Narrator: Hadithi hadithi
Audience: Hadithi njoo
Audience: Ya watoto wa nyayo
Audience: ya watoto wakorofi
Hapo zamani za kale, paliishi…. no, but I get ahead of myself.
I want to tell you a story of my recent safari to Puntland, Federal Republic of Somalia. And as good stories go, they must have a beginning. What I am not promising you is to be a good story teller, I am a good listener, not talker and definitely not a writer. If it were that it was writing that was standing between me and my killer, they stand a chance of winning, but that’s a story of another day.
The story begins at JKIA (code for Jomo Kenyatta International Airport- I think they should rename it to something friendly like Mak Airport). Where else would it start. It is possible that two cultures can exist side by side without affecting the other. And I think this is true for some of the airlines that fly to Somali because how do you explain paying for two seats, arriving early at the check in counters only to be told, no my friends (in Trevor Noah accent) there is no seat for one of you. And they are not joking. Our story ends here 😦
Since I am telling you a story about Puntland, you must have already surmised that we traveled without a hitch.
Our layover at Mogadishu was short and uneventful. Those of us who were proceeding to Garowe were checked in to our connecting flight while standing in the hot sun in the air side of the airport. Landing at Garowe is almost a culture shock of sorts. The runway is murram, though the landing is quite smooth. Their passenger terminal, if we can call it that is as good as non existent. The immigration desk, well, the little said about it the better and safer too, because you see, I must return to this beautiful country, maybe even settle.
I want to believe there was a welcoming troupe at the airport assembled just for me. No, they didn’t talk to me. Didn’t even notice me. I think we had traveled with a famous person who was to be received with pomp and flair. When this story is retold, it must be emphasized they were at the airport to meet me.
Garowe is a beautiful town. I think Nairobi could learn a few tips from them. Government offices are conveniently located out of the CBD but walking or taxi distance, well it still a small town, but there is a thought there. It is quiet, peaceful and would do with a breeze especially during the afternoons. But it is also a strange place. Yours truly went to a bank, a bank my people, to get dollars and the lady who I found there looked at me as you would an alien and said something to the effect they don’t trade forex. I am hoping, to her advantage, that she didn’t understand me.
If there is a diabetes capital of the world, it must be Puntland and the greater Somalia. My request for white tea no sugar was always met with very astonished looks. And whenever I was so unlucky to find myself in places where such luxuries were unavailable, they served you sugar that had some tea. The camel meat was however great and the fish at Eyl was delicious. It’s a paradox that they take so little salt believing, I think, that salt is not good. If they could, they would add sugar to the meat.
It is driving through Puntland, in Mudug and Nugaal districts that was the greatest joy. In the open grassland, almost desert like, every tree or shrub that was tall enough stood majestically as if marking and watching over its territory. One felt someone had planted them at those regular intervals to mark their place. They almost demanded your respect. At the same time, it felt like it was a flat earther’s paradise. Everywhere, well, almost everywhere you looked around you was flat. There were a few interruptions though. A small hill here and another there but perhaps the majestic cover of the blue cloudless sky that delineated our existential space.
I talk of driving in Puntland and your imagination drives you, I know, I can see it to think of road, long and winding tarmac. We would have give quite a lot even to have murram road. Our drivers, oh goodness, they were good, drove mostly by instinct. It felt like hunting squirrel and following their trail. That we didn’t get lost severally is still a wonder to me. On one of the days, darkness caught up with us or we caught up with it. One can’t be too sure of these things. And so, just like sea men hoping to see a lighthouse, we- this might just mean me- looked forward to any lights emanating from a small town as a sign that we were not totally lost.
We were in Garacad, a former pirates town or port. Or so our host said. It is a paradox that the people in the town abandoned hotels they suspect were built with proceeds from piracy because that’s haram.
We were in Galcayo where I think we were the only people without guns. Everyone seemed to have one. Maybe that’s how they know how to feel safe. I thought of getting one for myself but didn’t complete the thought. You see I am a pacifist and I don’t hunt. My only motivation to have a gun would be to take a life. I don’t think I am ready for that yet. I would reconsider if I met any one of our thieving political class and their tenderprenuer relathieves. About that, another day.
I said we didn’t get lost. I lied it. We did, it was only once and it was for the best I think. Maybe I am even glad we did get lost. We had driven almost the whole day. We were to go to Tawfiq a district that from all I gathered, is working on breaking off from Puntland and they said it wasn’t quite safe. We joked about it. We said maybe Al Shabaab lived there. But it was all jokes, you see and that is why I am happy we didn’t go. But that is where happiness ended or maybe it didn’t.
It has been raining in Puntland last several weeks or months, I can’t tell. And so with the nature of the roads, one is bound once in a while to find themselves in the thick of it. It happened to us too. It was under a quiet, dark, moonlight sky that our lead vehicle got stuck in mud. It was also ten pm. It was a silent night. I am not sure it was holy. But here we were, enveloped in darkness in the middle of nowhere. We tried to get the car unstuck for a while and when it continued to sink in the soft ground, that project was abandoned. We were going to sleep in the middle of nowhere. We were 8 of us. We had 2 cars. To say we didn’t sleep peacefully would be an understatement. Some slept outside the cars and some slept in the cars but we all slept. And when we woke up, all of us seemed to have been well rested. It was better than some of the places we had slept in.
And finally we went to Eyl, a paradise in the midst of ruins, two beautiful villages tucked in between mountain ranges or should I call them hills and valleys. I missed my bicycle. I would have loved to cycle in Eyl. The roads meander and turn sharply. The slopes stand there daring you to go to them.
Our politicians in Nairobi are a ridiculous lot. Most times when they head to the toilet, the path must be cleared of mortals and VVIP toilet installed somewhere. I think they shit gold. The president for Puntland state was meeting some dignitaries, I suppose, at the restaurant hotel where we stayed and between us and him was a short hedge. For all intents and purposes, we were oblivious to his presence. I want such a life as a public representative.
When one has lived in Nairobi following the juala ban, one becomes almost nostalgic at the site of juala everywhere and the convenience it brings. And for a long moment as I packed my small baggage I thought about carrying juala if only to piss off the migration officials in Nairobi. Maybe next time I will act on it. Our lives have been ruined without juala.
They said to understand the value of a minute talk to an athlete. What they didn’t say is to lose any attachment to time and live every moment as it comes, visit Somalia, a land where time stops.
In Kenya we really were totally colonized. Each of us, and yours truly, for shame, compete in how well we can speak in English. Mara grammar mara lexicon mara punctuation. One comes to Somalia and they are proudly Somali. Either learn Somali or talk to the birds. I want to believe the Somalis have been unfairly treated among us but they should be an inspiration to us. That while we acknowledge the brutal years of the colonizer, we can maintain our languages and what remains of our cultures. Whoever wants to do business with us should learn our vernacular or ship out.
In all, it was an interesting trip. I decided that you will read this and look at the photos and match up the stories.
See you when I am back in Nairobi or at any rate, I could be back already.