A Dangerous And Uncertain Place

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Africa » Somalia » Somaliland » Berbera
July 30th 2005
Published: September 8th 2005
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The Big DaddyThe Big DaddyThe Big Daddy

This is where the major league plays ball...
The Horn of Africa. The self-declared and officially non-existent Republic of Somaliland, occupying the northernmost part of the fictitious country of Somalia. For some reason the word “warlord” pops up in my head when I hear “Somali”. Somali Warlord. Like Apple Pie. Images of brave marines killing hundreds of skinnies for every one they lose. The overwhelming and irresistible firepower of Democracy. Black Hawk Down. When I told him where I was headed my brother asked me if it was possible to find a more dangerous place.

As people you meet on the street will tell you, there are 5 parts to Somalia: Djibouti - the French “Department”, the Ogaden region in Ethiopia, a part of Kenya, Somalia proper - formerly an Italian colony and now further divided into the mini-state of Puntland (there is no government in Mogadishu), and (here, at least) Somaliland -- the former British Protectorate of. Our journey to Somali-world began in Ethiopia, before crossing the border into Somaliland.

We spend a night in Jijiga, the capital of the province, a fairly low-key affair with plenty of qat (called chat in Ethiopia) consumption, wind-blown dusty streets populated with sarung-wearing men and women with hijabs reaching
Scavenger HangoutScavenger HangoutScavenger Hangout

And the dog and camel shall scavenge together, and a little child shall lead them.
down to below the knees. Imagine my surprise when I saw the unmistakable features of US soldiers lounging around in off-duty uniforms and dorky hats, occasionally resorting to their field-glasses to examine something on the horizon. American soldiers? In Jijiga? “For the hell of it” we walked into the hotel and were immediately stopped by a kalash-bearing guard: “Yellem! Yellem!” No room. Someone came out and explained that the entire hotel had been booked by the Americans. Extravagant as always. We waved at the soldiers on the way out and asked them what they were doing here: “building a school!” And suffering from a complete lack of imagination. Later on we walked past a patrol car on the main road with Americans in dark sunglasses saying something into their radio as they sat in the shade of a tree. Feels like Iraq!

I can’t believe the US government would go to such lengths to ruin my trip! Instead of the sympathetic backpacker, I was received as the faceless potential-American, and a kid who spoke English said bystanders were insulting us in Somali. That didn’t stop us from spending the afternoon in a complete stranger’s house, together with a group
Tender Affection for QatTender Affection for QatTender Affection for Qat

A qat seller, Hargeisa.
of people assembled to satisfy their various addictions: qat, cigarettes, sheesha, Ethiopian music videos, Bollywood films. Even then I felt that these people would either like me - in which case I’d be safe and everything would be cool - or they’d dislike me - and I’d be screwed. No in-betweens. We spent the rest of the night trying to remember our Arabic, and trying to fall asleep amidst our last blaring Teddy Afro. X had one final beer to prepare him for the abstinence ahead, and I cautioned him not to try flirting with the Somali girls - not without signing his travelers’ cheques and sufficiently distancing himself from me, that is. In the morning someone paid for our breakfast, and the ride was uneventful (and no bickering over luggage-handler tips!), apart from the frequent internal customs stops to weigh and assess fees for transporting qat. It was even worse between Harar and Jijiga: all these people carrying a single kilo of qat each, constantly made to disembark and pay “fees” to various people. Qat only grows in the highlands, and it’s quite a bit more expensive to buy it in the lowlands, so transporting it can be a
The Desolation of SomaliaThe Desolation of SomaliaThe Desolation of Somalia

On the way to the sea.
lucrative business, which must be taxed.

At the border we ended up walking over to the Somaliland side first, then had to return to the Ethiopian side for our exit stamp. Then ensued a surreal discussion with the border official who kept asking us for our exit stamp, while we tried to explain that we were there to obtain an exit stamp. It eventually took about 10 minutes, 2 people and 3 languages (English, Arabic, French), plus a French-speaking translator (and the many bystanders) to get the point across. Then, “Welcome to Somaliland”, an “ENTERY” (sic) stamp, and a slightly crammed ride to Hargeisa in a LandCruiser. At the many checkpoints along the way officials examined our Ethiopian visa with a “hmm!” and waved us on. One practiced his English with X: “Give me money!” He foolishly thought he could compete with the Nigeria-hardened Frenchman. X later lost points by throwing a bit of a tantrum when he lost a ring given him by his final conquest in Ethiopia.

Initial impressions of Hargeisa can be summarized as “different”. The streets are covered with inches of sand, the sun is very bright yet there’s a continuous wind that keeps
MIG in HargeisaMIG in HargeisaMIG in Hargeisa

The landmark in Hargeisa, this Somali plane was apparently shot down during the civil war. The planes used to do bombing runs from the town's own airport, bombing the city street by street.
things cool, there are a couple of standing bombed-out buildings from the fighting which once demolished the entire city, but for the most part things are pretty unremarkable. There is little to nothing to do. The nightmarish plastic bags are back: after a brief respite in Ethiopia, the plague of plastic bags is back with a vengeance, completely lining and partially filling the dry river bed that divides the city into two. They’re in the trees, shredded and strewn among bushes, partly buried or proudly coloring the landscape blue-and-white. I hate plastic bags. I don’t know how Ethiopia managed to avoid the problem, but they need to share their secret and fast. I don’t know how the country survives. They import everything (even used newspapers), mostly from the UAE, don’t seem to have any industry and almost no agriculture. Apparently they once exported camels to Saudi Arabia but that’s currently on hold. Fruit is also much more expensive here than in Ethiopia. Reminds me of Sudan in many ways. Standard food would be a plate of pasta or rice or beans. Or, one the many varieties of meat. All eaten with hands. After giving it a shot, I am now
Kid in BerberaKid in BerberaKid in Berbera

They have the obelisk things in most crossroads, mostly with the Somaliland flag painted on.
convinced that God intended us to eat spaghetti with our hands: it’s so much faster and more efficient. And despite what various websites or guidebooks may tell you, Internet is plentiful, fast (satellite) and cheap ($1/hr) in Hargeisa.

