Archive for May, 2011

M.I.A.

Posted in Uncategorized on May 20, 2011 by Home Strange Home

After making daily posts on this blog since my arrival in Somaliland in early March, my regular readers are probably wondering where I have disappeared to over the past two weeks. I am very sorry to have disappointed or worried you by this unexplained silence. I now want to update my friends and readers on the situation.

Two weeks ago, on the Tuesday following the death of Osama Bin Laden, we (meaning my colleagues and house mates) received a death threat from someone claiming to be Al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamist jihadi insurgent group (referred to as a terrorist organization by most western governments) with self-proclaimed links to Al-Qaeda.

While we had no way of ascertaining the veracity of the message, we treated the threat seriously and responded to it by taking measures to increase our security levels. It was a stressful and anxious week to say the least.

While the threatened attack has thankfully not materialized, given the circumstances I have taken the personal decision to leave Somaliland. This was a very difficult decision for me and I spent much time deliberating the choice. After two months, I felt I had just started to settle in to life in Hargeisa, to better understand Somaliland, and to feel happy living there. Not to mention I really enjoyed writing this blog and sharing my day-to-day experiences of life in Somaliland.

However, much as I felt sad about ending my stay prematurely, I also felt that I could not justify taking any potential risk to my life or health. What is such a shame about the whole incident is that all of my other experiences in Somaliland have shown it to be a very safe, peaceful, and welcoming place.  I don’t believe that the person or people who made the threat are representative of the average Somalilander. And I still encourage people to visit Somaliland.

So, the end result is that I am no longer living in Somaliland and therefore I will no longer be updating this blog on a daily basis. But I hope readers will still benefit from reading my past posts and will continue to make comments.

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Cactus

Posted in Animals / Fauna, Landscape on May 7, 2011 by Home Strange Home

The beautiful Somali cactus on Google images.

Throughout town you see these cactus plants, which grow in a huge prickly clump that seems to sprout up everywhere. I often pass them walking down the dusty side streets in my neighbourhood. They must be quite hardy plants to survive in such sandy soil and with so little water.

Sadly, a lot of them apparently don’t survive – a good portion of the catci are shrivelled up and just about dead, and have gathered a huge amount of trash and plastic bags in the process, making them fauna-come-rubbish-dump. However, when you do come across a cactus plant in good health, it is quite cool looking.

The not-so-beautiful cactus next door.

Power outages

Posted in Housing / Household on May 6, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Not again.

Like many places in Sub-Saharan Africa, unfortunately the power in Hargeisa is not very reliable. We experience power outages on a daily basis.

Many businesses and offices have generators which kick in when the main power supply falters, but our house doesn’t have one as the local institution we work for doesn’t have the money to pay for that stuff. So when the power goes out, we are simply stuck in the dark.

Sometimes the power goes out for only a few minutes before coming back on; other times it stays out for hours; and a few times we have been really unlucky, it is out for a day or more. Especially when the power goes out at night, it makes you appreciate how much our modern lives are made possible by electricity. There is not much you can do in the pitch black with only a couple head-torches.

The best is when I’m talking on Skype or chatting online with someone and my conversation is abruptly interrupted by the power going down. If I’m ever talking with you and don’t say good-bye, you know why.

Improvised houses

Posted in Architecture on May 5, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Somali huts in Hargeisa.

Throughout Hargeisa – even in the better-off neighbourhoods next door to large houses surrounded by compound walls – you will see these small patchwork domes, which serve as self-built shelters. The word in Somali for such a hut is aqal.

Historically, Somalis are a nomadic, pastoral people, and they were constantly on the move in the countryside herding their livestock. The arid landscape required families to move frequently to find pasture for their animals, and so their houses consisted of portable huts that they could disassemble, move, and reconstruct in their next grazing location.

While these ingenious houses were traditionally made from natural materials in the countryside, you see them today constructed out of all sorts of scrap materials, tarpaulin, plastic, and fabric, and families build them in the city on unclaimed plots of land. Near our house, a friendly family lives in such a hut, surrounded by a loose fence of branches and thorny plants.

