Archive for the Housing / Household Category

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.

Dodgy plumbing

Posted in Housing / Household on April 19, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Better than a bucket at least.

Things around here tend to be built incredibly quickly, but not to the highest standards of construction. This manifests itself most annoyingly in the plumbing, which could really use a small army of professional Polish plumbers to set things straight.

In one of our bathrooms, you have to turn off the central tap for the whole bathroom in order to prevent the sink and the toilet from leaking in half a dozen places. As water is a scarce resource here, wasting it is one of the worst things you can do.

Toilets rarely flush and, if they do, they may spray a jet of water at you. Some sinks let out only a trickle of water that is barely enough to rinse the soap off your hands, while other sinks burst forth with a torrential jet of water. Yet other misbehaving sinks don’t drain properly, leaving puddles on the floor.

Enclosed showers (let alone working bathtubs) are non-existent. The formula is: shower head on the wall + drain on the floor = shower. Our shower, pictured above, consists of a couple knobs on the wall and a shower head sticking out of the wall above that. Don’t be fooled, however, by the red knob and the blue knob – it’s just for show. There is no hot water, of course. Excuse me, but I have to go fix that leak now…

Somali laundromat

Posted in Housing / Household on April 14, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Somali washing machine.

I just spent the last two hours doing my laundry. And I’m tired.

Here, doing laundry actually requires exertion, unlike back home in the US, where the only physical effort involved is moving the bundle of wet laundry from the washing machine to the dryer.

I wash my laundry by hand, using two buckets, and then dry it on a clothes line with clothes pins. In some ways, it is refreshing to be able to work outside in the sun, and have the feeling of actually getting something done.

But in other ways, it’s quite annoying, as I essentially have to schedule an entire morning or afternoon to washing two weeks’ worth of laundry (which is practically all of my clothing). Yet, on the bright side, the environmental impact of the old fashioned way is negligible – no electricity is used, and only a small amount of water is wasted.

Somali dryer.

Need water? Call the truck

Posted in Housing / Household on March 17, 2011 by Home Strange Home

The water tank out bank.

There are no water mains in Hargeisa – no central water supply network to pipe water to houses. Each house has to have its own water supply in the form of a large water tank out back. The water is pumped up from the tank into the house.

When you open the tap and no water comes out, that means you’ve run out of water in the tank. ┬áIt happens every one to two weeks, depending on how much water you use. You then need to call the water company (or more accurately, get someone who speaks Somali to call the water company) to refill the tank.

A water truck then comes (hopefully the same day) and, using a long tube which reaches over the compound wall and into the water tank, fills it up. Last time we filled the tank, it cost $44. Water is quite scarce around here at the moment as it is the end of the dry season.

Needless to say, we use water quite sparingly. I never dump any excess cooking water down the drain if it is possible to keep it for washing up later; dirty laundry water is poured into the dirt to water the plants; and when I shower I use very little water, turning off the tap between the “wet” and “rinse” stages.

Home Sweet Home

Posted in Housing / Household on March 11, 2011 by Home Strange Home

My house in Jijiga-yar, Hargeisa

I’ve spent the last couple days getting settled into my new place, a large house that I share with three co-workers in the Jijiga-yar neighbourhood of Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland.

Jijiga is actually the name of a city in the Somali region of eastern Ethiopia, about 160km from here on the road to Harar. Jijiga-yar means “Little Jijiga” and the area is called that because of the large community of people form Jijiga living there.

It’s a quiet, well-off neighbourhood away from the centre of town; many people from the Somali diaspora have houses here and it is common for foreign workers to live in the area.

Like most houses in Hargeisa, our house has a large gate and is surrounded by a high wall topped with broken shards of glass; an armed guard protects the property at all times. The perimeter wall encompasses an outdoor area around the house and this arrangement can also be referred to as a “compound.” Of course, it is only well off people who live like this. On the empty, rubbish-strewn lots around our house, poor people have built temporary shelters, where they live without electricity or running water.

Our neighbours. A family of at least seven people lives here.

View from our roof. The patchwork mounds are self-built houses.