January 20, 2012 ·22 Comments
Iain will be writing to Somalilandpress 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 with Iain.
Warning language not suitable for minors.
By Iain Bisset
OPINION | Thursday, January 20, 2012
I’m sorry it has taken so long to write. Things have been hectic at work and now that we are into our rhythm less and less exciting things are happening for us. I asked my students to help me decide on the twelve Somali things I would be doing in 2012 and after a lot of deliberation I decided upon the twelve that follow:
1. I will drink camel milk.
2. I will read the Koran.
3. I will take a Somaliland driving exam.
4. I will visit Salahadin Island.
5. I will climb the highest mountain in Somaliland.
6. I will become good at Somali.
7. I will read about Somaliland’s history.
8. I will familiarise myself with Somali poetry.
9. I will swim in the sea near Berbera.
10. I will take a trip to the mountains near Sheik.
11. I will visit a mosque.
12. I will write something about Somaliland.
These were the best suggestions from amongst my students and Somali friends. For information on the camel milk, scroll down. The Koran is something I have been interested in for a while. After all, I live in an Islamic country and what better way to understand the people I live among than learning about their religion. I have a copy of the Koran in English and I will start to read it as soon as I have time to truly appreciate it. The only problem; I’ve been told by my students that I can only read it after I have had a wash. At the moment that means I will only be reading it once a week, we do anything to save a bit of water in our house!
I’ve not driven a car for eight years. I’ve never had the need for one in the countries I have lived in. I will visit a driving school in the coming week to see about a couple of lessons to refresh and also how much it costs to take the test. I am a bit scared of driving in Hargeisa but a road trip to Berbera would be good. It will be nice to have a change of scene and go for a swim in the sea. After I’ve visited Berbera I’d head inland for Sheikh which my students have told me is the most beautiful town in Somaliland. I am looking forward to it.
We have holidays coming up. I am going to visit parts of Ethiopia and Djibouti, re-entering Somaliland near Zeila. It seems to me to be the perfect opportunity to hire a boat out to Salahadin Island. I don’t know anything about it but my students say it is something not to be missed. They also said it was near Berbera so I am not sure how much I trust them! Another place I’d like to visit is Erigavo so that I can climb the highest mountain in Somaliland. I’ve heard ten different spellings for its name though. I finally found a student from Erigavo to ask about the city.
She was in a class I was covering due to a teacher being away. “Is it safe?” I asked her. Yes. The other students smirked. “Can you climb the mountain?” She told me that you could. “Have you ever climbed it?” I’m a girl. She told me. Enough said. Teacher, it isn’t safe. I was told by two boys from Hargeisa, but of course they would say that.
Every time I have been in Ethiopia the locals tend to respond with “YOU LIVE IN SOMALILAND? THEY EAT PEOPLE THERE!” Yet when I return back to Somaliland my Somali friends say: “Praise Allah you made it back. They eat people there you know.” I didn’t expect to see the same thing happening within Somaliland.
I will become good at Somali? I am currently up to three lessons a week and I’ve started to reach what I would describe as stage two of language learning. That is to say I can use more than one verb in a sentence. In fact I am most proud that I can now say: Annigu waxaan umlaynayaa in aad umalaynayso in aan doonayo in aan tago souka oo aan waxsoo ibsanayo sonkor. For those of you who aren’t as linguistically talented, or perversely interested in memorising strange sentences, that means ‘I think you thought I wanted to go to the market to buy sugar.’ Five verbs! With a bit of luck and a lot of work, I will be good at Somali by the end of 2012.
I will read about the history of Somaliland. I have three books by British colonialists on my shelf. I think I will read them when I have finished reading the Koran. Two of my flatmates also have a copy of the contemporary ‘Becoming Somaliland’. In addition to this our plans for the museum are taking shape (we still need volunteers and photographs) and I find myself reading more and more about the history of Somaliland as the project continues. Somali poetry, too, is something I will have no problem finding and acquainting myself with.
I’ve been to a mosque before in Mostar, Bosnia, so I know a little bit about them. I will see if one of my esteemed colleagues will take me along one Friday so I can learn a little more about Islam. As for writing about Somaliland, I’m doing that all the time and I do have the vague idea of a book in my mind. I’ve written a couple of chapters already, whether there is a market is another question. So there’s my twelve Somali things, in a year no one will be able to tell that I am English.
