Somaliland Stirred not Shaken; Chewed not Spat

Street Market in Somaliland

Street Market in Somaliland

…get on a bus for a country that doesn’t really exist, except in someone’s imagination: existential ball-juggling 401… Somalia now effectively divided into three, Somaliland relatively peaceful and open for business, connected by land to the also relatively peaceful states of Djibouti and Ethiopia. Somaliland issues visas and currency and guards its borders just like everyone else.

…catch the first bus out of Harar at daybreak, make my connection in Jijiga and continue on, certain to make Hargeisa within the day now… Travel in Ethiopia not hard so much as slow, crammed in like proverbial sardines… the vast Ogaden Desert, cousin to the Arabian and Sahara, spread out endlessly ahead, highland Ethiopia maybe the only real break in a desert stretching from Morocco to China.

You decrease in elevation as you increase in heat, by some adiabatic ratio, and the Christian passion and delicate features of the typical Ethiopian face evolve into something a bit different, the harsher and darker Somali features and the more rigid and vocal Islamic demeanor.

Border Post between Ethiopia and Somaliland

Border Post between Ethiopia and Somaliland

…actual border with modern (?) Somaliland just suddenly materializes out of nowhere, defining a line and trying to make a point. Here the border formalities are pretty much just that, small talk and the sound of one hand clapping, down on to the pages of passport open and willing and yearning for experience.

Onward transportation to Hargeisa consists of taxis only, an Arab gentleman sitting in my lap and four other women and two babies comprising the passenger list. We go like this for a couple hours through several checkpoints…

Hargeisa is not pretty, a layer of dust over the entire affair. Ethiopia marches to the call of a slightly different lead guitarist, Somaliland marching to the call of Islamic prayers… perpetual street market… sale and mastication of the leafy qat dominates the mouths and minds of those seeking some little release and relief from life’s tedium. It helps keep you awake through prayers. Yeah right.

…hotel’s good, with Internet on every floor and both water AND power generally available, in addition to some international TV, all for barely two figures U$. I could live like this forever… but I’m not in love… first thing to do is plot my escape.

Since I have no Djibouti visa, I’ll have to fly there or go back to Ethiopia… flight the next day or another four days later: I decide to continue on the next day… price is right. So what now? When in doubt, space out.

Street below in Hargeisa, Somaliland

Street below in Hargeisa, Somaliland

So I go for the qat, a fistful of it for a buck… chewing…and chewing…and chewing, like in Ayacucho, Peru, some thirty years ago when I got stuck and the students were demonstrating on the streets and people were gawking and pointing fingers at me and I chewed coca leaves and paced my room for what seemed like days, like a polar bear stuck in some zoo down south with nothing but a swimming pool to remind him of his former existence.

…finally I “get it,” the spirit of the qat, that is, though doubt it’s worth all the effort… can’t get past the feeling that I’m eating my mother’s shrubs and soon she’ll catch me, punish my buttocks for what was the brain’s conspiracy…

…street market goes on more or less throughout the night below me somehow becoming amusing, with all the little people buying and selling and crying and telling gossip and lies, me lying on my death-bed with well-brushed teeth and bags all packed…

…next morning comes early, way too early… cabbie picks me up at half past six… park outside the gate to the airport due to terrorist threats. I’m the first one there, and I haven’t even had my morning coffee.

…guy collecting the exit tax promises to bring my three dollars in change to me in the waiting room as soon as he collects it… I settle for two bucks and a bottle of water AND a cappuccino as soon as the machine’s finally up and running. Yes! There is a God, and He’s on the job.

Hargeisa-Djibouti Express

Hargeisa-Djibouti Express

So all is right with the world, until I see our plane land… I’m looking at my death, and it has four propellers. The plane is not only an old Russian model, but is flown to this day by real live Russians, mercenaries from the old Evil Empire! And sure enough, there they are when we enter the plane, sipping bad coffee and wearing dirty T-shirts.

…plane flies very low the whole way, so if we crash into the soft desert sand, which is a distinct possibility, the odds of survival are better than usual. The windows have scratched plastic over them so I can’t see anything through them anyway. The only flight attendant is a six-foot Somali who could probably lift the plane out of the sand if necessary. We get no peanuts, but we do get to Djibouti on time.

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