HARGEISA, 10 September 2009 (Somalilandpress) – Ngonge A. is writing to Somalilandpress about his experience in Somaliland and will be talking about his funny yet true experience during his stay in the country – discover Somaliland from the experience of a person on his first ever trip home.
Read the First Part HERE
As the airplane started descending over the empty plains of Somaliland, I had a strange feeling that I have been there before. That arid land, those shoots of green scattered all over the place and those hills the size of mountains! I have seen it all before, it all seemed familiar to me! Now I know that I was born in the place and left it as an infant but I could not possibly remember things from that far back, could I?
The plane landed in Egal International Airport ( the name is comical to be honest) and it took us less than ten minutes to disembark. My feet were finally on Somali soil (Somaliland to be specific). This airport was no different to the one in Djibouti! Vast grey concrete extended as far as the eye could see, old damaged planes were piled in some corner, fire engines and ambulances were parked on another and a few planes were scattered all over the place. The only difference was that unlike Djibouti, they did not have any fighter jets lying about or American helicopters flying around. If Djibouti’s airport can call itself international then Egal’s lovely hut must also call itself the same.
I followed the crowd as we walked from the plane to the arrivals lounge ( or should I call it corridor?). A few policemen and airport workers asked us to form a line and go to a window with our passports and money. There were only two windows there. We first had to go to the one on the left hand side and pay them thirty dollars that they converted into Somaliland currency and shoved back to us then we had to give them our passports that they in turn passed to the man sitting on their left and ordered us to go to the second window (on our right). We lined up by the second window (all the while noticing the policemen, porters and various hangers on staring at us), we found that we were now facing the guy who just received our passports from the currency people on his right! He asked us to pay thirty dollars which he said was the entry fee but, of course, refused to accept the Somaliland currency that we got from his colleagues barely a minute earlier. “NO SHILLING! Dollars, dollars” he shouted.
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I was tired, exhausted and very irritated. I argued with him for a few seconds but once I noticed that the policemen, porters and hangers on were all joining in and trying to explain the rules to me and how this magnificent airport was built via the money those arriving in the country pay, I decided to give in and pay. After all, this was all new to me and I was as lost as a thong in a fat woman’s bottom!
Having passed the immigration section and was now ready to go pick up my bags, the policemen, porters and hangers on saw their chance to bounce on me and stake their claim. They already knew my name (from paying close attention to my conversation with the immigration buffoon). Now they were pulling me left, right, round, back and forth. They were offering to find my bags for me, to arrange me a taxi and to drive me to any place in H town. Their hospitality was endless yet it made me feel like a three legged goat surrounded by a pack of hyenas! I took a deep breath, let them babble on for a while and, I admit, mischievously built their hopes up before shutting them all up and declaring that I was more than able to carry my own bags and needed no help whatsoever. The majority of them looked me straight in the face and knew that they were not likely to even get a used tissue out of me. They gave up and walked away to harass their next victim. But a couple of them were made of sterner stuff and followed me around as I found my bag and dragged it behind me outside the airport.
Once outside, I stood aside and looked around me for any familiar faces. That is when the professional beggars appeared. I did not need to hear them promise to pray for me or even ask me to give them anything. One look at their faces told me what to expect. Just as I was trying to find my feet and the words to rebuff them, I noticed that one of them was happily smiling at me and walking toward me with outstretched arms! This was a cocky beggar, I thought to myself. He is acting very familiar and sticking those arms out with confidence (salaan wax ka badan walee inaanuu iga helin)! Something suddenly clicked in my head and the familiar beggar seemed even more familiar! I saw that face somewhere. I had a quick scan and noticed that he was well dressed and his shoes were shiny and polished. This beggar knows how to look after himself. If I do give him any money I was sure that he would bankrupt me!
He spoke! He called me by my name! He was not a beggar at all but he had the worst sense of timing EVER. I will skip over the other details and just say that he drove me to the hotel that was going to be my place of residence for the next seven days.
As I sat in the car and looked around me I realized that this city was the epitome of organized disarray! We drove past beautifully built villas that neighbored huts and aqal Somalis and I truly did not know who to feel sorry for; the villa owner that spent thousands on his fancy building or his neighbor that lived in a house built of cloth! We passed brand new and beautiful four wheel drive cars racing past donkey carts. We saw nicely dressed people with shiny watches and designer sunglasses walking next to naked children in tattered clothes. There was a clear and very defined social order and my trusted tourist guide seemed to be moving in the higher echelons (as if the two mobile phones he was carrying were not evidence enough).
We got to the hotel and I went to sleep. My guide left me but promised to return later. After four hours of deep and relaxing sleep, I woke up to a phone call from him asking me if I was Ok. I told him that I was fine and fully awake. He asked me to come downstairs to the restaurant attached to the hotel. I cautiously went down and looked at the passers by as I went but nobody paid me any attention (though I could clearly see that they were checking me out from the sides of their faces). I went to the outdoors restaurant to find my tourist guide sitting on a table with some of Hargeisa’s finest young men. They came across as intelligent, witty and very eloquent (in both Somali and English). It was the best introduction to H town any new tourist could ever wish for.
It is very obvious that there is some unwritten rule that prevents beggars from entering some restaurants and hotels (even outdoor ones like the one we were in). However, this rule only applies to humans. Somaliland, you see, has a variety of beggars. First there are the flies. These ones welcome you the minute you set foot in H town and stay with you for the rest of your holiday ( I swear that a couple of them even stayed with me all the way to Burco, I recognised their pink wings). Secondly, there are the cats. These are trained animals and would miaw at your feet until you throw them something. But should you make the mistake of throwing anything their way you suddenly find yourself surrounded by every cat in Hargeisa and the crescendo of their cries would drive the calmest of men insane. Barbara has the extra burden of its daring birds landing on your table and attempting to steal any morsels they can get their feet and beaks on….
To be continued ………………………