One of the pleasant surprises of our trip to Jijiga was that the gravel road, mentioned in our various guide books, has been upgraded to brand new tarmac, which cuts the travel time in half. I had installed myself in the front seat, next to the driver, because the trip – according to those same guide books – promised to go through spectacular country side: the Valley of Marvels, no less, and the “well-wooded Karamara Mountains”. Right! I did see some typical weathered granite rocks on the way, presumably the valley, but I completely missed any well-wooded mountains. Lots of charcoal for sale, though. In reality, the country side here is getting ever dryer, and less and less inhabited. The typical rounded Somali huts of nomads are appearing, along the road, and further afield; these are small huts, made of wood and mud, it seems, and reinforced with the occasional corrugated iron sheets as walls and a collection of rags, and sometimes tarpaulin, stretched over the roof. If we have seen any poverty on the way, this beats all of it – and yet, there are also herds of cattle, and especially large flocks of sheep and goat, presumably representing some form of wealth. Perhaps the huts are just convenient, easily packed up and placed somewhere else, for a change of pasture – if it may have that name, the ground is really dry, and whatever grass grows, looks burned yellow. But these people have little else, that is for sure, no government-supplied amenities, schools, hospitals, and almost certainly no fall-back position if their livestock dies, not an unthinkable prospect in these circumstances.
But back to Jijiga. The town “boasts an unexpectedly cosmopolitan feel, which is reflected in the high standard of hotels, restaurants and other facilities”. Right! Not sure how long this guide book author had been traveling when he wrote this, but Jijiga is most certainly not cosmopolitan! The top hotel in town, the one with good western food, only had – guess what – spaghetti with tomato sauce, which was served in the lobby, because the restaurant was closed – and from the looks had been for some time. So had been the hot water supply, and the toilet flushing system. We found one other restaurant that looked OK, and which distinguished itself with using newspaper pages for place-mats. We found no other facilities. Well, yeah, there is a market, of course, and probably quite some “special supplies” on account of its proximity to the border, but nothing to get too excited about. Dust is what we remember most, about Jijiga, dust.
next: to the border at Wajaale