In an effort to conserve our precious US cash, we exchanged TCs in Ethiopia, intending to convert Birr into Somaliland Shillings once here. Yes, they have their own currency, with the dollar being roughly equivalent to 6400 SlS, but the largest note is 500SlS, so you need 13 bills for one dollar. Now imagine changing $100: that’s 1300 notes! If the guy doesn’t try to give you bundles of 100SlS, that is. There are moneychangers all oer the market area, sitting behind boxes of chicken wire full of bundles of money. Apparently theft isn’t a problem. Money is kept in bundles of 100 notes, fastened with a rubber band, and you might as well do as locals do and assume there really are 100, and not try to count them all. We had a lot of fun exchanging money, haggling over the rate which got worse every time we came back, and walking away with plastic bags full of money. We took comfort in the fact that thieves would probably target the people carrying money in wheelbarrows (no exaggeration) first.

One thing about Hargeisa is the stares. Like hostile stares. We tried to work through that with “assalamu alaikum”s to everyone we saw, but then they’d demand to know if we’re muslim and give us doubly dirty looks upon getting a negative response. Plenty of people would stop us, ask where we’re from and if we’re muslim, then turn around and walk away without a further word. Maybe assessing our targetability. Not too many people saying “you’re welcome, we’re all the same!” here. It also became quickly obvious that my long hair is out of place. This was clearly communicated by the women sitting by the road motioning for me to cut my hair. There were also more exciting encounters such as when someone in a car told X to get me out of there or I’d get killed; or the time someone with an angry face asked me if I was looking for a barber and offered to pay. One particularly stressful encounter involved a guy following us around loudly saying something about us being Jewish, which he presumably
Beached ShipsBeached ShipsBeached Ships

Once upon a time this must have been a really busy international port. There's little to show for it now.
thought was great fun. I have nothing against Jewish people, but being Jewish in a country like this is like jumping to a pond of piranhas: you’re asking for it. There are plenty of people on the street who seem plainly insane to some degree or another. I suspect it’s a combination of over-consumption of qat and too much direct sunlight. They’re generally recognizable by a f*cked-up quality in their eyes. All told, I’m glad I have a travel companion to back me up. At the same time, I get the impression that the bystanders would step in to our defense if we were assaulted, but best not to try. I get a kick out of it every time women say “bismillahirrahmanirahim” as if they’d seen some evil creature, when they see me. They’re beautiful but fully covered, and we tend to keep our gazes lowered and avoid eye contact. Best to not go down the path that leads to castration. Occasionally women can be seen hanging around, faces covered by some green paste (the nature of which I have been unable to determine) but is presumably to make their skin lighter. Too bad they don’t realize black really is
Qat CongregationQat CongregationQat Congregation

A small group of qat consumers, kicking it in the late afternoon of Hargeisa.

We met a kid on the street who took us back to his place and offered us tea, which we were very pleased by. He came over the next day and proceeded to give me a long (and very confusing) account of the history of Somaliland. As often happens, after a while he paused to look at me and was not pleased by what he saw. Then the barrage of questions: Why don’t you cut your hair? Why aren’t your clothes ironed? Why don’t you trim your mustache? I tried to explain that different people may differ in taste. I cover my hair in the street -- to minimize the impact of a man-with-hair on the morals of society - but I’m not about to cut my hair for the couple weeks I’ll be spending in Somaliland. He tried to solicit X’s support by saying my hair was like a woman’s, but X put him in his place pointing out that women don’t have beards. Then the topic turned to religion (not our doing), and he was persistent about “why aren’t you muslim?”. He cited a law allegedly passed in Canada allowing women to walk around topless (Jeff,
Street Scene from BerberaStreet Scene from BerberaStreet Scene from Berbera

Camels roam freely.
you lucky man) as an example of the decadence in non-muslim societies. Said that’s the way goats behave, not human beings. He’d freak if I told him people race naked through San Francisco. X tried to explain that he may disagree with, but should be tolerant of others’ choices. I pointed out that westerners also have a negative view of the hijab, and that tolerance is in everyone’s interests. I don’t think we were very persuasive. Things went from bad to worse with him essentially insulting us before leaving. The next day some brat on the street followed X around saying “WHY don’t you believe in our Prophet?”

I think it’s telling that Turkey is the other muslim country I’m aware of that is also pretty intolerant of other religions: it’s also another country with a religiously homogenous population. I say it’s the intolerance of modernity, and things are getting worse, not better. There used to be Jewish communities throughout the region, including in Berbera and Yemen. East Africa has traded with Indians (Hindhus) for hundreds of years. The Ottoman Empire had many Christian subjects and officials in high places, and they were given great autonomy. But it was
Smalltime Money ChangerSmalltime Money ChangerSmalltime Money Changer

The really good guys have that box full of cash, and some overflowing on the top, sometimes topped off with a blank Somalia passport for sell. They quoted the price at $50.
the West that expelled the Moors from Spain, that initiated pogroms against and kicked out the Jews, who persecuted all sects and religious minorities, and defined Europe as a “Christian Continent”, and are still scared to death lest a Muslim country join their exclusive club. Contrary to popular belief, bigotry is the tradition of the West, while tolerance is that of the East. But modernity has sown its tares. The latter day Ottomans massacred and deported the Armenians, then “exchanged” the local Christian population with Greece’s Muslim population, and finally in the 50’s there were government-supported anti-minority riots and looting in Istanbul. The local Jewish populations were expelled from their countries all over the middle east, and Israeli citizens now cannot visit most Muslim countries. Now people in this part of the world are afraid of and dislike the Other, just as it is in the West. And, perhaps (as in Turkey) in the absence of any examples - other than Bush, Blair and Sharon - of non-Muslims, they can be excused their outlandishness when they meet one. Things seem a lot more civilized when multiple religions co-exist, even when as precariously as in Lebanon.

We met some of
Houses of BerberaHouses of BerberaHouses of Berbera

The houses have a distinctly Arab look-and-feel to them, but I get the impression that the locals weren't the ones who built them.
the NGO crowd, in the process of trying to contact a friend of a friend of X.. The ones we met were unlike my stereotype of an expat, and were down to earth and friendly. We tried to obtain information about places to visit and about the overall security situation for Berbera in particular. We were told it would be best to go with an armed escort, as there have been many instances of aid workers being killed. They are not allowed to leave Hargeisa, may not walk anywhere, and are shuttled in 4WDs from fortified and guarded office to fortified and guarded house. Seems pretty depressing. For fun they fly to Nairobi and spend spend spend, partying.

