Archive for April, 2011

Free lifts

Posted in Travel / Transport on April 30, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Need a lift?

Most foreign workers who live in Somaliland have their own cars and or a “company car” with a driver, owned by their organisation, that escorts them around town. Since I work for a local institution that doesn’t have nearly enough money for that, they arrange to take us to and from work in a shared van, but other than that I am car-less most of the time. That means I often take the local buses (see my previous post on this), and sometimes accept free rides.

In fact, not having a car isn’t much of a problem at all, as Hargeisa is a fairly easy city to get around. Also, people are very generous with offering you rides when they see you walking down the street under the hot sun. It has happened to me several times that random Somali people driving past have offered me a lift. I usually always except, unless if I am alone at night, because it is very safe here.

One time I was walking from the airport, since there is no public transport direct from the airport, and a man stopped to offer me a ride. I initially expected him just to give me a lift to the closest bus stop (which is where I was walking to), but when he asked me where I was going to and I told him my neighbourhood, he said he would take me all the way there. It was clear across town, and completely out of his way, but he insisted and dropped me off at my door!

We have also had a few Couchsurfers come through that managed to hitch-hike through Somaliland. They did it the old-fashioned way, standing on the side of the road with their thumbs out, and were able to get to Berbera and Ethiopia this way (there are, however, serious issues around travelling without a guard, and obtaining police permission to do so). But the point is, you can get far around here with your own two feet and thumb!



Posted in Animals / Fauna on April 29, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Come pet me.

The other night we were all chilling out in the living room, enjoying the comfort of being indoors while a glorious storm gathered outside (the rainy season has finally arrived!). My housemate was sitting on one of the long  cushions on the floor (a typical piece of “furniture” in a Somali household).

Apparently she felt something on her skirt, looked down, and saw a scorpion crawling over her. At the moment she jumped up and proclaimed this, I was personally very happy to have been located on the sofa, with my feet well away from the floor. I stayed firmly put on the sofa while our other house mate quickly went to get a bowl to trap to scorpion.

Once the scorpion was safefly trapped under the bowl, we all gathered around and debated what was the best way to kill it. The final solution was: one guy gets his shoe ready, and another guy lifts up the bowl at the count of three. It worked, and the guys smashed the scorpion to bits.

I had never seen a scorpion before in my life.  It was not very big, about a couple inches long, and sand-coloured. We were very surprised to see one in our house, because Somali people had told us scorpions didn’t live in the city, but out in the bush / desert.  We suspected that the scorpion took refuge in the house because of the rains.

In any case, I don’t plan to walk around barefoot in the house anymore!


Posted in Food / drink on April 28, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Juicy goodness.

My childhood is laced with memories of eating watermelon in the summertime… at barbecues, at the beach, at picnics, in the backyard. So it always puts a smile on my face when I eat watermelons here in Somaliland, called xabxab in Somali.

We are entering watermelon season, so you see more and more roadside and street-side stalls with towering piles of massive watermelons. You can buy a whole watermelon for about $3 or $4, or you can buy a slice of watermelon that the seller has chopped up for customers to eat on the spot.

Like most fruits and vegetables, the watermelons aren’t grown locally but are imported from more fertile Ethiopia. They are tremendously juicy– eating a few pieces is like drinking a glass of water! And they are way pinker and tastier than any of the bland, white-ish watermelons you’d buy in a supermarket back home.

Livestock market

Posted in Animals / Fauna, Shopping on April 27, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Owners marking their camels.

Hargeisa doesn’t have much in the way of sights, but one that is definitely worth seeing is the livestock market. Located about a 20 minute walk from the main drag, it takes place daily in the morning, and it is best to go early to see the most animals and activity.

As I have mentioned before, the livestock trade is the backbone of the Somaliland economy. Most of the livestock are sent to the port of Berbera, where they are exported to the Middle East. At the Hargeisa livestock market, animals are traded for both domestic use and export.

The market is a large open dirt plot, with a handful of shelters.  Essentially, it is just a gathering of animals and people under the hot beating sun. There are a couple crowds of docile camels that just stand there with their camel perma-smiles and occasionally get herded around by their owner.

The owner of the camels welcomed us to have our photo taken with his animals. In doing so, we soon attracted a crowd of curious Somali observers, so that we were soon squeezed in between a crowd of camels on one side and a crowd of people on the other side.

Also for sale are goats, sheep, and a handful of cows. Although there is lots of open space in the market, the owners keep their herds together in a dense little pack, so you will come across a cluster of twenty goats huddled closely together as if they were packed into a small room.

The price of the camel depends on the sex of the camel, its age, its size, and its state of health; an average adult male camel will cost $800. Goats cost between $50 and $100 dollars. We left without buying anything!

Like a goat night club.

Like a goat night club.

A crowd of camels - for sale!

Fresh juice

Posted in Food / drink on April 26, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Guava juice, freshly pressed.

If you are big juice fan, you are in for a treat in Hargeisa. All over town there are places selling juice, from the small corner shop to the nice hotel. And we are not talking about boxed juice from concentrate here – it is juice that has been freshly squeezed that day. The flavours I’ve seen include orange, mango, papaya, guava, prickly pear, and the so-called “cocktail” (meaning a mix of different juices).

Just down the road from our house is a small shop with a comfortable seating area inside that sells juice, tea, drinks, sandwiches, sambosas, and other snacks. We go there often for an afternoon pick-me-up. The juice costs only 2,000 shillings ($0.33). Slurrrppp!


Posted in Animals / Fauna on April 25, 2011 by Home Strange Home

The boy is happier than the donkey, surely.

In cities I’ve lived in, various noises have kept me awake a night – in New York City, it was the fire engines blaring up Second Avenue; in London it was the parties next door; in Utrecht it was the drunken revellers stumbling home; in Tunisia it was the mosquito buzzing in my ear. In Hargeisa, it’s a bloody donkey.

I’m not angry about it; it’s hard to be angry at a donkey, such a cute and obedient creature. More than anything, I find it comical – the extended braying of the donkey at night often incites me to laugh out loud. It sounds as though it is dying and having an orgasm at the same time, and then being reincarnated to repeat the whole spectacle the next night.

It’s funny because a donkey is such an ordinary animal (they are used all over town to carry loads such as water), and yet I don’t think I’ve ever heard a donkey noise before living here. When we had a guest the other week, the first time he heard the commotion, he looked confused and asked, “What animal is that?”

Don’t underestimate the donkey.

Djibouti Detour

Posted in Travel / Transport on April 23, 2011 by Home Strange Home

To my posse of loyal readers who check back regularly for my daily posts, I just wanted to give you a heads up that I’ve gone to Djibouti (Somaliland’s neighbour to the north) for a few days. So sit tight, I’ll be back with more Somali goodness!