A Week In Somaliland – Part I

HARGEISA, 08 September 2009 (Somalilandpress) – Ngonge A. will be writing to Somalilandpress about his experience in Somaliland and will be offering tips to anyone who may want to visit the unrecognized republic along the way – discover Somaliland from the experience of a person on his first ever trip home.

On the 14th of April 2009, I expectantly sat in Dubai airport waiting for the plane that would take me to Djibouti! Next to me, sat an old but very pretty Djiboutian lady. She was carrying lots of hand luggage when we first met and I, rather foolishly, offered to help her carry them into the airport. I was stuck with her for the rest of the journey!

The flight was supposed to take off at three in the morning but we were required to check in at midnight. We checked in on time, the flight did not take off on time. After eight hours of waiting, we finally were ushered to our hastily arranged plane (turns out the original plane had problems and the Somali Airline had to quickly hire a new plane). As we all took our seats and readied for the journey to Djibouti, our pilot welcomed us into the plane and announced that we should reach Hungary in five hours and a few minutes. Suddenly, there was complete silence in the plane and we could only hear the sound of rustling bottoms on seats. Then all hell broke loose and (those who understood) started arguing about being on the wrong plane! The hubbub, arguments and complaints were deafening. The people behind me were tabbing me on the shoulder and asking me what the pilot said. The people next to me were asking me to repeat the answer and the people in front turned around and told me that I must have heard him wrong. Someone on the other side shouted that he heard the wrong message too. There was total and utter pandemonium.

Someone must have alerted the pilot about his mistake. He spoke to us again and apologized. He informed us that this was the correct plane and that we were going to Djibouti and not Hungary!

The cabin crew started walking around the plane and ensuring that everyone had their seat belts on. One air host noticed that four seats in front of me had five people sitting on them. He told them that one will have to get up and go sit in an empty seat in the back. They refused. He insisted that they do so. They refused! He told them that what they were doing was against health and safety regulations, they told him that they were Somali and that such regulations did not apply to them. He tried to explain that each seat had only one oxygen mask and that in the event of an emergency one of the five will be left without a gas mask! They told him that they will share! He told them that what they were doing was very dangerous when some fat bald man in the back jumped up and told him that we were SOMALI and that we did not fear death! The poor airhost told him not to speak of death and such things when we were about to embark on a journey that would take us ten thousand feet in the air! The man shrugged and reminded him that we were SOMALI and MUSLIM, we do not fear death!

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I started wondering to myself if I was doing the right thing by going on holiday to a place full of people such as my proud fellow passenger! I was beginning to regret this holiday before it even started. But hope flooded right back when someone chided the crazy five and ordered them (though he obviously had no authority over them) to move seats (if I recall correctly, he had a very distinct Burco accent). They listened and moved seats. The air host went to inform the pilot that everything was Ok and that we were ready to go.

We landed in Djibouti three hours later and were ushered by a very troubled man to the transit section of the airport (though I, and they, do stretch the word a little by referring to that sardine box as an airport). The immigration staff here are some of the angriest and rudest you could ever hope to meet. For some strange reason, they all seem to be females. They came across as very haughty and proud. I could not help wondering if they were the spoilt daughters of some Djiboutian millionaires that were robbed of their rich container ships by a few Somali pirates (it would have explained the special treatment all the Somalis were getting at the hands of these precious ladies).

We were supposed to wait at the airport for two hours before catching our flight to Hargeisa. What could one who was stuck in that hut masquerading as an airport do? I went to the toilet. There were only two cubicles. Both dirty and both full of deposits that some hurried passengers already left behind. I smiled as I examined the smelly brown stuff and wondered if this act of defiance was not deliberate after all. I considered adding my own token of appreciation to Djibouti’s finest building. Darn my chronic constipation!

I sat on a chair and watched my fellow passengers milling about and questioning each other about their eventual destinations or their adopted countries. We had the full compliment, Americans, Brits, Italians, Canadians, Norwegians and even one coming from China! I foolishly revealed that this was my first ever trip home. They bombarded me with advice, tips and far too many tricks. In the middle of this noise, I heard someone shout something as he walked past us. I asked the man next to me but he said he did not hear anything. I continued listening to the conversation and all the advice. Some were telling me I will have great fun and some were saying I made a great mistake.

An airport worker came to us and asked if anyone was going to Hargeisa. I told him I did. He told me off and asked me to hurry. It turns out that the shout I did not hear earlier was for my flight. The people I was sat with were taking an entirely different flight (so much for their empty advice).

I hurried behind the man and was pushed into a full bus that was already waiting for ten minutes. People were grumbling about my lateness and telling me that I almost missed the plane. I sheepishly apologised and tried to block their voices out. We were driven to a mighty plane and we climbed the stairs to find ourselves inside the only place in the world that was uglier than Djibouti airport! Even though this was a propeller plane, it did not look too bad from the outside. It was clean and looked new. But, on the inside, it was a tip! The chairs were loose, the seat belts did not work and the brave Somalis that claimed they did not fear death on our earlier flight were now reciting any and every verse of the quran they knew!

The Russian pilot closed the door after the last passenger had entered the plane. He actually closed it with his own hands. There was no sophisticated button to press, no ground crew to close it from the outside and, unlike other airplanes, it was not hidden from view. He stood there right in front of all of us and closed the door. A few helpful Somalis got up and tried to help him close it but he gestured them away with his free hand!

The Somali airhost who must have fancied himself as some sort of master of ceremonies welcomed us aboard and give us the usual information about the flight, the temperature outside and the various destinations of this plane (it turns out that it was going to Mogadishu too).

Five minutes later, we took off! Our next stop, Hargeisa……..

By: NGONGE A.

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