A child looks at the Buulo Mingis camp for internally displaced people (IDP), located in Bosaso, in the north-east zone of Somalia. This costal city, one the main ports of the country and the capital of Puntland, has enjoyed a relative political and military stability compare to the rest of the country. Bosaso, Somalia. October 5, 2015.
A young boy looks at the Buulo Mingis camp for internally displaced people (IDP), located in Bosaso, in the north-east region of Somalia. This coastal city, one of the main seaports within the Puntland state, has enjoyed a relative political and military stability compared to the rest of the country. Bosaso, Somalia. October 5, 2015.Marco Gualazzini—Contrasto
A child looks at the Buulo Mingis camp for internally displaced people (IDP), located in Bosaso, in the north-east zone of Somalia. This costal city, one the main ports of the country and the capital of Puntland, has enjoyed a relative political and military stability compare to the rest of the country. Bosaso, Somalia. October 5, 2015.
Two men working on a light pole in the Buulo Mingis camp for internally displaced people located in Bosaso, in the north-east zone of Somalia. October 5, 2015.
Female students in the courtyard of the Haji Mire Primary School in Bosaso, Somalia. The school has nine classes and students are taught English, Arabic, Math, Physics and they also study the Koran. October 6, 2015.
Young men learn how to swim in the seacoast Abdiaziz District in the southeastern Banaadir region of Somalia, as part of a program by the Fishing Training Center, founded by UNICEF and N.R.C but now run by local organizations. Mogadishu, Somalia, October 12, 2015.
A man carries a shark on the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. A recent escalation of plunders in Somali waters by foreign fishing vessels could mean the return of hijackings, locals fear. The country's waters have been exploited by illegal fisheries and the economic infrastructure that once provided jobs has been ravaged.
Two sailors to repair sails and mend the fishing nets. The country's waters have been exploited by illegal fisheries and the economic infrastructure that once provided jobs has been ravaged. Mogadishu, Somalia, October 10, 2015.
The destroyed structure of the old parliament in the Hamar Weyne district, in the southeastern Banaadir region Somalia. Mogadishu is at a crossroads: On the one side the asymmetrical strategy of terror of Al-Shabaab, and on the other the desire of Somalis to a return to normal life.
A daily life scene in the city center of Bosaso: some people took a rickshaw, a common mean of transportation among locals.
Patrons relax at the Posh Treats-Country Club, Mogadishu’s first country club. Located within a well-protected complex, at Km5, the club opened in January 2015. Manar Moalin, a 33-year-old woman from the Somali diaspora, is the owner. The club offers hairdressing services, a spa, gym, billiards room, live music, restaurant and shisha, all activities still prohibited in Somalia. Anyone who practices them becomes a target of the Islamic group Al Shabaab. Mogadishu, Somalia, October 18, 2015.
Lido makeshift camp. 28-year-old A. H. has a throat cancer and needs treatments. Some 30,000 Yemenites and Somali returnees fleeing the fighting between the Houthi Shiite rebels and the Arab coalition in Yemen have landed on the coasts of Somalia. They now live in the refugee camps scattered throughout the country on the Horn of Africa. They all hope to reach Europe, but for the moment they are stuck in the nightmare of the war in Africa.
A child rests peacefully in a madrassa opened inside the Onat refugee camp in the district of Abdi Asis. Koran teachers impart the pillars of Islam to the new generations of children. More than 700 families live in the Onat refugee camp; some IDPs have been here for more than 20 years. Living conditions are precarious, and most of the displaced have nowhere to go back to, having lost all their possessions during the lengthy conflict. Mogadishu, Somalia, October 20, 2015.
Abdirashid Abdullahi Mohamed, the governor of the Bay region, patrols the area around the former presidential palace, now completely destroyed by the war, in Baidoa, Somalia. Baidoa is one of the most important cities of Somalia. In the 90's it was severely damaged by the famine. In the 2000s, it became the temporary capital of the country, and five years later it fell under Al Shabaab’s control. Since 2012, Baidoa has been liberated by the AMISOM forces but it remains one of the most targeted Somali cities by terrorist attacks. Baidoa, Somalia, October 14, 2015.
An internally displaced Somali woman walks inside a makeshift camp in Baidoa, in the Bay region, 150 miles from Mogadishu, Somalia. The internally displaced families fled to Baidoa town to escape famine in the surrounding areas. Baidoa, Somalia. October 14, 2015.
Women refugees from Yemen wait in line for the distribution of the unconditional cash transfer and voucher service. The programme, along with emergency medical support, is provided to Yemeni refugees and Somali returnees in the Bexani Medical Clinic Center in Mogadishu. The project is implemented by the International Rescue Committee and funded by the Department for International Development. Mogadishu, Somalia. October 12, 2015.
A. Abdalla Ali, a Yemeni refugee from Aden, Yemen, with his wife and their two sons. Abdalla was a house decorator back in his country. He left Yemen with his family when his neighborhood was bombed. Bosaso, Somalia,
Abdelaziz Ahmed Abbas, from Aden, Yemen, lost his wife and five of his children. Only one son survived the civil war in Yemen. Along with other Somali returnees and refugees from Yemen, Abbas fled to Bosaso, where he found hospitality at one of the reception centers. Bosaso, Somalia, October 5, 2015.
A young boy looks at the Buulo Mingis camp for internally displaced people (IDP), located in Bosaso, in the north-east r
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Marco Gualazzini—Contrasto
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Witness Somalia's Resilience After Decades of War

