Fri 22st Jan, In the back seat of a 4×4, Djibouti – Somaliland Border
Nothing is open this morning in the city. First we went south to the street where the 4WDs are parked. These leave for the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa. We arranged with the people there to pick us up at the hotel at 3pm later today. Price negotiated? It was 5000 DJF for front row seats and 3000 DJF for back row. Of course we picked the cheaper option, with an added 500 DJF each for the backpacks. Next we walked down to the beach to catch some salty air and went back to the internet cafe. There was no breakfast as all the shops were closed. Friday is the weekend. In most places elsewhere, shops open in the morning, close for lunch friday prayers, and reopen again. Here i think shops stay close in the morning, remain closed for friday prayers, and then everyone gets high on qat so everything is closed all day.
After checking out of the hotel, we had a quick lunch outside before making a beeline for the hotel grounds to wait for our pickup. The afternoons nowadays are characterised by both of us hiding in the shade somewhere. It is way too stifling hot here. The pickup was at 330pm and they took us to the 4WD street. Wait here, they say. And we waited, for about 2 hours. We wondered who would be our neighbours in the car. We had lots of time to sit there and wander too. Me, i’m the spectacle who hears “China” or “Hey you, China!” each time they try to catch my attention.
One thing i never could understand is why there is so much rubbish littering the streets. Here in Djibouti City, especially, i would expect to be better managed since it is such a cosmopolitan place where businesses and trade takes place. In front of us is this drain clogged up. True, there are workers assigned as rubbish pickers who walk all over the place to clean up after rubbish thrown by everyone. But why not just put bins everywhere and then get these rubbish pickers to clear the bins. That would be so much more efficient. But like Chris and I concluded, the style of management here is more reactive than preemptive. In this case, if nothing goes wrong, eg. There is no outbreak of disease or eiots or something, then let throwing rubbish on the ground carry on. Strikes me as being a very short term kind of thinking.
The 4×4 finally decides to leave just before sunset. We will travel in the night because the sun would be too hot to travel in the day. There were 12 people in the car, all Somalis. The driver, two ladies up front. 4 guys in the 2nd row, one of whom was totally qat-stoned for the ENTIRE 16 hour ride. And then 5 of us lumped together in the square area in the back. Well 4 actually since one guy was seated perenially on the roof during the journey.
And off we went. First to the border at Loyada, which was a painless process on both sides of the customs. We had to change 4WDs though, and so had to lug our belongings around. I think the reason is because the vehicles don’t run on either’s roads. Djibouti is right hand drive whereas Somaliland is left hand drive, following the British system. One of the Somalilanders in the back with us is a nice guy who speaks English and helps us along the entire trip
A bit about Somaliland then, though i am hardly an expert and my facts are probably messed up. Initially divided during the colonisation period in the ‘Scramble for Africa’. The British got what is today Somaliland, the Italians got what is Puntland and Somalia, while the French got Djibouti, and the Ethiopians got what is today the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia. When Brit and Italian Somalia gained independence in 1960, they merged to form present day’s Somalia. The new 5 pointed Somalia flag was done up, a sign of uniting the 5 regions (Somaliland, Puntland, Somalia, Djibouti, Ogaden region). However, over time the northwestern Somalilanders felt increasingly marginalized as the cultures are different, influenced by the marxist like regime of Siad Barre. The Djibouti Somalis, meanwhile prefered continued French rule while an invasion into the Ogaden region failed. At the start of the ongoing Somalia civil war, in 1991, the Somaliland rebels declared a breakaway independent state. This led to the main government reacting and bombing Hargeisa to ruins. However, the Somalilanders have recreated their city, set up a government, ministries, a proper education system and a semblance of proper governance since then. Unfortunately, they are not recognised internationally, despite much effort (this car below traveled 27 countries to raise awareness of Somaliland), and remains a part of Somalia. The reason for this i think would be UN and other bodies still hoping for a resolution to the Somali conflict, which continues to be in the news even now, albeit for different reasons (now extremism worries after the transitional govt etc) than 10 years ago.
So, excluding the occasional trouble where Somali terrorists from Mogadishu sneak into Somaliland borders to cause trouble (there are plenty of recent cases), Somaliland is a safe place. But just in case, we are required to have armed bodyguards whenever we get out of the city.
After the border crossing, the road turns to shite. The road is not sealed, and the terrain is a flat sandy ground, surrounded by dry low 1.5 shrubs. I have no idea how the driver navigates in the absence of a proper road, he is following the criss-crossing tyre tracks ahead. The 4 of us at the back are suffering. You get what you pay for. Sitting cross legged, my head smashes into the ceiling repeatedly, and i have trouble trying to get a hold of something. There are also some equipment undearneath us like a large coil of nylon rope underneath me which made it very uncomfortable. The terrain got worse when we started climbing uphill. Tossed all over to the back of the 4×4, i tried many times to sleep on the floor. But each time my ribs smash into the underside, and i will wake up in pain. Finally at around 5am, we stopped somewhere to sleep for 2 hours, before carrying on.
From top to bottom: La Nation weekly papers in Djibouti, menu from my fav restaurant, fish shoppe, random building, our vehicle to Hargeisa, me by the Djibouti beach that smells of fish.
ps / i really apologise for the crap grammar, but these entries are getting way to long and i cbf to change them. hahaha.