My Somaliland experience – 2012
This would've been my first time coming back since 2006. I can't remember much from then but at that time I was with my whole family, now I was travelling alone for the first time in my life and I was pretty nervous. Saying farewell to my family at Heathrow airport, I was set to visit Africa alone for the first time and this was one of the scariest but most exciting things I've ever had to do. I didn't know what to expect this time, whether Somaliland was going to be as good as it looks on Somali TV channels, or is it just a 'typical' deprived African country.
Landing in Berbera Airport, the hot breeze blew across my face; I knew I was in Africa. I literally stood still for a minute to look at what I was surrounding by; I was staggered by the beauty of what I was witnessing. A three hour bus ride down south from Berbera was Hargeisa, my location and what my mother calls, 'home'. During my three hour bus ride, I kept sticking my head out of the window to view these beautiful landscapes and mountains I would never see in London, I was like a child playing his brand new game. The bus driver stopped by a restaurant in Mandeera, a small village 50 miles from Hargeisa, but this restaurant wasn't like any I witnessed in London; it was really dilapidated and looked hygienically unsafe. I remember my father's words ringing in my head when we got to this restaurant ''Don't eat meat that you'd suspect first time around, you'll get very sick'' so I did what my gut instinct told me and ordered a drink only!
One thing that surprised me was how pleasant the people of Hargeisa were, casually walking down towards town (Suuqa), I would be greeted by people and smiled upon and this was something I was never used to back in London. The Somaliland colours would be almost everywhere you go, whether its small neighbourhoods with mini stores painted in the infamous Green, White & Red of Somaliland, or the city centre where you'd find the past presidents of Somaliland pictured alongside the Somaliland flag, you really got the sentiment that these people were proud of Somaliland and its achievements since 1991.
I got the real Somali experience when I drank Camel milk for the first time for breakfast, it was a traditional thing to do but I found it extremely challenging at first. I got used to it after a while and became a huge fan until I witnessed its side effects, diarrhoea! You couldn't get better or fresher food anywhere, after every meal you would be blessed with a fresh watermelon to round off your meal and a cup of camel milk, an option I refused to take after experiencing its side effects. Something I found strange was the 1-2 hour nap after lunch, usually around 12-3pm shops would be closed and it would be like a ghost town outside. I was amazed when my family took me out for a meal in one of the top restaurants in town, Mansoor. The structural design of the building, you honestly wouldn't think you're in a '3rd world country'.
I was lucky enough to be in Somaliland during Ramadan, and it was the greatest part of my experience. It really got me more in touch with people living in what I call 'critical conditions' but they are happy to be alive. I would attend mosque regularly and meet some of the most unique characters, people with missing body parts but will still smile and greet you without even knowing you, it was definitely the Islamic Aura which brought these people happiness in the toughest times. I was never hesitant to hand money out to beggars in the street when I had some; I looked at it as a responsibility. Eid came around it was the most memorable day of my life, just like I would in London when was a young boy, I wouldn't sleep. The huge meal with the family and then taking the kids to Kaah (a mini theme park) and seeing the joy on the children's faces is what made my Eid so memorable.
Before I came, I didn't know much about the history or the politics of Somaliland & Somalia but during my stay, I became a sponge, absorbing all the information I overheard and was told. I found this so interesting that I promised myself I would research and look into this when I get back to London and hopefully add this to my journalism knowledge. I would sit in Café's and listen to old men talk about the days when they would fight in the S.N.M (Somali National Movement) against Siad Barre's Faqqash army. I would just order a cup of tea and eavesdrop into these conversations, mentally taking notes down. After doing my research, it became evident that most of these men were actually telling the truth and I found it astonishing to know I was sitting amongst such highly prestigious men who served our wonderful country, if I could go back in time I would definitely ask to take a picture with them!
All in all, this experience left me bewildered and sad that my stay was coming to an unfortunate end. I was devastated that I didn't get to meet the president of Somaliland Ahmed M. Mahamoud Silanyo, but I was honoured to meet those who worked alongside him in the battle against Siad Barre. To round of my journey in Somaliland, my cousins took me to one of the mountains (buurti Calamadaha) in Hargeisa where I got a beautiful view of the city and to be completely honest, I didn't want to move from the current location I was standing upon. Not only was it beautiful, but it was also amazing to view the place my mother and father were brought up.
Somaliland has a great future and I was lucky enough to witness it before it becomes one of the greatest countries in the Horn of Africa.