Bored of doing nothing in Hargeisa, we left for Berbera (without an armed escort). While on our way to take the bus, some people came out to yell at us to “Go! Go!”, as in “go away”. So good to feel welcome. After waiting a couple hours to find the 8 passengers to be crammed in the station wagon, we head off, only to be stopped at the first checkpoint and told that we needed an armed escort. Thankfully the fellow-passengers helped us out and they let us go. There was a rest stop on the way where one young guy with a full beard tried to convert X (they don’t try with me; I guess they don’t want me on their team), outright rejecting X’s assertion that they’re all the same - there’s only one God. He said Christianity and Islam are as different as the East is from the West, and rejected my friendly advances with “no, but you’re wrong, you must be muslim!”, even when I said “Allah maak” (God be with you) by way of goodbye. The next day we saw him driving around and he honked and waved so maybe he forgave us. Needless to say, the road seems perfectly safe.

Within minutes of landing in Berbera, we had checked into a decen hotel, met nice friendly people, and were already loving it. The town is built near the port, but there is a vast wasteland of plastic bags and graves between the end of town and the (deserted) beach. We had to ask someone where the sea is because it’s not obvious. It’s way hotter in Berbera than in Hargeisa: my thermometer reads a constant 36C in my room at all hours. As it’s way too hot to be outdoors in the middle of the day, we spent a lot of time napping or reading in our room. It’s not the kind of place where you go to a café for a cappuccino and to read your book. People lounge around in the shade chewing qat and/or sipping tea with milk. Things get a little more lively in the afternoon when we emerge to walk over to the sea for a swim, and top off our tiring day with some delicious delicious fish. For $2 you can eat an enormous whole fish, usually a barracuda. The dangerous and exciting life of a traveler. The fish restaurant has satellite tv which shows Euronews, and I’ve decided Europeans aren’t necessarily more intelligent than Americans after all. I love Berbera and wouldn’t mind staying there for a very long time. In the short time we were there (one week) we established a small group of people we’re friendly with, had a regular beans-or-pasta joint, and an excellent fish restaurant; and if one doesn’t mind the continual streaks of sweat running down your face, the heat isn’t so bad either.

Berbera (and possibly the whole country) has the feel of being abandoned. As if the original owners just packed up and left, and the newcomers don’t quite know what to do with what they’ve inherited. It’s just a feeling I get when I see the collapsing villas, or the rows of whitewashed houses which like they were originally shops. It’s like a ghost town with people. (After writing this blog, I learned that Berbera was actually an Ottoman town, and the Turks left as the British were arriving around the turn of the century. That explains a lot.)

We’ve been remarkably well informed, having BBC at the hotel in Addis Ababa, and satellite TV at the restaurants here. We watched Bush’s state of the union address, saw live coverage of the London bombings (and the ridiculous mess the American media made of covering it), the car bomb in Kusadasi, Turkey, the copycat bombs in London, and last but not least the grenades thrown at 3 hotels in Jijiga. I was reading online articles on the latter, and they tried to connect it to violence over the elections. Anyone who has recently been in Jijiga - felt the tension in the air and seen the man at the restaurant saying “French and Turkish are OK, but Americans should be killed” - can’t help but laugh at that assertion. The grenades were thrown at hotels because they were targeting the school-builder American soldiers. Simple as that. The chief of police in Berbera took on himself to give us a lift home from the fish restaurant (200m or so) every night - says it’s not safe after dark, although it seems fine to me. He ironically noted that Berbera is safer than London, and that the day the US (and Britain) change their foreign policy, and bring a just solution to Palestine (and, I may add, withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq, quit bullying Syria and Iran, and stop supporting repressive regimes throughout the world) the suicide bombs will end. And he’s absolutely right, no matter what Tony Blair or W Bush say. The self-righteous “leaders of the world” all emotionally read the same speech after the London bombings: while they (the G8) are trying to save the world, these barbarians are trying to destroy it. It couldn’t be further from the truth: forcing African nations to adopt neo-Liberal policies to ensure new markets for western corporations, all the while dangling the carrot of debt relief and ignoring the fact that there’s a serious problem of mismanagement and corruption… it doesn’t sound so altruistic. The media devoted hours of airtime to the attacks, interviewing survivors and striving to catch every detail, all horrified at the deaths of 56 innocent civilians going about their everyday lives. I agree wholeheartedly. A couple of days earlier there was a scrolling headline at the bottom of BBC’s screen (the kind of news they don’t actively report on): 17 civilians confirmed killed by US air attack in Afghanistan. No pictures, no interviews, no investigation, not even airtime. Just a silent statistic: 17 (barbarian) civilians killed by the (civilizing) forces of the (most civilized) US. Maybe we can begin to imagine an answer to the hysterical self-pitying cry of “why do they hate us?” - inevitably answered by “experts” reassuring us that “they” hate our freedom. No, they hate the way we oppress them. Anyone keeping track of how many civilians killed in Iraq? They say they won’t leave because the Iraqi army isn’t ready to deal with the insurgency. Yet the insurgency exists because of the US presence. I bought the June 20, 2005 edition of Time magazine which details the dehumanizing, horrible torture visited on “the 20th hijacker”, and justifies it all by concluding “in the war on terrorism (sic), the personal dignity of a fanatic trained for mass murder may be an inevitable casualty.” Just let that sink in. No charges, no proof of guilt. Sure, Abu Ghraib was the work of a couple of bad apples. Torture is banned by the Geneva convention, but we’ll just wave our hands and say it wasn’t torture. After all, it’s difficult to define. Sort of like “terrorism”: if we do it it’s justice (infinite justice), if they do it it’s cowardly terrorism. And if any particulars are mentioned (like sexual humiliation) we’ll just say the Geneva convention doesn’t apply. And while we’re a it, we’ll tell people what they’re allowed to believe and call it “stamping out fanaticism”.

Lets talk about the evidence against the London bombing suspects. They’ve been to Pakistan, and spoke with people from (and may have even visited) religious schools (madrasas). One was in Israel when there was a suicide bomb. Such irrefutable proof of terrorism! I match the above criteria. I just hope I’m not in the wrong place at the wrong time and give them an excuse to take me away for interrogation. Or maybe 5 shots to the head by undercover police for being the wrong color (as in the case of the Brazilian man). Am I the only one who finds this ridiculous?

