MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somali kids just want to have fun. They climb on a jungle gym, ride bikes, splash in a swimming pool and laugh — a scene normal in many parts of the world, but new in Mogadishu where decades of bloody battles have kept children indoors, their parents hiding them from violence.
The Mogadishu Guest House opened a children's playground recently in hopes of reshaping the lives of children in a city where stability is increasing after the ouster of al-Shabab militants from the capital and surrounding towns.
"It's sort of a strange business, but helps to reshape our children's lifestyle," says Salim Salad, the manager of the hotel that invested in a playground, basketball court, gym and children's toys.
Parents like Sadiya Muhummed say this helps their children grow in an atmosphere free of guns.
"A much needed service, our children can have fun finally," said the Somali-American who returned to Mogadishu with her three children five months ago from the U.S.
Weekends are especially busy, with about 60 kids a day, Salad said.
But playing doesn't come cheap. The hotel charges $2 for each child's one hour entertainment service, a price only very few can afford. About 43 percent of the population lives below $1 a day, and 73 percent below $2 per day, according a 2012 study by the World Bank.
Security concerns, however, still prevail. The children get patted down before entering the hotel to play. Weeks ago a suicide car bomber blew himself up at the gate of another hotel which was being used by a delegation of Turkish officials in Somalia's capital, killing three Somalis and shattering windows.
"Regardless the challenges, our city has dramatically improved, peace will prevail," said Abukar Abdulle, a 46-year-old father of four at the hotel's playground. "Such things would have been unthinkable three years ago."
On a recent day, beaming parents watched as their children splashed water on each other in a swimming pool, while others peddled bicycles. They never stop laughing and smiling, a rare sight in a place that has known war for so long.