Jan 14, 2016

The sunbathed half-mile stretch of road that links the Aden Adde International Airport and the Peace Hotel in Mogadishu, once named by TIME the “best hotel in hell,” is interrupted by at least seven security checkpoints: four at the airport, sporting metal detectors and concrete barriers, and three at the hotel – such are the measures taken to prevent Al-Shabaab’s assaults threatening Mogadishu every day.

War-torn Somalia is still a hostile place for reporters. Twenty five years of cruel civil war between military groups and terrorist organizations have torn apart this country located on the Horn of Africa between the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

Photographer Marco Gualazzini is very familiar with this territory and its past. He visited Africa for the first time in 2009, working in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, returning over the years for more coverage in Somaliland – for the 20th anniversary of the self-declared state – and has toured Mali, Nigeria, and Sudan, to name a few. Still, for Gualazzini, Somalia remained an unexplored and fascinating territory, his interest with the Sub-Saharan region fueled by Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning movie Black Hawk Down as well as the work of one of his maestri and sources of inspiration, James Nachtwey.

What led him to Somalia was a series of fortuitous events, particularly his encounter with Italian photographer Franco Pagetti, who covered the area extensively. Pagetti encouraged the photographer but also warned him of the difficulties of working in such a place “because ‘you can’t hide there.’”

When he entered the country in 2012 for one week, Gualazzini’s experience was very different from his previous visits to the continent. “Somalia is in a post-war situation. For the Western mentality, if someone doesn’t witness it directly, it is something hard to imagine, it is a world completely destroyed, overturned,” he says. “But somehow there are signs... I would call them ‘attempts at life’ – [to call them] rebirth would be an overstatement.”

In 2015, Gualazzini returned for a longer period – 21 days – to document precisely such “attempts,” this time hired by the Norwegian Refugee Council, a humanitarian non-governmental organization that financed most of the project and took care of the logistics. Because of the dangerous circumstances, intensified by Al-Shabaab’s “asymmetric warfare” of unpredictable terrorist attacks, Gualazzini adhered to N.R.C.’s strict conditions. Though these were necessary for his safety, he felt at time that they limited his natural reliance on instinct. Escorted each time by a dozen armed guards, traveling on armored trucks, Gualazzini was granted no more than 30 minutes for each location – roughly the time it takes Al-Shabaab to locate a target and attack.

A non-negotiable curfew at 5:30 p.m. each evening didn't help either. “It is frustrating to work in Somalia,” he says referring to the dangers, “but at the same time it is extremely fascinating because Somalia is still really ‘a place beyond all others,’” he adds quoting what author Rudyard Kipling once said about India. Somalia is a place of dichotomies, Gualazzini explains, where the ferocious destruction of the civil war and the misery of the famine seep from the cracks of destroyed buildings, sore wounds that open again at each of Al-Shabaab’s new assaults.

“My intention was to show a Somalia that is not sinking [anymore] as it has done for the past 20 years,” Gualazzini explains. Rather “a Somalia that resists, a Somalia that rises again.”

This Somalia can be found in the cheerful crowds sitting on the damaged stands that surround handball courts, where female teams are playing; it can be seen as girls hang out on Mogadishu’s Lido Beach, undeterred by Shari'a, and young men play football on the sand nearby. A new Somalia is witnessing a reverse exodus, as Somali refugees who crossed the Gulf of Aden are now being driven from Yemen by civil war. As Gualazzini's photos show, refugees camps are no longer a mass of makeshift tents, rather an organized village, like the one on the coastal city of Bosaso, that has its own dignity.

One of Gualazzini’s photos embodies these “attempts at life” for all: along the coast in Abdiaziz District, young men – soon to be trained as fishermen at the Fishing Training Center founded by N.R.C. and UNICEF – learn how to swim, floating reluctantly in their orange inflatable lifejackets – a symbol of calamity on Greek shores, a sign of hope in Mogadishu.

Marco Gualazzini is a freelance photographer based in Italy. His recent works include reportage in India, Myanmar, and he has covered Africa extensively. He is represented by Contrasto.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is the former International Photo Editor at TIME.com.

Lucia De Stefani is a writer and contributor at TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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