It’s the world (not Somaliland) that’s a dangerous and uncertain place, and it’s getting worse. I don’t think many places are currently safe for US citizens, and I can see the list rapidly growing to include British and other western countries’ citizens as well. Like the Hungarians stabbed in Cairo “to protest the West’s attitude towards muslims.” I don’t care if everywhere they go there’s a suicide bomb, grenade or RPG waiting for the f*ckers responsible for this mess. They deserved it. But they rarely travel, and are heavily guarded, and so it’s the easily accessible travelers (or tourists, or aid workers) who get nabbed. Not that I think someone would try to kill me after getting to know me; it’s just that anonymous moment of danger when as a white man you are a symbol (not a person), and the only accessible target to a desperate person intent on letting the world know this aggression will not stand. That’s when you have to worry.

For all the stigma associated with it, I’d say Somaliland is indeed much safer than London (or NYC). And I prefer “are you muslim?” questions to 5 bullets in the head.

Well, I can't seem to please anyone with this blog. I would have assumed the Somalis (ok, Somalilanders) would be the first to say "thanks for talking about our country; maybe more people will visit in the future". While I was there many people took the time to request that I tell "them" that Somaliland is really safe, and (of course) that it should be recognized as a country. But although this article seems to be getting the most hits, the Somalilanders don't seem happy.

Based on the comments, it seems I'm too left-wing radical for some white folk, and too right-wing(?) for the Somalis. I'm assuming the latter is mostly an issue of not reading the friggin article before jumping to conclusions. Guys! Read the blog again. And then re-read it again. I'm on your side! I'm trying to objectively understand the reason for the animosity I felt from some quarters while I was there. If your english level isn't adequate, get someone to translate for you!

Yes, a lot of people were really friendly. Yes, I believe Islam teaches people to be accepting and tolerant of each other (read the blog). Yes, I don't think Somaliland is necessarily a dangerous place (read the blog, fool!) -- that's actually a line from Hal Hartley's short film "Ambition": "The world is a dangerous and uncertain place".

BUT, just because you happen to be of Somali (or whatever) extraction, don't try to tell me what I should think. Your experiences when you visit "back home" are much different from what we (as foreigner travelers who stick out and "don't belong") go through. Somaliland is *not* a safe place for Americans. The whole of the Middle East isn't. I can sense animosity, even if I haven't studied the local culture. When some asshole calls out "do you want to fuck?!" (just because you're white) and only backs down when you're ready to kick his ass... don't talk to me about "culture". Oh, and about visiting "non-christian/white/western" countries... I've spent the past 14 months traveling the middle east, so go bark up some other tree.

Parenthetically, I don't think things are better for Somalis living in the West. I actually think they're incomparably worse (but then, you should know that if you read the friggin blog) -- hostile stares is a minor inconvenience for me. But my blog is about *my* experiences in Somaliland, and isn't supposed to be a comparative study of sticking out in the West vs Somaliland.

I appreciate all comments, but please RTFM before posting some ignorant remark accusing me of inciting to "hate".


30th July 2005

Lots of People agree with you the world leaders are the criminals
I have been enjoying reading your blog, Your route is inspirational. I am from Scotland and currently on a world cycle tour, I have been out of contact with the news for a while but learnt recently of the london attacks and the craziness that is sweeping britain. It makes me really glad that I am in Romania heading towards Turkey rather than back home having to put up with the crazy fear factory media of Britain at the moment. Keep writing and good luck with the rest of your travel
30th July 2005

Good blog until it got all political. I don't even like Bush but I really didn't want to hear this kind of stuff on a travelblog unless the locals brought it up. Could have done without the rants.
30th July 2005

dude, good blogs
your blogs are always great to see and read. Full of insight and great pictures, and you travel to places no-one else would dream of going to....imagine trying to get into the u.s with all those middle east stamps in your passport (bring an extra big tube of ky for full body search! :) but anyways keep us informed of your trip.....
31st July 2005

Zaman Kotu
Kolla Dotu Senin izin bitmedimi daha okuz insan
2nd August 2005

Good Blog
Dont entirely agree with some of your points, but a fascinating read all the same. thx!
4th August 2005

you really do have the luck of the irish. it seems that all hell breaks loose after you've left an area. be safe.
18th August 2005

Dangerous place
I'm a Somali man living in the US. Your trip to the dangerous Somaliland is equivilent to my dangerous journey from an airport gate to inside a plane. I am terrified of what I go through everytime i present my ID. Some days just a minore 1 hour wait in the waiting room. Somedays a full interrogation of why am traveling to Vegas for 3 days (gambling is unacceptable), and some days I get turned back for undisclosed reasons. What an adventure it is but perhaps a little exageration in comparing it to your trip to Somalia. Aside from the minor comparison I just like to say I love when I see a westerner going to the non christian/white/western countries and telling the story about his fellow people about the adventures and the dangers he faced. WOW! I actually spent 2 weeks with those crazy monkies and survived to tell, oh by the way I had an escort (another monkey) thank god. Touching story, cheers to a hypocrit and screwed up world.
19th August 2005

Too True
Somalia is one country I have never been in, but I had once two seamen from there, who were pretty literate in Italian and English. - Therefore your experience was read with interest. - Ranging in philosophical grounds, I wonder how freely the U.S. dispense of their own people, being soldiers of "freedom". - On the other hand, I never considered U.S. politically-minded, but strictly business-minded. It seems they have no conception of what "politics" means. - I do admire your disposition to write such many words - I mostly begin writing with a full head but somehow a laziness takes over. - Keep up
24th August 2005

yaw ozledik valla neredeyse bi sene olucak..
en son kasimdi herhalde gidip soyle tophanede bi nargile keyfi yapali sizinle, ozledik valla sizi.. ama sundan emin olunuz, eskiden de heyecanla takip ederdik, simdi de heyecanla takip ediyoruz yazdiklarinizi bedreddin bey.. tahmin ettigimiz uzere bulundugunuz yer biraz sicaktir, eger yuzup serinlemek isterseniz soyle hint okyanusu gecip sydneye bi ugramanizi tavsiye ederiz, kapimiz her daim acik size.. (biliyom cok okuz bi yaklasim oldu ama napayim benden ancak bu kadar..) sevgiler .. bi` dost..
6th September 2005

