A sense of normalcy is returning to Mogadishu, Somalia's once war-ravaged capital. Amidst the ruins, residents are beginning to rebuild their lives. Street lamps now light up some of Mogadishu's battle-scarred roads as hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and supermarkets spring up in the city. But despite the newly found freedom, Al shabaab Islamist militants continue to make sporadic attacks, threatening the city's fragile peace.
Residents shop at well-stocked stores, filling up cars at gas stations rather than buying jerry cans from roadside vendors, and even enjoying a night out at the clutch of restaurants and hotels rising from the rubble.
Many overseas Somalis are returning after fleeing during years of fighting, when the country was carved up by clan warlords before Islamists took charge of Mogadishu in 2006. Their money has spawned arts venues and sports clubs.
But according to some residents like Ali Sheikh Osman who was shopping at the new Irmaan Supermarket, life is becoming more expensive. Prices are being pushed up by the richer returnees.
"It was violent before but life was cheaper then. These days prices are really high," said Osman.
Still, rebuilding a life that many in the world take for granted is a slow and often imperfect process.
Militant al Shabaab islamists still control swathes of countryside and some towns, and have launched several attacks on the city since 2011.
Last month they showed their reach by striking a Kenyan shopping mall.
But residents of Mogadishu appear determined to enjoy their new freedoms and not be deterred by the threats.
A few main streets are lit by solar-powered lamps.
With al Shabaab no longer in charge, the city's youth flock to the beach or gather at coffee shops to chat, testing the boundaries of a still conservative society.
"Mogadishu is on the way to recovery. There are so many places where young men and women can chat and relax at any time, day or night that did not exist for the last 23 years," said Hassan Ali Abdulle, another Mogadishu resident.
A children's park has also been opened with a pool where children can swim and play.
"We did not have children's play parks in the city because of insecurity but now we have places that our children can play and swim and even ride electric trains," said Abdi Haji, a Mogadishu resident.
Reminders of the fragility of the gains are however, always present.
A suicide bombing closed the National Theatre after it briefly reopened last year. And in June, 22 people were killed when al Shabaab gunmen stormed a U.N. base in the capital.
But at the newly established, Mogadishu gym, al Shabaab threats do not damper the spirits of those seeking fitness.
"A lot of young and old men and women come regularly to Mogadishu Gym because they are coming to lose weight. There were no well-equipped gyms in the city before this one," addedMahamed Said Jamac, a gym instructor.
While Mogadishu residents enjoy relative peace and calm, the government still has to rely on an African peacekeeping force whose control in the nation of 10 million barely extends beyond the capital.
Many Somalis in the rest of the country are still waiting for the peace dividend Mogadishu enjoys.
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