58 – Introducing Hargeisa, Somaliland
Sat 23rd Jan, Oriental Hotel, Hargeisa
Woke up and had some tea. Somaliland tea is lovely, shah they call it. It is not like those tea-0 without milk in tiny little glasses found everywhere else which i never could understand. I mean, how can one get enough to drink? One gulp and the shai is gone. Here, however, a generous helping of tea is served in a metal mug, with camel milk in it.
The rest of the journey into Hargeisa took about 1 hour or so. We reached into the outskirts of the city, the residential area. The buildings walls of the shops are painted in bright colours, light green, pink and the wares they sell are painted in English and other languages (somali, arabic) as well as drawn onto the walls. So the electronics shop has pictures of telephones and radios, the restaurant has a picture of plates, goats and camels. The qat booths are green and had pictures of what else, qat.
The 4×4 drove us to the hotel. We ended up at the Oriental Hotel (s/d 15, 25 USD) since the first choice was full. It was a very nice place, if a tad pricey. But split within the two of us, with its excellent location by the souq, and free wifi (woohooo!), im sold. We went out for lunch.
The people go about doing their own thing. The streets are surprisingly relatively clean, police officers, traffi policemen direct people along. In general there is a certain bustle and life in the city. They are also quite welcoming, with none of the hassling found elsewhere. This could possibly be attributed to the need for recognition internationally. Or they are really just friendly people. In town we passed by the MiG jet memorial, and the car which went past 27 countries from Sheffield in England to here, to raise awareness of Somaliland.
The Somali language is distinctly different from back in Ethiopia. Where back there, the people are soft spoken (ish), often ending their sentences with abrupt sucking in of air, and chaining their words fast (even though they argue a lot, over everything and anything, but that’s another story), here in Somaliland, they literally shout out their words. It seems like a coarser language, raising their voices especially when they speak to each other, even though there is obviously no ill intent. As such, the Somaliland women, in the colourful robes and headgear, seem altogether like a more robust bunch of people who are visible on the streets.
As you might see, i like the vibe of the town. We had camel meat for lunch (3800 SSH, erm, thats Somaliland Shillings). The currency is getting bigger and bigger. First it was 1 SGD to 40 Egypt pounds and 1 SGD to 20 Sudan pounds. Then it was 1 SGD to approx 10 Ethiopian birr. Then it was 1 SGD to 125 Djibouti francs. Now it is 1 SGD to approx 4700 Somaliland shillings. And since the only denomination that seem to widely exist is the 500 shilling note (besides the widely accepted USD), i am now carrying an insane wad of notes with me. I changed 20 USD today at the money exchange (check out those cute little money changer boxes and piles) and what i got are a stack of 264 notes. It makes sense however, since most of the country survive on 1 USD a day, poverty is a given outside the city area i think.
yes that wad of cash is 20 USD.
Ok, back to lunch. I had to try camel meat and it was really good too, though i gorged on a little too much camel fat. It is stewed in what tastes like mutton soup back home. Cost? 38000 SSH which fed both of us. That is around 8 SGD for a huge meal (or 76 of those shilling notes!!). After lunch, we went to chill in the hotel (wifi and satelite tv) before going back out again to explore the streets a bit and have dinner. Tomorrow we will try to arrange something to Las Geel, a series of cave paintings dating back to 9000-3000 BC.