Ginger beards

Posted in Clothing / dress, Culture on May 4, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Ginger is beautiful.

It is a common sight in Somaliland to see elderly men with their beards died orange from henna. Sometimes you see some pretty spectacular shades of orange; other times the dye-job is more subdued, or limited only to the tip of a goatee.

You only see it on old men, because of course their hair must be white in order to take on the colour from the dye.

Perhaps my Somali friends and readers can help me out here, as I’m not entirely sure of the significance of the hennaed beard – is it done simply to hide their white hair, or is there some deeper purpose or meaning? In any case, it looks pretty awesome.

Flying ants (and other insects)

Posted in Animals / Fauna, Climate on May 3, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Super-Ant!

The recent advent of the rainy season has caused all sorts of insects to come out of the woodwork. It is true there are more mosquitoes about after the rains, but in general there aren’t many mosquitoes in Hargeisa (it is too dry here), and in any case they don’t carry malaria.

However, there there are plenty of other creepy crawlies moving about – cockroaches, crickets, beetles, ants, and scorpions – necessitating frequent removal of one’s flip-flops to swiftly smash them. (Flies are not even worth mentioning here because they are so low on my insect-radar – I’ve reached the point where I don’t even bother to flick them off my body, unless if they are either A: sitting on my face, or B: two of them are trying to mate on me.)

The most recent actors to appear on the Hargeisa insect scene are the flying ants, which have emerged post-rains. While my interest in insectology (if that’s even a word) is limited, a brief internet search revealed the following riveting information. It seems wingless, sexually-immature ants live in underground colonies, and after heavy rains, sexually-mature winged ants emerge and engage in a mating frenzy that lasts only one day (so, basically one big ant orgy). After mating, the males promptly die (having gotten everything they ever wanted in life) and the females lose their wings and go on to establish a new underground colony.

How does this affect us? Well, it basically means you have a hell of a lot of big-ass ants flying around after the rains. These ants are huge – I’m not exaggerating when I say that they are an inch long – and so it’s good fun to swat them out of your face or dislodge them from your shawl. And it seems as though they bite – my house mate says he was bitten by a flying ant, and another house mate was bitten by a flying beetle.

Tempest

Posted in Climate on May 2, 2011 by Home Strange Home

A full rainbow arc across the sky after one afternoon storm.

Last night I experienced the most extraordinary storm of my life. I was woken up close to midnight (having gone to bed quite early) by all sorts of noise – glass breaking, wind blowing, and rain pounding.

I groggily got out of bed and, upon placing my bare feet on the floor, confusedly stepped into a puddle. I walked across the room to shut my window and realized that the curtain was completely soaked. The rain had blown horizontally into my room and the floor was covered in water.

The storm was absolutely raging outside, like nothing I have ever seen before. The electricity in the house had gone out, but my room remained fully illuminated by the lightning. Not a flash of lightning, but a continuous flashing of lightning so frequent that you couldn’t distinguish individual bolts. I didn’t know such lightning was even possible.

I walked out of my room and found my house mates closing all the windows; rain had poured in onto the floor and cushions, and the wind had blown our dishes off the drying shelf in the kitchen, breaking a glass. I opened the back door to have a peek outside, and the instant it was open a howling force of wind and water was blasting at me. I quickly shut it and crawled back into bed.

I lay in bed, watching the strobe-lightning through the (now closed) window and revelling in the glorious monstrosity of the storm. Having grown up on the East Coast of the United States, I am no stranger to storms, and I have childhood memories of Hurricane Gloria, which took down a large old tree in our backyard. But before last night I had never heard a storm with so much energy and force, or seen such spectacular lightning. It was chilling and beautiful.

While this most recent rain was excessively strong, making some Somalis say it was “too much,” the usual reaction here to the rain is joyous– smiles, shouts of glee, and exclamations of “Allahu akbar!”  The rainy season has come late this year, and as a result the country has experienced drought. The arrival of the rain has been sorely needed.

When I lived in England, I used to complain about the regular rain, but here rain is anything but regular, and so its appearance is a reason for excitement and celebration. And, after the storm clears, the gift of rain is iced with the most spectacular of rainbows arched across the sky.