With Islamists out, Somali town ‘returns to life’
On a patch of scrub land outside a mosque, a group of young boys run around playing football as their friends furiously ride bikes round and round the makeshift pitch, bare feet covered with dust.
What would be a humdrum scene elsewhere feels like a revolution in the central Somali town of Hudur, which has just emerged from three years of control by Islamist rebels.
Football was forbidden, along with music. Jeans were outlawed for men, who were made to wear cropped pants and Islamic gowns and to grow bushy beards while women were told to replace their brightly-coloured head scarves with a full veil.
"Many things changed when Al-Shebab took over. Schools closed, football was banned," Hussein Ali Abdi, a 19-year-old-Manchester United fan, said, proudly displaying the jeans he bought after the Islamists were chased out of town in April.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab was ousted by the Ethiopians and their Somali government allies, who still patrol the town of 40-50,000 residents.
As men sipped tea in the shade and women gossiped loudly near the football game, Abdi recounted how life changed overnight, with residents finally able to listen to non-religious music and to watch television again.
"Listening to music got you hit 100 times. Ten people hit you 10 times," said Abdi. "One would beat you 10 times, then the next would beat you 10, till the last one."
Goats bleat plaintively in sandy streets lined with slowly crumbling buildings, some of which once belonged to non-governmental organisations that were forced out of Hudur.
At the market, stall holders are doing a roaring trade in second-hand clothing that was also banned under the Islamists.
The area looks like it has not had rain for weeks, the local thorn bushes covered only with discarded plastic bags and no greenery.
"The Shebab were here for three years and it will take the people three years to forget what they did and taught us," Sheikh Ali Ibrahim, Imam at the Buulow Mosque, said ruefully.
During their time in power the Islamists stopped him from preaching and he spent his time tending the meagre crops on his farm.
"Those religious leaders and the other elders who did not comply with their regulations were arrested," he said, adding that many people were killed "without any reason".
"The religion they adopted is something they made up, it does not refer to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)," Ibrahim said.
Although the town itself is relatively safe, and life is slowly returning to normal, the Shebab are still only around 20 kilometres (12 miles) away.
"Only Hudur has been liberated for the moment," said Mohamed Abdi, governor of Bakool. "The terrorists are still controlling villages outside town."