it is great that you travel and write the places you have seen. however, as a somalilander i see a lot of disrespect and lack of knowladge about your article to Somalian calture. it is incredibaly ignorant of you to state those words.."hate us..." somalis as a tradition they are very generouse people, they believe a religion that teach them to welcome their guest regardless to their background ...(we might have some enamosity among each other for tripism reasons...part of nomadic calture). your article is bias and stereotyping people. another thing stop the false propoganda about the safety for Us citizen in somaliland...it is very safe comparing to some neighberhoods in chicago. we as a Somalis and Somalilanders might not be rich or wealthy, but we are rich in our hearts. it is ashame to write about a country without a knowladge to its calture and people. well, i understand where you comming from i lived here more than ten years (USA) the average American seem to believe some how similar believes when it comes to Africa, but average american hopefuly have braver heart than you because h/se wouldnt use those words of hate and false propoganda....and please dont forget somaliland is a country which was destroyed by civilwars and trying to stablish its ground zero. my friend try to write more opjective next time and please learn from places and caltures you see...without labeling with hate crating words...peace to you asnd to all humans every where... stay real!!!!
8th September 2005

To Somalilanders Everywhere
Congratulations! The remark "6th September 2005 21:16 - somalian: somaliland" came closer to rejection than any other comment. I have since added a "postscript" to restate things in case I've been too subtle. Do *not* post ignorant remarks. *DO* read the entire blog before commenting on it. And if you want to discuss anything written in the blog, send me fan-mail by clicking on the little button at the bottom of the page which says "contact bedreddin". I'll be happy to clarify or discuss any issues.
11th September 2005

contact ozgur can leonard diyor, contact bedereddin demiyor. lutfen sitede olup bitenle ilgili yazarken dikkatli olunuz. bakmadan etmeden yazmayiniz
11th September 2005

yahu milletin ingilzcesine ne bok atiyosun ben onu anlamadim zaten ezen ezmis pezevenkleri
11th September 2005

I appreciate all comments, but please RTFM before posting some ignorant remark accusing me of inciting to "hate".
yok gotu kalkti bunun bu postscript hadisesi falan
14th September 2005

Why did you even do to somaliland- what was the purpose, and don' tell you were just curious. it seemed to me that you are judging somaliland and somaliders by some stupid remaks like "For some reason the word “warlord” pops up in my head when I hear “Somali”. Somali Warlord." and "women can be seen hanging around, faces covered by some green paste (the nature of which I have been unable to determine) but is presumably to make their skin lighter." your are so f**cking narrow minded. there isn't a single warlord in Somalidand, get a clue because if there was at least one you would be dead. That stuff women put on their face is a NATURAL FACIAL CLEANSER. why should somalilanders thank you for talking about their country, what have you done?- nothing, because you didn't notice all the things that they 've done that matters.
1st October 2005

i agree with Erika, the world is screwed up by its leaders not setting good example. Anyway i enjoyed reading your article and hope you will travel to the rest of Somalia and let us know the how your experience is. Best of Luck and be safe.
3rd October 2005

I am a somali and I agree with you 100%
Thanks for the blog. I enjoyed, laughed and even wished I was there. Thanks.
3rd October 2005

Great job.
11th October 2005

i have totally enjoyed reading about your travels ..keep up the good work ...I'm Jamaican and there's a lot in these counries i can relate to ...we are far apart geographically but share some similarities.....i do understand the concerns some people have with not feeling that we may be not be getting the full story about Somalia.... but u are speaking about your experience ..what u experienced during the time u spent there and obviously it will be different from someone who grew up there..its one part of a very long and complicated whole ..i feel the same way when someone describes my country ....but its your truth ...and i do thing u have been fair ....its not going to deter from visiting there in fact i think your description has peaked my interest even further ...maybe my exerience will be the same.....and maybe not...the main thing we all need to understand are that perspectives and opinions are different and while we may not agree with them but they still need to be respected...which is basically what u were trying to bring across in your post
12th October 2005

Yes it is, now....:
STFU, I ram your HASS, POS!
15th October 2005

hey Devrim do me a favour ..... Go to the busiest highway u can find and stand in the middle of it
19th October 2005

trains, planes and automobiles
Hey, I love playing in traffic. How did you know?
23rd October 2005

Well Done and thank you
I am a somalilander and I thoroughly enjoyed your article. I was saddened to see that people have demonstrated their ignorance and narrow-mindeness by blabbing on about Islam etc but please remember this is a place with 80% illiteracy rate and Islam is the only show in town intellectually-speaking. I was surprised you liked Berbera, god how I hated that place except at night when the aroma of spiced fish filled the air. And people are insnane due to the Qat. That stuff will surely kill of Somaliland. Please visit the place again some time and this time swim in khoor soor east of Berbera. Sublime. PS: Berebera does have an ancient synagogue and a 700 yyear-old Ottoman mosque but a lot of the houses were indeed built by Somalis from an earlier generation which died out replaced by ninja women boring everybody to death about god and islam and insane men of today addicted to drugs.
24th October 2005

Student of the History!
As a student of the world, you are one patient man. btw, I call all travellers as students of the world. I was tempted to call you names until I read the article. Hargeisa, oh Berbera! they are cities you should have visited 47 years ago. I am not saying residents were not as intolerant to Western visitors because they was a foreign rule at the time. You are lucky if they did not lynch you.
28th October 2005

People read the blog before writing about it
I'm a Somalilander myself and I think what is said about Somaliland is fair and just..Who ever attacked the owner of the blog obviously didn't read through all that was said about Somaliland...And keep in mind his a foreigner not a somalilander like you that understands the language and behavior of the people.Plus you know and I know that when we travel to Somaliland were get picked up at the airport by our dear relatives who watch out for us...
17th November 2005

Pretty interesting !
Yeah mate , in all honesty I believe you have depicted a pretty acurate picture of Somaliland . I'm sorry we ain't that welcoming , but at least we 're a little more honest and straight forward when it comes to how we feel about foreigners compared to our western neighbours. Lol
18th November 2005

Ridicilous Comments
I think Somaliland dispointed him cos it was not all the danger he was hoping for. I did not like the comments he made of Berbera such as: "The houses have a distinctly Arab look-and-feel to them, but I get the impression that the locals weren't the ones who built them." Did u expected some old African huts to still stand in Berbera?
19th November 2005

