Archive for the Culture Category

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.


Call to prayer

Posted in Culture, Religion on April 17, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Minaret: check. Loudspeakers: check.

One ever-present fact of life in Hargeisa is the call to prayer, heard in every corner of the city five times per day. Somaliland is the most conservative and most Muslim country I have ever visited; people here tend to be very devout. The large number of mosques throughout the city, and the regular call to prayer which sets the rhythm of the day, are constant reminders of Islam.

One of the Five Pillars of Islam is salah, the practice of formal prayer occurring five times per day. To remind people to pray at the correct times, the muezzin of each mosque recites the adhan (the Islamic call to prayer) through a loudspeaker. There are five prayers: fajr, the pre-dawn prayer before sunrise (which includes the line, “Prayer is better than sleep”); dhuhr, the noon prayer; ‘asr, the late afternoon prayer; maghrib, the sunset prayer after the sun goes down; and ‘isha, the evening prayer.

Because the prayer times depend on the sun, they vary from one Muslim country (or city) to the next and also vary throughout the year as and when the sun cycle changes. In Hargeisa, the prayers currently fall around the following times: 4:40am for fajr (the sun rises about an hour later at 5:50am); five minutes after noon for dhuhr; 3:10pm for ‘asr; 6:15pm (sunset) for maghrib; and around 7:20pm for ‘isha.

The adhan is recited in Arabic and says the following:

Allah is Most Great. Allah is Most Great.
Allah is Most Great. Allah is Most Great.
I bear witness that there is none worthy of being worshipped except Allah.
I bear witness that there is none worthy of being worshipped except Allah.
I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger.
I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger.
Come to prayer. Come to prayer.
Come to Success. Come to Success.
Allah is Most Great. Allah is Most Great.
There is none worthy of being worshipped except Allah.

Allahu Akbar.

Henna hands

Posted in Clothing / dress, Culture on April 13, 2011 by Home Strange Home

A flash of beauty under all that fabric.

Most of my Somali female students dress in a way that almost fully covers their bodies and arms – either they wear the large, billowy direh dress, paired with the hijab Muslim headscarf, or they wear the full niqab veil which hides everything but their eyes and hands. Yet, despite all these yards of fabric concealing their skin and obliterating the natural shapeliness of their bodies, the Somali women still find ways to be attractive and alluring.

These expressions of beauty include brightly coloured and patterned robes made from silky, fine quality fabric; bling accessories like flashy handbags; sexy shoes such as sandal wedges or low heels (there is a limit to what one can walk in over the rough, unpaved roads here); an excess of (often gaudy) make-up; and, my personal favourite, hands boldly decorated with beautiful henna designs.

What I like about the henna here are the designs. The henna I have seen on women’s hands and feet in places like India, Morocco, and Tunisia was delicate and detailed, an intricate burst of finely painted swirls. But the patterns they paint here are much bolder, with thick lines, sold blocks of colour, and a geometric motifs.

Somaliland National (Pirated) TV

Posted in Culture on April 6, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Looking for a graphic designer? Run.

Since we don’t have a television at our house, and I’m not a big TV watcher, I hadn’t been too exposed to local television. That was until last night, when I went to a hotel to watch the Champions League match (Tottenham Hotspurs versus Real Madrid). And what an experience it was.

Seeing as there is of course no Somaliland TV crew present in Madrid to film the match, what SLNTV ingeniously does is, several minutes before the start of the game, it just starts wholesale pirating the Al Jazeera feed, Arabic commentary and all.

But not only does it rebroadcast the Al Jazeera coverage of the event, it re-brands it as SLNTV coverage by conveniently positioning their own garish logo over the Al Jazeera logo in the upper right-hand corner. And, even more comically, this is clearly done manually by some bloke with a mouse cursor at the start of the match, so you see the SLNTV logo moving on the TV screen to cover the Al Jazeera logo. Now that’s class.

It’s Friday night! Oh, wait…

Posted in Culture on April 5, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Hargeisa Central Mosque

All my life, I’ve been accustomed to working Monday through Friday and having Saturday and Sunday as the weekend. Even in Tunisia, a Muslim country, we followed the Saturday-Sunday weekend.

But in Somaliland, which is a much more Islamic country, the weekend consists only of Friday, the Muslim holy day when people gather at the mosque for the jumu’ah (the Friday congregational prayer). That means there is a six-day work week, starting on Saturday and ending on Thursday (although in practice, not much gets done on a Thursday afternoon, so it is sort of like a 1.5 day weekend).

It takes some getting used to, since Friday night is really like Sunday night given that you have to wake up the next morning for work. And Thursday night is really like Friday or Saturday night, the one night you can go out and stay up late (if there were anywhere to go out, that is). So, while the weekend is beginning for everyone in the west, here in Somaliland the weekend is coming to an end.