 200 protheses per year are manufactured and given to children who lost legs or feet due to mine or bomb blasts. We also attended a dinner with local authorities (Mayor, Hospital Manager, members of the Parliament) and the request was always the same: “ HELP US” We will put on our website as soon as possible an appeal by Dr. Jama explaining what was done and what dire needs remain to be met. This will not be ham radio, but with a little help from everybody we could really help people who need our support.
Going back to radio matters, the greatest disappointment was the 6 m band, a new one for almost everybody. We were informed by Sergio IK0FTA that that period was not good, but expectations were anyway very high. Every morning we tried the beacon with the antenna to JA, but no answer back. In the afternoon again to EU, with the same results. Sergio informed us by e-mail of openings to 3B8, FR and ST2. We immediately went on RTTY with 500w, but no answer. Only one day, during the afternoon, we had a good opening for one hour and we worked about 70 stations, mostly SV. During the last 3 days absolutely no propagation, and the physical conditions of the team reduced our operating capacity to 50%. We knew about the high expectations and we were deeply frustrated, but we take comfort for the 100 operators whom we gave a new one. In any event, it’s an interesting result because it creates the first statistics for that country in that period on this band.
Time went on and we arrived at our scheduled departure time. We had to uninstall and prepare all material for our journey back to Italy. Murphy hit one more time the team: Silvano, Marcello and Gino suffered with fever, vomit and dysentery. Vinicio, Angelo and Stefano stood up bravely to the job. After so many years spent in dxpeditions installing and uninstalling the same radios and antennas, we can ready all containers and luggage in a few hours. We finally left the hotel, but stopped at another hotel where a Somali TV crew ran an interview which was broadcasted on the same evening on a satellite TV (HotBird, don’t ask which one!)
We arrived at Galkayo Airport but surprises were not over: delayed landing of the incoming aircraft, not unusual in itself, but on touchdown a tire exploded! Luckily the pilot found a spare wheel in the trunk and with jack and wrenches he replaced it while we waited under a tree. We flew south and landed near the Kenya border for custom and safety check, with great happiness of Silvano and Gino who spent one hour in the Airport toilet! We then landed at Nairobi and Lisa helped us again with African bureaucracy. All material was safely loaded onto a Swiss airplane. We thanked Lisa and bade farewell with some embraces and kisses ( Enrico was not there!), hoping to have the chance one day to return them all courtesy and help given to us. Physically the bill arrived: Silvano and Gino were sick for days, Marcello with a sore throat could not speak, Angelo felt drums in his belly, Vinicio slept even while walking and Stefano dreamt about chips and Milanese cutlet after 10 days of camel stew.
We were tired and as soon as we are on the plane we fell in a sort of hibernation!
Saturday morning we landed in Zurich and from there we flew to Milan on time. This was the first dxpedition in which we were happy to get back home. Somalia is a fascinating and mysterious land, with an old history and full of contradictions. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, and having lived for a dozen days in awful hygienic and health conditions we realized what everyday’s life can be for that brave people. We hope, with your help, to be able to alleviate their sufferings.
Check our website www.i2ysb.com soon, where you will find information about the next humanitarian steps we could take.
Finally we want to thank all friends who made this dxpedition possible: Dr. Jama and Hussein, Enrico and Lisa, IH9GPI Giacomo, IK7JWY Arturo, IK0FTA Sergio, the NCDXF, Sezioni ARI and their donations, sponsors and amateurs who contributed to make the financing of this dxpedition possible.
Thanks, really THANKS from our heart
Of course we are already working on the next dxpedition. Probably we will not be able go there (very difficult), but if we can……….
The Italian DXpedition Team