Thanks for the article.
It was great and funny. Keep up the good work. And lastly, don't worry about the critics :) PS: You shouldn't assume the Somali readers of your blog are unable to understand the english. May be some of them were bothered by some comments you made which they took personal. I liked everything you wrote and laughed at some of your comments about us Somalis. Anyway, I would rate your efforts an "A" Plus.
19th January 2006

good job!
Of course the author ignorant of the local culture, what do people expect, he's NOT FROM THERE! How EXACTLY do you expect him do understand fully the local culture when this is the first time he has ever been there!?! You can't expect somone to be knowledgable of every single culture on this planet. But he is acutally making an effort by going to a place most westerners would never dream of visiting. I applaud your effort bedreddin.
18th February 2006

ignorant and boring article.
Congratulations!! there is finnally someone who is talented enough to write in a ignorant and boring style. You have obviously not studied the country's history before you actually vistted it. There is a whole lot more to Somaliland than what you have stated. As a psychologist I am sensing acertain "ARROGANCE" and a certain factor of jealousy due to the fact that americans have lost their culture (not that they ever had culture since they are our cousins "THE BRITISH"). I have been to Somaliland 6 times in the past 4 years and the expiereince as a White British traveler i.e. pack packer always seem to amaze me. The coutry's efforts to surrvive without international regognition is pretty impresive. But your comments are more than right wing, it more like a racist (the most small minded people in this world), people like you the people who don't like to see development in the world. I'd like to ask you ask you why is it that you don't want any critical views about your blog? what makes think that the people have posted their their true thoughts about you blog? Any way just to confirm the it takes a real man to expiernce and live the somali why of life, just ask me. your manhood has been severly dameged in somaliland just because you are coward to start with ant you are probably one still. If somaliland wasn't safe why have I White Britsh mandecide to to build the house of my dreams in the Hagiesa the capital. Anyway i hope this sinks in I know it's a big chunk to swallow but it's only the honest truth. So best of luck in your next journey, make sure that you you don't commit any murders in TAXAS or you won'y live to tell the story. Peace!!!
24th February 2006

Ha ha
I cannot believe you visited this shit hole, this is by far the worst country on the planet along with Afghanistan. God damn and I thought people believed Eastern Europe was rubbish, this is the most underdeveloped savage area that Earth has to offer, I would sooner die than travel there. For some photos of a truly beautiful European city visit: http://www.pbase.com/stefan_serb/belgrade_2005 FUCK ALL SOMALI SCUMBAGS FUCK OFF HOME YOU PIECE OF SHIT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS!! LEAVE THE UK NOW!!
26th February 2006

to Serb boy...
dude, grow up. To Somalilanders: I do *not* agree with this loser's statements or thoughts in any way... I realize his comments must be very insulting, but I'm leaving them there since he's basically proving my theory that racism is the trademark of the *West*, not the East...
27th February 2006

I don't know what you must have been doing to receive hostile stares. I was in the country in November and got mostly smiles and welcomes. I felt perfectly safe and very much at home here, amongst a fine and proud people. Maybe it just wasn't your kind of place. Who knows?
9th April 2006

Turkish impersonating to be a european
I have a tough time understanding Turkish people. They have changed their language, alphabets and even clothing to make themselves look European, but they are not. I despise the Turkish men whispering 'sex arkadash' and 'Natasha' the sex slaves. Thank god Turkey will not be admitted into EU.
7th May 2006

good article
Never been to Somalia, but your description and story kept me reading. Good photos and descriptive text. Perception on political realm seems 'right on,' for unfortunately U.S. has earned the name "ugly American."
22nd June 2006

I think you should of approached Somaliland, or Somali’s with an open mind, you should of researched into their history and culture before or even during your stay (access to internet is very easy there). Your experience I must say is disappointing, but very rare. Why were u given hostile stares, rather bizarre. It’s actually very shameful in Somali culture to be inhospitable; one of the greatest traits of Somali’s is their hospitability. There has been an increased Islamisation in Somalia as whole post-war. The green paste exfoliates the skin, it has minerals. One must remember Somaliland once a thriving city was left without a single roof on the houses during the war…its recovery compared to the previous destruction is remarkable given the time. By the way, how long were you in Somaliland? you should of really mixed with some of the educated classes, to have a proper dialogue and insight into the people. Its not really a place for tourist at the moment… may be with the recovery of the central govt…possibly soon, can Somaliland become a place for reckoning, and Somalia as a whole. PS the Turks are very mixed people, there are Turks with blue eyes, green eyes, naturally blonde, light skinned, darker skinned… the stereotype that a Turk is dark and looks a bit like a belly dancer is wrong...u just need to go to Turkey to see that. “I think it’s telling that Turkey is the other muslim country I’m aware of that is also pretty intolerant of other religions”... Turkey is a secular state, where Islam is not the state religion. Throughout Turkish history, they have been a very pluralistic tolerant society, with their personal law systems e.g. a Jewish persons laws/religion were recognised and accepted (in addition the Turks protected Jews during the WW2). Turkey according to its history is possibly one of the most tolerant states ever, when it came to other people’s religion, the position was “there is no compulsion in religion” surah 2 verse 256 of the Holy Quran. Apart from one dark chapter- Armenia…by the way, the history here is fuzzy and clouded in controversy. It’s possibly also in Turkeys interest not to join bureaucratic Europe at a time of good economic growth. Ps... blogger u seemed p****, if ur up for the challenge..may be in the future, u should reassess ur view of Somaliland and their ppl
13th September 2006

Thanks for writing
I really enjoyed reading your blog. You write beautifully.
21st October 2006

Dude, the only good blog I have read for ages.
28th October 2006

Great blog
First of all thank you for taking the time and visit Somaliland. Somalia is dangerous place, that's why the North decided to breakaway. Your blog was interesting and 100% true. I'm an African living in the U.S. People look at you different if one is a foreigner, that is everywhere in this World. Your journey on the Horn of Africa was brave. Hopefully the so-called warlords put the guns down and realize that their fuckin killing themselves. I salute you for this great writing...ONE LOVE
2nd December 2006

hi I am a girl from Iran i use from ur blog it was very exellent bye
9th January 2007

