a man in the Hargeisa camel market contemplating the next sale

However depressive Hargeisa may look upon entry – and in fact, however depressive Hargeisa may look, full stop -, much is being compensated by the people here. Granted, our immediate comparison is Ethiopia, and you know by now that we have not been wholeheartedly impressed by the Ethiopians in general, but even without this, Somalilanders must rank towards the top in the list of most friendly, genuine people.

the Orient Hotel in Hargeissa

We booked ourselves in the Oriental Hotel – not as flashy, perhaps, as its famous Bangkok namesake, but by all means a very comfortable place, with extremely nice and helpful staff. And it is not that they have tourists here every day. It already starts at the door, with an automatic contact that makes an electronic voice say “Salaam Aleikum” every time the door opens, and closes. Every time! A stroll through downtown Hargeisa has scores of people, men and women, coming out to greet us, ask us how we are, where we are from (many know Holland, have family in Holland), and then welcome us into Somaliland. Genuinely welcome us, want us to feel at ease. There is nothing like the opportunistic approaches that we constantly experienced in Ethiopia. Nobody asks for money.

the camels at the camel market

marking one of the camels with the owner’s name

some additional colour at the market

next to camels, goats are an important commodity

goal posts come handy to tie up the goats

another important man in the market

On the contrary, when I find a local bus to go to the camel and goat market, outside town, one of the passengers pays for my fare, and no protestations from my side can change that. By the time we reach the market – 20 minutes later, that is what it took to progress the 2 kms, and not because of the traffic, but because every 50 meters somebody needs to get out or get in, and nobody is really in a hurry – by the time we reach the market, one of the passengers comes with me to make sure I find the place, 200 meters down a side street. The market ground is actually also the football pitch, but used in the mornings for trading camels and goats. Goal posts come in handy. It is not very busy, today, perhaps some 60-80 camels, with the name of their owner written on their hump, and a few hundred goats, in small groups. Sellers cramp under a parasol, awaiting potential buyers. Everything moves very slowly, nothing spectacular, but it is fun to absorb the atmosphere. And fun to talk to everybody who approaches me, once again out of curiosity, never with any opportunistic intention – or it must be that they want their picture taken, too.

chat selling

central Hargeissa, the main road

matress transport, somehow a major business

the war monument, a downed MIG

a shop in town

and this is where you get your softdrinks

the ever presnt colourful market

with the ever present chillies


the more serious chat selling business

In town, there is nothing, really. Few of the streets are tarmac, some others are covered with irregular cobbles, most are just dirt roads, and in any case there is sand and dust everywhere. The things to see are the mosque, not very special, and the war monument, a Russian MIG fighter aircraft. Also not very special, really. But it doesn’t stink in town, no pee smell, no human excrements in street corners. No smell of rotting fruit in the humble market (which in any case is dominated by non-food items, shoes and cloths, and mattresses, especially). The relatively few cars and buses nevertheless manage to produce a chaos, not helped by the people pushing wheel barrows – the preferred way of transporting goods, and sometimes the elderly. But the best is the complete traffic jam after lunch, in the street where chat is being sold. Every self-respecting Somali climbs in his four-wheel drive (or 20 year old Toyota station wagon, or just walks) to get to chat-street and get his portion of fresh chat to get through the afternoon. In effect, this country only works half-days, in the morning. In the afternoon the nation resolves to chewing chat, a narcotic providing this pleasant stoned feeling that ensures that you don’t do anything anymore for the rest of the day.

Another feature of this town is the money people. Everywhere, on every corner, you’ll find a few, sometimes up to ten, money changers, with enormous stacks of bank notes in front of them, really, bales of 500 and 1000 shilling notes (8 and 16 $cents, respectively, the largest denomination notes in the country, I think). Some have flimsy metal cages in which they keep the money, many don’t and have the bales just in front of them, on the pavement. Nobody seems concerned about crooks trying to steal any of it. Come to think of it, this is indeed the first day of the trip that I haven’t had the feeling that I needed to watch over my shoulder all the time. The first day that I feel perfectly safe. Nice feeling!

next: the rock paintings of Las Geel

the money men

with stacks of bank notes, not worth much in any case

a Somali herder lost in town

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