Blog: Journey through Djibouti
Djibouti, 25 July 2010 (Somalilandpress) – Emily will be writing to Somalilandpress.com about her experience in Djibouti and will be offering tips to anyone who may want to visit the East African nation. Discover Djibouti from Non-Djibouti perspective.
It is a pleasure to be able to greet the readers from SomalilandPress once again. After looking forward to returning to Hargeisa since my August departure, I wasn’t sure what to make of it when my plans rerouted me to Djibouti instead. When I was in Hargeisa last summer I met several Djiboutians who had come to Somaliland to escape the scorching heat that overtakes Djibouti for about four months, so I had plenty of warning about the weather. On the other hand, I knew that Djibouti was nestled between the Gulf of Tadjoura and Gulf of Aden, that safety would not of concern, and one of my friends from Hargeisa even described it as “the Paris of Africa.” I don’t think she’s ever been to Paris.
On the Ethiopian Airlines flight, which was delayed but had excellent service and a nice aircraft and movie selection, I got to know some of my fellow passengers and when I started conversing with them in Somali, they quickly took me under their wing. The language skills of the Djiboutians still impress me. Many people speak conversational Somali, French, Arabic, Afar, and sometimes English as well. But on the other hand, I find that when they speak they tend to mix all these languages together and it is rare to find someone using just one pure unadulterated language. If I try to limit the conversation to only one language, often my counterpart will still insist on mixing languages as he struggles to find every word within the confines of one sole language.
When the plane landed in Djbiouti, I was curious to experience this strong heat that I heard about from literally every person who has ever been to or heard about Djibouti. In a way I was dreading the impending heat, and in a way I just wanted to get it over with. I stepped off the aircraft to a hot breeze much like a high-power hair dryer, similar to the weather I experienced in Berbera last year. My visa sent me seamlessly through the immigration line, and my companions from the flight stayed with me until my luggage arrived and made sure that I wouldn’t be abandoned at the airport. I was relieved to see my gracious hosts waiting patiently in front of the sliding glass doors when they opened (this reminds me of the Somali story where a mother tells her son before departing to the US that she hopes Allah will open many doors for him in his future, and when he arrives in America a pair of automatic doors open and the boy praises Allah in awe of his mother’s wisdom). As I exchanged phone numbers with my friends from the flight and stepped into the car, I looked with anticipation through the car windows as I saw Djibouti for the first time. The roads were so clean, and the streets seemed so empty. We drove to a Yemeni restaurant and as the server walked over; I was kind of giddy and nervous about placing my order using my rusty and imperfect Somali. My hosts spoke first, inquiring in Somali about some of the choices on the menu. And to my surprise, the Djiboutian server answered in a mix of some Somali words, but mostly French, and she looked peevishly towards me. The family was less surprised than I was that she didn’t speak much Somali and somehow I began sort of translating between the server and the family as we placed our order. I was discombobulated and had never been in the position where I had to think in both French and Somali and even English, so my translation from French to Somali/English also came out in a cocktail of broken languages. In a way, I fit right in.
I had the chance to go to the beach on my first Friday in Djibouti. We prepared some food and drinks, and drove out of the city center to a less crowded beach off the main road. I was so excited to have the chance to swim and cool off a bit. But when my feet met the Gulf, I was dumfounded that the water temperature was at best a few degrees cooler than the hot air. Still it was nice to swim, and to sit by the coast and enjoy fresh watermelon juice and sambusas.
My second week here coincided with Somaliland’s elections and I had to force myself not to cross over the border to take in the excitement first hand. But even Djibouti was paying close attention, with BBC Somali Service and local news stations keeping an attentive eye on the events down the road. From Djibouti, I got to learn about the impressive campaigns led by UDUB, Kulmiye and UCID. A friend of mine in Djibouti who is originally from Somaliland called in sick from work and from downtown Djibouti, she boarded a free bus sponsored by Kulmiye all the way to her polling station across the border where she exercised her right to vote and revealed inky fingers as proof. Kulmiye even put up the busload of voters in accommodations overnight free of charge, allowed the voters to choose whichever party they wanted to support, and drove them safely back to Djibouti on Sunday morning. I believe all three parties did the same and am still impressed by the organization and commitment of both the parties and the voters.
Back in Djibouti, the lively central market has become my favorite hangout especially in the late afternoon, when its hustle and bustle is a welcome contrast to the listlessness imposed by the mass consumption of khat around the same hours. At one particular corner of the market I have managed to get to know a friendly group of women who inform me of prices, show me around, and fill me in on the latest gossip. I have yet to explore Djibouti outside of the city, and look forward to visiting different regions of the country to get a better taste of its diversity in landscape and people, from Tadjoura to Lake Abbe and Ali Sabieh.
Thank you for reading.