Great Blog
I enjoyed your blog very much. My experience in Berbera and Hergeysa was in late 1985 as a member of a small task force of infantry soldiers. Why we were there and what we accomplished remains a mystery to me. Perhaps our unwelcome presence is why you received those hostile stares. What I saw was a stoic people, surviving despite years of colonialism, cold war theatrics, war and civil war. I think your writing is open and honest, keep it up.
11th January 2007

in 1960 I was in berbera and from the pictures not much has changed it is a dangerous place more so being a white south african with an israeli stamp in my passport but travel along the east african coast was a great adventure and I recomend it to anyone with the cajones to try it
15th February 2007

well done
Very interesting! I would like to see the "entery"-stamp of Somaliland!!!Greetings from Austria
28th March 2007

interesting blog
Just wanted to say I enjoyed your postings and I think you've chosen a pretty neat and unique travel route =)
1st May 2007

your hair
Regarding the hostile reception you got, I honestly think it was your hair that done it - they probably never saw anyone quite like you waling their streets, and just didn't know what to make of you....
6th December 2007

i have been there last year and Somaliland is peace and nice place to be. if you need moor information please check www.dalxiis.com -peacefull -beautifull nature -friendly people
15th January 2008

of course these the only pictures you could show
From your pictures on Djibouti, Erithrea and Somaliland, I already know the impression you want to give. I wonder why some people travel to far away countries if they only want to shock and show negative things. If I were you, I would stay in my home country in my nice and cozy home and wouldn't even waste my time on these obscure and dangerous places. I am sure we all worry about the unknow, but it is a shame you didn't know (researched) you were much safer than in any big American city. The reason is people in these countries you went to don't have a culture of guns a culture of shoot before you're shot they are not obsessed with their security and protect their gardens with a riffle. If you sincerely found these place unsafe, I advice you to go back on your steps and fly back to wherever you are from. The Horn of Africa is unsafe where there is a war because otherwise people are culturally peaceful and they don't kill to steal even when they are extremely poor.
4th February 2008

6th May 2008

somaliland is safe
compared to puntland and mugdisho. Somaliland has a legitimate goverment. I wish you had the cohunas to go to a city called Galkayo. President of The Transitional Goverment
28th May 2008

Have you been to these countries? I expected not. Perhaps in some parts of the tribal bush there is relitive peace, but there is no sense of humanitarian civility as you describe and safety is always questionable. Yes war generates culture, and war culture is nasty and violent, consider western soldiers finding trouble reintergrating into peaceful civilization. And you can keep your michael morre steriotypes of America and consider yourself dupe of obvious and intentional propaganda. In the past year I have lived in Yemen and have traveled to those regions, and can avow for the normalcy of these photos. Oh, and in yemen, the ratio of owned guns, is three automatic rifles to every man.
7th June 2008

check out Burco nxt time!!!!!!!!
hey, i don't knw how i came across your blog, but iam glad i did. cuz it was real intresting read. you should've visited a city in north somalia called Burco, cuz their ppl there r so friendly and welcoming. can i jus mention that somaliland will never be recognised as a country this is becuz many ppl from north somalia (ie ppl from burco, las annod etc) refuse to acknowledge somaliland as a country, and want to continue living in somalia. and since one city (hagaysa) does not constitute a whole country, s-land supports need to get over it. neway enough of the politics! good wrk dude! and stay safe (insha allah)
2nd July 2008

good blog
gggooooooooooooooooood blog
19th September 2008

Thanks for a very interesting article. However, I agree with an earlier poster that the political rant was not needed.
12th January 2009

Ex Berbera Boy
I was lucky to live in Somaliland from the age of 11yrs unlil self government in 1960 yes! I'm 62 years old and I loved both the country and the people,some of the most beautiful people on earth.First we lived im Gabiley my Dad worked on the boys School during its final construction.We then moved to Boroma,Dad fell out with the district Commissioner as he turned his water off so he could not water his garden,this preserved the water pressure pumped from Amoud so Somalis walking up to 20 miles for water had a permanent tap running 24/7. We then mocved to Berbera it was wonderful I spent most of my mornings with the local fishermen and fishing each morning and late a night when the temperature was excess.Remember this was 1959 on air con we slept upstairs out on the verandah or house was part of a square close by to a mosque.Although I am much older after my time in Berbera I have yet to complain about the heat especially here in the UK.
1st April 2009

question about traveling to Somaliland
I have a question about traveling to Somaliland and I was hoping that maybe you could give me your insight on it (or that someone who reads this could) (and yes, I realize this was published years ago, but you know how hard it is to find a good travel guide on the country). Anyway, I'm an American college student interested in traveling to Somaliland, but I was wondering if you could comment as to whether you thought it would be safe to travel alone as an American and as a girl. Thanks.
12th April 2009

single girl traveling to somaliland
do i think it's a good idea? NO.
25th August 2009

Your experience in Somaliland is interessting. I just wonder how much of your relatively/locally not that normal hair played in all of these encounters. Certainly a lot I suppose in the staring, curiosity and suspicions that lead to thorogh questioning. Does your friend feels the same way?
30th August 2009

dude I applude you
"Houses of Berbera have a distinctly Arab look-and-feel to them, but I get the impression that the locals weren't the ones who built them." "Berbera (and possibly the whole country) has the feel of being abandoned. As if the original owners just packed up and left, and the newcomers don’t quite know what to do with what they’ve inherited. It’s just a feeling I get when I see the collapsing villas, or the rows of whitewashed houses which like they were originally shops. It’s like a ghost town with people. (After writing this blog, I learned that Berbera was actually an Ottoman town, and the Turks left as the British were arriving around the turn of the century. That explains a lot.) " "There used to be Jewish communities throughout the region, including in Berbera and Yemen. East Africa has traded with Indians (Hindhus) for hundreds of years. The Ottoman Empire had many Christian subjects and officials in high places" Dude, thanxs for doing your homework, that place 'Berbera' was for century associated with Yemanite Jews who migrated to either Israel or Yeman. Most, of the exterior, the port city Dude, thanxs for doing your homework, that place 'Berbera' was for century’s associated with Jewish merchants who migrated to either Israel or Yemen in the 1940’s. Most, of the exterior, the port city’s were cosmopolitan and sophisticated community that were traders of frankincense, myrrh, spices, cinnamon and Berbera was in the middle of it all, it strategically placed near the entrance to the ‘Bab al Mandeb’ or ‘Bridge of Tear’. At, least you did portray the Horn of Africa and Somaliland with the usual ‘western centric’ mentality, dude next time come by we’ll do some camel wrestler and fishing. Somaliland favorite son. peace
8th October 2009

