November 30, 2011 ·31 Comments
Iain will be writing to Somalilandpress.com about his 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.“English is really hard.”
I was interested to read the blog of a traveller who recently passed through Somaliland. He made some outrageous claims to having been smuggled into the country. This gentleman inadvertently stayed at our place when one of my flatmates invited him for the night and a week later we were desperate to get rid of him. I thought the last of the troubles we had with his ignorant visit would be over until I stumbled across his blog online just the other day.
We’ve had a little bit of a problem with visitors. One woman who we met refused to wear a headscarf when we told her it was important. “No one minds, no one minds.” Well, no one will come up to you and say that they mind. In England people won’t go up to a gang of drug dealers on the street corner…this obviously means that they don’t mind it happening. I came downstairs to go shopping one morning and found the gentleman smuggler in shorts and a t-shirt. Two of my flatmates politely asked him to put on long trousers before he left the house. “No one minds.”
Maybe some people don’t mind. But I am certain that some people do. The consequences of upsetting people are minimal for anyone who comes to visit us. They are much greater for us. We make a real effort to get to know our neighbours, the storekeepers and police who are all in our area. If something unfortunate were to happen we know that they would be there for us, they like us and respect us and we treat them the same. We are always given the local price and no one would dream of doing anything to harm us.
So that is why we are concerned when people come here and start forgetting that they are in an Islamic society. We are guests in Somaliland and whilst we are welcome that welcome is not going to last very long if people are flaunting ever modicum of decency there is. This short-panted blogger, who spent six of his seven days in the country farting in our lounge and the other on a day trip to Berbera, doesn’t seem to understand that. If he spent half as much time visiting Hargeisa as he had spent making sexist comments to our female flatmate then he might have really seen Somaliland.
I had a look through his blog and once I had deciphered the appalling English he seems to copy and paste from a book of clichés I was shocked at quite how much he claimed to know about Somaliland and how little attention he really paid to anyone. “I really liked Somaliland, especially when I started to dive deeper into the culture like flirting with women in a full Burka and Veil, twice. They started it, I promise.” Imagine claiming that Somali women were flirting with you! More importantly: why exactly was he wearing a full Burka whilst he was flirting? He “dared to wear a shirt with a pony tail”. Everyone wears a shirt in this country. That isn’t exactly daring!
“I was asked countless times on the street where I am from which I promptly replied “Earth”.” That in itself shows a total disrespect for the culture he is visiting. I spend an hour a week drinking tea with a Somali friend, Shinee, who works at the market. He teaches me Somali words and we chat before I set off to go to work. It takes about fifteen minutes to get from the market to the main road because everyone wants to talk to me but I take my time doing it. I don’t ever feel the need to give facetious answers. If you really respect someone you will treat them as an equal.
His allusions to alcohol also irk not only me but those of us who live and work here and conform fully to the norms of the society we live in. It isn’t hard to survive without alcohol. Ethiopia is only a couple of hours away and this guy was here for seven days! All in all, I think you can tell, he left a sour taste in our mouths but out of every negative encounter comes a drive to want to do something positive. So to counter this paragon of cultural insensitivity we have created Project Mayhem.
Project Mayhem may have a foreboding ring to it but really it is our ironic sense of humour about how big a task we are setting for ourselves. My colleague and I were out for dinner discussing the lack of conventional tourist attractions in Hargeisa and how a simple one roomed museum might be easy to set up. We developed the idea further to create a three point plan for our project. We are going to need a lot of help from as many people as possible so if readers could spread the word about this then we would be grateful.
Firstly, we want to create a permanent open air exhibition (museum) of Somaliland. Our idea is to print as many museum style notice boards as we can with photos of Somaliland over the years and couple that with information in both Somali and English about the history and culture of the country we live in. We thought to cover the history of Somaliland from Pre-history through the Ottoman occupation, the British Colony, independence, its role in Greater Somalia and its reassertion of independence. We will also give space to information and pictures of all of the major towns as well as Las Geel and we hope to add detailed information on flora, fauna, climate, culture and the thing which concerns people the most here: the future.
We have found the perfect location and are currently asking permission to install the permanent frames which will hold the 60 or so double sided notice boards we think will fit. The result will be 120 information sheets full of bilingual stories, anecdotes and facts as well as gorgeous pictures of Somaliland over the years. But that isn’t all we have in mind…
We are hoping to couple this project with a website giving free access to all of the documents we receive and use in the production of the museum notice boards. We would like to create the biggest collection of photographs, articles, papers, documents, news reports and interviews about Somaliland. We feel the interviews are the most important aspect of this. We would like to take the opportunity we have here to interview people who were involved in the struggle for independence against the British colonial system. We will film the interviews and host them on the website so that they are available for the world to see.
Thirdly, and the most minor of our ambitions, we hope to create a single bookshelf of local interest books at the library in the University of Hargeisa. We are all avid readers in the English department and I alone brought three books about Somaliland from the first half of the 20th century. We hope to collect donations of books which are relevant to Somaliland, the Somali people, the Horn of Africa or just Africa in general.
So what do we need for all this?
Photographs. Lots and lots of photographs. If anyone has photographs of Somaliland from before 1960 or before 1991 those would be incredibly useful to us. We would love photos of all the major towns and cities in the country. Photographs of people, places, camels. We need you to own the intellectual property rights and expressly give us permission to use them in the museum. All photographs will be credited. Whether they are black and white or colour we don’t care. Ideally they should be electronic…perhaps this gives you diaspora a good excuse to go through your old photo albums and scan them into the computer?
Stories. We know that you know your culture and history. Share it with us! We would love to have some stories from colonial times, the five days of Somaliland going it alone, life between 1960 and 1991. Send us your stories and anecdotes. If you are in Somaliland and you know someone who could be interviewed for the website and fits what we are looking for then please, please, PLEASE get in touch with us.
Books. Do you have any books about Africa or Somaliland which could be stored safely in the University library to make research and recreational reading on the country more achievable? Perhaps you could send them with friends and family next time they are flying out here. Maybe you even have them in Somaliland now? Or maybe you are travelling through the region and have a book which you think might be worthwhile donating. Get in touch if you do.
Finances. We are looking for someone to sponsor the printing of the boards for the museum. We will be getting quotes from local printers in the coming week. In exchange for sponsorship the name of the company or persons would feature prominently on the displays and would be thanked on the website and in any press regarding the foundation of the museum and online archives.
We will also need, at some point, someone to translate the texts which we have in Somali into English and vice versa. The plan is for every part of this project to be bilingual Somali and English. We may also need someone who is skilled in the use of a drill and DIY to come and help us assemble the boards when they are printed.
If you think you can help us with anything on this list then don’t hesitate to get in touch. Our e-mail address is email@example.com We are looking forward to the information this will bring up and cannot wait to bring it to the wider attention of both Somalilanders and visitors to this beautiful country. As you can see, I’m slightly too busy to slip into a Burka and go flirting with the local ladies but, unlike some transients, those of us who live here are hoping to leave a lasting, positive footprint on this country we love so much.Follow @somalilandpress