A Trip To The Unknown – Perception versus Reality

Emily will be writing about her experience in Somaliland and will be offering tips to anyone who may want to visit the unrecognized republic along the way – discover Somaliland from a Non-Somali perspective. This is her fourth article – Perception versus Reality.

First article: Click Here
Second article: Click here
Third Article: Click here

Hargeisa, Jul 2, 2009 — Tempting as it is to disprove the false and generally negative images of Somaliland worldwide, which are plentiful, I find myself struggling to find a balance between writing only about positive aspects of the country, and thus overlooking some less attractive truths of this very real place, while at the same time I am hesitant to say anything that may be perceived as negative because I want to promote this country which is housing me, feeding me, and caring for my life. Ultimately I have decided to try my best to leave my (positive) biases at the door, because if I don’t expand on the aspects of Somaliland that could be improved upon, I am cheating you, not being true to myself, and also could be hurting the country. It is with these thoughts in mind that I continue to type. I will also keep posting pictures so you can see for yourself those beautiful and ugly things which I am recounting.

I think you will be happy to know that I just returned from my first visit outside of Hargeisa. I spent 6 days in the “wild west” along with my co-workers, which was a great opportunity to learn more about the political and social dynamics of Somaliland and to talk openly about the elections which are scheduled to take place in September. As you may know, the elections have already been postponed and the current president (Dahir Rayaale) has been in power for seven years. The more people I talk to, the more I realize how few people trust or support the current regime for various reasons, including its lackadaisical attitude, corruption, and false promises. At the same time, Rayaale has not been causing physical harm to the people, there have been no killings or false arrests or things like that, peace is real, and so the Somaliland community at large is sitting back, afraid to disturb the peace because they know what war is. So it is a strange situation, where most people have lost faith in the government, even strongly oppose it, but they are willing to sacrifice anything—including employment, education, health services, and economic development— to preserve peace. I am not sure what this will mean for the upcoming elections, but I guess they will reveal themselves in the upcoming months.

Now that I’ve put the heavy stuff out in the open, let me tell you a story. Last week I was complaining to a friend of mine that there are no girls playing sports here, and I feel like I will get fat just sitting, working, eating, and sometimes walking. He told me that was not true, that just next to my office there is a place where girls play basketball. I thought he was joking, but sure enough he took me to this club and we saw about 20 girls donned in hijabs playing basketball, really going at it, and also playing soccer on the other side of the court. I wanted to go join them but I felt too shy. My friend was insistent though, he motioned at one of the girls and she walked over and greeted us. She took me by the hand and practically dragged me into the sports club, and after a few minutes I felt happy and comfortable and even got my hands on the ball. It was great fun—we played a full game, just girls, and they thought it was so funny when I scored. I agreed to come every week to play with them, and intend to keep my word.

Finally, some pictures and commentary. The first picture shows the landscape and some traditional Somali houses—or “aqal Soomaali”. Around the houses are small bushes which are prickly, and people dry their clothes on them because even strong winds do not force the clothes off of the bushes.

aqal Soomaali
aqal Soomaali

The next picture is scenery from the drive between Borame and Baki, where there are beautiful layers of mountains and because this region gets more rain, you can see greenery and farms. There are few areas in Somaliland that support farming, and historically the population is a nomadic one, reliant mostly on cattle and grazing. In fact, the slogan for all Somalis is “nabad iyo caano” which means “peace and milk”. It is a very accurate phrase which reflects the necessities for a good life. For a foreigner the word “peace” is obvious, but why “milk”? Well, if your camels produce large quantities of milk, not only can it sustain you and also be sold, but it means the land is fertile; there is water and abundant rains. So you have enough to live off of economically and physically, and now you just need peace.

Borama mountains
Borama mountains

In contrast to the beautiful and natural mountains, and as one person commented in my last article, it is impossible to ignore the piles of trash scattered about. One reflection of the weak government and perhaps finances is the lack of planned trash disposal or collection in Somaliland. I still feel guilty every time I litter, even though it is the only way to dispose of trash.

So I included this picture of the trash mountains in Borama, which are next to a busy soccer field, in an area of stunning natural beauty.

Mountains of trash around Borama
Mountains of trash around Borama

It is my hope that trash collection will improve here, as it could provide a lot of jobs aside from the obvious health and environmental benefits, but I also know that I have been to other countries with the same problem, and the fact is that when you are worrying about finding employment and safety and caano, trash collection is not the first thing on your “to do” list.

Finally, I included a picture of downtown Borama to give you an illustration of a different city. Both Hargeisa and Borama are constantly bustling, the restaurants don’t close until after 11pm and there are always people socializing on the streets.

Borama city - capital of Awdal, once the powerful Adal kingdom that ruled horn of Africa including Ethiopia
Borama city – capital of Awdal, once the powerful Adal kingdom that ruled horn of Africa including Ethiopia

That’s all for now. I hope you have enjoyed reading.

Until next time,

Emily

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