We are used to it!
Somalis are used to white folks coming to their country acting one-way and whenever they leave the show their dislike and biases. One of the first person who came from Europe and into East Africa was Richard F. Burton. Even though while he was white and foreign looking and the times being 1800s he was welcomed by nomads and city folks alike. What did he do when he started writing about his adventure in Somalia. He made the people seem stupid and animalistic. So, the stares you got weren't much about your hair, but more about their forethought "you acting kind now and backbiting ones got home".
16th October 2009

I spent some time last year in Somaliland as a solo-traveller and found it to be an incredible experience. The people I met were very hospitable. As a Westerner I can say that I never faced any hostility and was made to feel very welcome. I did receive some stares but they weren hateful but more of the fact that I was a tourist. The only issue was taking photos in public - some people were unhappy with a camera being pointed in their direction but I respected their wishes and pointed the camera away even in a general street scene. I dressed appropriately for Somaliland and wore long trousers and long sleeve shirt any time in public. I did enounter one bad look when I was smoking in public - then that was my fault as it was during Ramadan. I apologised for my stupidity and lack of respect. Somaliland was a memorable experience and I would recommend it to any traveller who wants a unique, off the beaten track experience.
31st January 2010

im a bit late but what a wonderful read lol. a little bit contraversial, maybe your getting negetive feed back and comments because of somali's who live in jijiga and somaliland. iv been to hargaysa and jijiga and i was thare when the bombing actually happend so i see what you mean. somali's are traditionaly suspicious about strangers of white mostly but other colours too. they'r are also extrememly proud haughty and uneducated people. rather like americans except for the latter....i think. the average somali has the idea that being somali gives you the power to tell people whats right and wrong....again american. i, being a somali but raised in london find somalis quite interesting people to talk to and it would have been nice to see you in either hargaysa and/or jijiga where i could possably shed some light on the whys and the whats that baffled you and x so. kind regards Mohamed
19th March 2010

I know i am abit late for veiwing this blog and most propably you won't see this,. however i can help but say what hell is with plastic bags. or is it the somalis(me including) answer to neon signs. You never know we might be in to something here. lol
25th March 2010

will never change their color.
''Occasionally women can be seen hanging around, faces covered by some green paste (the nature of which I have been unable to determine) but is presumably to make their skin lighter'' let me to correct you. the thing you have mentioned in your article, ' faces covered by some green paste'. this is called Qasiil, if it is green or Huruud 'yellow' if it is yellow, and basically women uses this to make their skin smooth, or soft. We are somalis, we will never change our color just because to look white. people who were slaved suffers such illness, but we not. I think you need to search about the word Somali, just google it. you are still virgin about somalis and their value.
13th April 2010

To understand you have to feel.
Ok first of all the green paste is called QASIL and is purely a herb based exfoliate, natural and used to cleanse, much like the face-mask bought on the high-street but natural, its thousands of years old tradition also used in many arab countries. Secondly how can you expect foreigners to get anything but a hostile reception in Somalia after the horror they had inflicted on us. Somalis dont trust any country or even their own people, for many Somalis its hard to differentiate between tourists and intruders. They are survivors, strong and proud. My first time visiting Somalia was with my family and being a Somali I still felt discriminated against, but it is understandable and enjoyed my time there. Hope to return soon. Hope my country will be able to heal its wounds before the vultures take it all.
5th May 2010
Berbera Port

information about port
19th September 2010

memories of berbera
i enjoyed reading your blog, especially since it concerns berbera... im a 1st officer in the merchant marine and my 1st foreign port happened to be Berberra, Somaliland in March 1999... i admire ur guts to be out in somali/somaliland all by urself! we got mugged on our 1st day out in berberra!!
10th February 2011
MIG in Hargeisa

I like see all the time the picture of my heart country which is somaliland/City is Hargeisa. Also i like share any idea that is going on over there.
16th February 2011
Berbera Port

Pleasants environment
I real like alomost all photo of Berbera port it is real nice, i wish this port to become the best port in Africa
28th March 2011

history os berbera somaliland
i want to know how berbera people can do samething for there salf
7th April 2011
Scavenger Hangout

what is that
what in the hell is that big thing it looks like a camel
7th June 2011
Berbera Port

port authorities
berbera port is very place where people were born to boost the maritime professional business but it is one thing to be careful about it"THIS IS ETHIOPIAN FORWARDING AGENTS" . they are all thieves. pls do not make business with them.IF IS necessary try to work with them by cash. hand by hand otherwise they will robbe you and yr/strategic port. BEST RGDS CPT/AICH
10th December 2011

A dangerous and uncertain place
It is impossible to judge people from distance. The paradox within this blog is that it paint a picture of the people of a country without knowing them deeply and closely. This is just like judging a book by its cover without reading the content. If you are of different colour, you would be stared at wherever you go, whether it is a western country or easter one. I live in a western country and I do not make any judgement on people who might have stared at me because of curiouty. If you end up in a country where your creed have never landed, it is not a strange phenomenon that people would be interested on your skin, color, and they way of talking. A fellow country man who ended up in Norway more than 30 years ago told me that he turned the strange curiosity into positive experience by befriending local people. I do not deny that there would always be some narrow-minded people that may be a risk to your safety. However, it would require skill and wisdom to turn animousity into friendship. Please do not judge a nation by words and stares you hear and meet on street. I would loved you have stayed long in this country and studied the culture, religion, way of living of these people and told us more constructive story. Please do not judge a book by the cover. Read it and digest it and know it from inside.
6th March 2012

i really liked your blog it was really good have you seen the monsoon hotel?,its great! people really under-estimate somaliland(and they think its somalia)
20th July 2012

Loving the photos
As one respondent mentioned, don't care about the politics. Would love to see the people at least get enough to eat. Their "religion" doesn't seem to have done them any good whatsoever, although I do agree there is a lot of corruption in the West, but I think this is a human condition, not merely a function of the West. If they had more money, their society would have it's own corruption.
22nd January 2017

Ignorant and badly article
Thanks for your article that many people are not seen you don't known what's going in somaliland so don't forget that break heart of the most population of the somaliland

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