Somaliland: Working in Somaliland Part 1
Lain will be writing to Somalilandpress.com about her experience in Somaliland and will be offering tips to anyone who may want to visit the unrecognized republic along the way – discover Somaliland from a Non-Somali perspective.
We shivered in the pre-dawn gloom and regretted having gone to bed so late the previous evening but not as much as we regretted turning up for the bus thirty minutes early. It left at least thirty minutes late from Meskal Square in Addis Ababa. The first hour of the journey through the darkness was accompanied by the crackle of static over the radio as the bus assistant kept searching in vain for a radio station. Giving up he turned it off and we instantly turned on our personal music. This seemed to give him an idea as loud Ethiopian music blared out of the speakers for the rest of the thirteen hour journey to Jijiga. The only respite was when an Ethiopian soap opera came on the television screens and we inwardly prayed for the music to come back.
Jijiga is an h-shaped town in the Somalia region of Ethiopia. With a different ethnicity and mother tongue to the rest of the country it acted as a halfway house for us between the cosmopolitan Addis and the more conservative Hargeisa to which we were heading. The one female amongst us covered up as we searched for a restaurant and somewhere to buy a beer, the last we would be drinking for some time. We bonded over a drink and talked long into the night swapping our fears and hopes. Early the following morning we left Ethiopia driving to our new home; Hargeisa, Somaliland.
The road from the border to the capital had suffered from recent rain damage so the transport sent by the University was off-road for the first thirty kilometres through the greenery which will be gone in a few weeks when the sun forces all life, humans included, to recede from its oppressive heat. The most impressive moment was climbing a two metre high bank to regain the paved road and speed the last sixty kilometres to the capital city and our house in the city. The greenery won’t last but at the moment it brings comfort to those of us from less arid climates as the green shrubs start to flower around Hargeisa.
The house itself is large and contained behind a perimeter wall topped with perpendicular shards of broken glass which have been cemented into place. A turquoise gate leads to a simple yard and veranda, the door of which was locked when we arrived. In fact all of the doors were locked and none of the keys were labelled so the first thirty minutes in our new home were spent trying keys in different locks before we could move into our new rooms. Despite having a mountain of keys none of them opened the front door to the kitchen necessitating a lengthy walk around the yard to get to the back door and in.
From our flat roof-top terrace we can see downtown Hargeisa which is a thirty minute walk or twenty minute minibus ride away. A petrol station sits around fifty metres from our building and serves all manner of western goods including what appears to be alcohol-free beer but is actually a malt imitation drink which is absolutely disgusting. One hundred metres in the opposite direction between us and the desert skyline is a large, popular hotel which probably has the best facilities in the country. It has reasonable Wi-Fi, a cool shady interior and Premier League football.
Over the hill, which forms our desert skyline, are scattered some smooth sandstone boulders which offer some decent rock climbing potential with steep climbing to keep my arms strong. Our presence by those rocks causes great interest to the local children who come to watch the strange white creatures who crawl like insects all over giant stones near their houses.
Our early days have been spent settling in. We’ve explore the market under the careful auspices of our armed guard Ahmed who barely speaks but watches over us silently and would keep us away from hassle if there were any. Hargeisa is a remarkably hassle-free place. People will call out to us to ask how we are and try to engage in conversation which can occasionally be tiring when we are attempting practical tasks like going for gas or shopping for household essentials. Despite this it is never a chore to talk to the friendly locals. We are asked about our nationalities, cities, football teams, jobs and our view of Somaliland.
We spent Sunday morning sitting on uncomfortable benches watching animated Somali speeches as the Universities Class of 2011 graduated. Each faculty leader gave a long speech as did several industry leaders and finally the President of Somaliland who was only twenty metres from where we were sitting! Digital cameras were frequently aimed in our direction by well-dressed graduates who were adorned in flowing black gowns and rotor board hats, some of which perched upon beautiful headdresses which matched the faculty sashes they all wore. About one third of the graduates were women which is always encouraging to see.
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No African city is spotless and Hargeisa has its problems with litter. Frequent winds blow through displacing the rubbish from the ground and throw plastic bags of blue, white and green up into the air. Often they get stuck on the thick spikes of the bare trees which grow around the city. Early one morning whilst drinking tea on the roof we witnessed a mini cyclone tear through the streets by the petrol station. It threw thousands of multi-coloured plastic bags and other pieces of rubbish hundreds of feet up into the air. We stood and watched them swirl around above our heads; their colours were set against the azure-blue backdrop of a clear sky. We watched them slowly float down towards the dry and dusty earth. They looked like a cavalcade of kites as they drifted down, apparently aimlessly, looking for the right place to settle and flower. I looked around at my new colleagues beside me; we had come from all over the world, drifted and settled in Hargeisa where we were hoping to flourish. It felt like we had just done exactly the same thing as the bags by falling into place here. We were Hargeisa flowers.