I got a tip off from a colleague that the 1000 shilling note had come into existence. Apparently it had entered circulation two days’ earlier but I hadn’t seen it. Thanks to this tip off I wasn’t surprised to receive some when I changed money at the shop of Mubarak, my local money changer. I was further surprised when one of my students, the girl from Erigavo, told me of the existence of the 5000 shilling note. She even offered to sell it to me, for six thousand shillings. I decided not to take her up on that offer.
Whilst this is undoubtedly a good decision for those of us who don’t like to have bulging pockets every time we pop out to buy a can of coke, I feel it was an unnecessary move. Before this week the largest note was a 500 shilling bill. These have the value of 6 English pence. I have been here three months and I have just learned to flip through the huge stacks of cash with the speed of a Somalilander. Now they are introducing bigger bills which are just going to throw me out of my rhythm. My opinion; good idea, bad decision!
I have kept my writing for SomalilandPress fairly full of happy stories and anecdotes because I want to portray Somaliland like it is 99% of the time, but there is an ugly shadow which looms over here. Today I was walking down the hill from my house to visit Safari Hotel and meet a friend. We drink tea and talk in English and Somali. At first we spoke 100% in English but now Somali is starting to creep in so that we are 70:30 in favour of English. Eventually we will go all the way down to 90:10 in favour of Somali.
About twenty metres away from Safari Hotel a rock landed at my feet and dust exploded into the air. I turned around and saw a group of five children sitting across the road in the entrance to a shop. I turned my palms up and spread my arms, a universal symbol of “What was the point of that?” They started shouting and picked up another rock and threw it after me. They’re bad shots, it landed well short. I spoke to the staff at Safari who said they would send their guard to shout at them but I have the feeling they didn’t.
My students were given feedback forms about my performance as a teacher. Most of them liked me but some did not. Their reason: “He is not Islamic.” Well, I wonder what they expected! I might not be Islamic but I’ve never thrown a rock at another human being. If I did throw one it certainly wouldn’t be because they had a different skin colour to me. If my students don’t like that I’m not Islamic maybe they should look at the hypocrisy of the world around them.
I know, children are children. But that is an easy excuse for an obvious lack of discipline. Children do not throw rocks in Ethiopia, nor in Mauritania, nor in Mali nor in China or Bolivia or any other developing country I’ve spent significant time in. Two days ago it wasn’t a child who decided to throw something at me, it was an adult. “Hey you, fucking you white man.” He shouted as I passed him on the road in Jijiga-Yar. I turned with the usual, what is the point shrug. He bent down and picked something up and threw it after me. Again it was way wide of the mark.
“He was just one idiot.” Okay, then why did not one Somali person surrounding him say a word about that? Why did they just stand and watch or laugh? I was walking passed the President’s Palace one morning a few weeks ago when a guard waved at me.
“Good morning, how are you? Fine?” He asked as he called me over. I walked across to him and commenced in small talk. I am great, I’m English etc. Suddenly one of his colleagues woke up from a sleep and saw me and the other guard talking by the roadside. He sprung up and ran towards us.
“Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.” Normally I wouldn’t pause a moment in front of the President’s Palace but when a friendly person wants a chat I would consider stopping for a chat. It is so frustrating for us to come here, forsake a much bigger salary and easier life only to be treated like we are the lowest creatures on the earth because of the colour of our skin or our lack of belief. I think it can be seen from my resolutions that I am open to Islam and its ideas but my students, who expect me to have converted already, don’t appreciate that twenty-six years of a Western upbringing means I am unlikely to convert to Islam in one hundred days.
I love living in Hargeisa and Somaliland. I love the language and I love most of the people, but before they criticise me for my faults they should look to their own and those of their compatriots. Sure, it is unfair to compare Somaliland to the United Kingdom, but I am comparing it to other Islamic countries that I have spent a significant time in and have felt nothing but completely welcome.
I will end on a positive note, tonight I left my house to find camel milk. I have never had it before but have seen it sold in various places. I went to see the lads in Total who know the area very well. Where can I get the best camel milk? One of them walked me fifty metres to a small shop run by an elderly lady called Amina who poured me an enormous mug of camel milk. “How is it?” She asked with a smile as I sipped it. Musky, very musky. I wasn’t sure that I could finish the whole mug but I paced myself and conversed with Amina and her son Abdirahman in slow, precise Somali. I had completed the first of my twelve Somali tasks, and sitting out by the roadside under the stars; I felt a little bit more Somali for it.
Iain BissetFollow @somalilandpress
By Hassan Ali