Monday, January 14, 2013


She is seriously never going to trust me again.  Mom, look, I am sorry.  You just worry too much when I go places that you think are dangerous – and let’s be honest – you have enough to worry about right now without me adding to it.  So maybe I stopped by Somaliland again on my way to Tanzania… but I am actually in Tanzania now – and you had nothing to worry about.

I have to say, Somaliland is the most eventful uneventful little country I work in.  Over the course of less than four days – where essentially all I did was work – lots of things managed to happen.  First I got to take my first armed convoy ride.  This time I decided save a day of travel and add a bit of adventure to my life by flying commercial into the country through Ethiopia rather than taking the UN charter flight from Kenya.  (The runway in the capital has completely fallen to dust.  And, despite the rusting MiGs, we built that one.  The one the Russians built up 2.5 hours up on the coast can still handle jets – and therefore is the only commercial entryway into the country.)  Commercial travel is a slightly different experience.  The guy sitting across the aisle was having qat as his inflight snack.  And when you disembark, a great negotiation begins as to whether or not you need a visa, what said visa might cost, whether you need to pay entry fees on top of your visa, and what those might be.  We settled on a free visa, $10 for my UN passport, with $3 additional to pay for the official stamps.  The other UN guy in my convoy was apparently not as skilled a negotiator as I was – he had to pay $4 for his stamps.

Then instead of the standard hotel chauffeur holding my name of a plaque, I dragged my suitcase across the dirt parking lot to the fading UN SUV, and proceeded to wait 20 minutes in the heat for the police escort to appear.  (They had apparently been at the airport for hours and were off drinking Coke or chewing qat or something.  I complained briefly until the other guy mentioned that at least we only needed four.  In Mogadishu you need 18 of these jokers to drive around the block.)  The convoy ride itself was uneventful.  (If you are really curious, I took a 30 second video.  To get my full experience, watch it 400 times.  Sound track is original.)

Then I got to go to my first rural Somali village.  It looks a lot like a rural village in Afar, but ironically, the people are much less heavily armed.  And much friendlier.  (Or maybe the fact that we brought an escort with an AK47 encouraged them to smile.)  Later in the week I went to the local vegetable market in the capital.  It was much like any other market I have been to in Africa except no one hassled me.  Or felt the need to point out loudly that I Again, I had a guy with an automatic weapon trailing me around, so that might had dissuaded the beggars.  At one point I was watching a Somali man covered in blood hack at a camel carcass with a machete and scream that I shouldn’t take his picture.  I was okay with the guard at that moment.

Then there was the trip to dinner where the substitute driver was yammering on his cell phone and completely creamed an old guy pushing a wheelbarrow across the road.  The driver didn't even break, and I am sure the old guy's leg was broken.  And - as with all traffic accidents in the developing world with foreigners involved, the angry mob soon gathered.  A bit more excitement than I needed on my way to grilled fish.

And finally I got my chance to be on Somali TV.  I filmed a short promo video for the project we are working on.  This isn’t my first time being on national television (I made all three local news networks in St. Lucia when I did a training down there last year), but it was the easiest.  They let me write my questions in advance so that I wouldn’t look silly.  Then I spent the entire interview trying not to flinch as flies landed on my face.

I am including – in addition to the usual pictures – a  video of Somaliland -driving from Berbera in the north to Hargeisa.  (I wanted to add one more but it would take most of my natural life to upload.)  And the white blocks in the photos are raw salt being sold in the market, while the big mushy looking ones are dates imported from Saudi.


Unknown said...

Yep, looks like Afar! Even the music sounds familiar. I'm sorry, though, to miss the picture of the guy butchering a camel.

Glad you're safe in Tanzania.


Anonymous said...

The video makes what you are doing seem so much more real - not pretty but real. Great inclusion. I so love the blogs you sent. Georgia

Andy Oler said...

I am very disappointed that the video was not your television appearance.

That said, two things: your Carol-related lying/confession cycle is hilarious, and I am proud of your negotiating skills.

Tom said...

Just an FYI. I am still following your very interesting life. Stay safe and be well.