Archive for the Animals / Fauna Category


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.


Flying ants (and other insects)

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


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.


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!

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!


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.

Lion petting zoo

Posted in Animals / Fauna on April 16, 2011 by Home Strange Home

I should have brought some catnip.

There are a lot of things that happen in Somaliland that just wouldn’t fly anywhere else. Like a car full of children, driven by children (see my previous post, Road Rules). Or a zoo where you can pet lions in a cage. Yes, you read that correctly. This afternoon, we went to the zoo, and I stood inches away from a lion and pet its paw.

The so-called zoo (Beerta Xayawaanka in Somali) is a ramshackle affair, hidden down a residential back street; entry is 4,000 shillings ($.66). The menagerie consists entirely of three lions, one lioness, a vulture, and two falcons. All of the lions are cooped up in tiny iron cages that reek of rotting flesh and lion piss. The inhumane arrangement is undeniably depressing, and yet there is still a certain fascination to seeing such impressive beasts at incredibly close range.

I mean, you can literally reach out and touch the lions through the iron bars. Indeed there was a small child who kept sticking his hand inside, and the zoo keeper himself poked a stick through the bars to deliberately provoke the lion and make him stand up on his hind legs. There is also one corner of the cage where the female lion, which is the safest one, sticks her front arm out to be pet by visitors. We each took turns to pet her paw. It was massive – the size of a person’s foot.

The lions are fed pieces of goat and goat foetuses. So, their enclosures are strewn with goat legs, goat thighs, decapitated heads of unborn goat foetuses, intestines, and random other pieces of stinking flesh. It smelled rank. The lions themselves appeared to be in good health, save for one which looked lethargic and ill. However, it certainly can’t be good for them to be confined to such a small space. The zoo keeper said they were occasionally taken out for walks on a leash. Damn, I’m glad I don’t have that job.

I asked the zoo keeper and other people for information about the history of the zoo.  Evidently the lions are owned by Ali Mohammed Waran Addeh, the Civil Aviation Minister. He originally imported two lion cubs from Ethiopia as pets. When they got too big to ride around in the back of his car any more, he put them in the zoo. They then bred and had cubs. Apparently one of the cubs was given to the President of Djibouti as a gift when he received the President of Somaliland. I heard that some of the other cubs passed away.

After returning home from the zoo, I went online to see what background information I could find on the zoo. I did a quick Google search for “Haregeisa lions” and the first result that came up was a 2008 BBC article entitled, “Somaliland zoo lion kills woman.” I’m glad I wasn’t aware of this incident before visiting the zoo. Although it was reassuring to read that the Civil Aviation Minister had “shot and killed the lion involved in the incident.” Well, that makes it all better, doesn’t it?

One classy zoo.

Goats. And more goats.

Posted in Animals / Fauna, Food / drink on March 14, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Goats being goats. Just chilling.

Someone once wisely observed that the more goats there are in a country, the poorer that country usually is. Well, in Somaliland, there are  hell of a lot of goats.

Even in the middle of the capital city, Hargeisa, there are goats wandering around everywhere – sitting on stoops, walking down the street, grazing in empty lots. Their bleating noise is one of the many integral sounds of the city.

Goats, of course, are very valuable. They provide milk, meat, and hides; they reproduce themselves easily; they eat crop wastes and other garbage which is otherwise useless; and they act as a store of wealth that can be sold to generate income when needed (this last point is quite crucial in a largely cash-based economy where few people have access to formal banking systems; goats can even act as collateral for loans).

So hip-hip-hurrah for goats. Goats are good people. They aren’t picky about what they eat – they will chew anything, including leftover food, cardboard, and paper (that doesn’t mean, however, they will necessarily digest it – some of my co-workers once witnessed a goat excreting a plastic bag). You often see goats browsing for food in the many empty lots full of rubbish. It’s a shame they can’t digest the plastic bags – the city would be a lot cleaner.

Elevenses? Goats trawling the rubbish for a snack.