"It's a dangerous business, going out your door.
You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet,
there's no knowing where you might be swept off to..."
--J.R.R. Tolkein

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First Days on the Outside

You know a holiday is going to be interesting when your cell phone falls out of your pocket and into the filthy hole in the ground serving as a toilet.

All lines of communication have been cut. I'm officially on the outside.

I had just spent a hellishly long day overlanding it from Somaliland across the border to eastern Ethiopia. A couple of other teachers and I snagged a ride with one of the drivers and a guard from the school to the border, and then promptly had a shouting match at the border when they demanded more money from us. Shaking us down for money seems to be our driver’s favorite sport. Anyway, we managed to evade him with a “we’ll pay later” and went inside the immigration office, got our exit stamps, then crossed the road (!) to the Ethiopian side and got our entry stamps.

Without being followed by a man with a gun! Aaaah, sweet loving freedom!

Then we climbed onto a painfully overcrowded bus headed to the village of Jigjiga in eastern Ethiopia. Anyone who has traveled in Africa will understand just how uncomfortable the ride was—people were practically in each other’s laps, and seat belts may as well have been from another universe. We finally got going and headed off to Jigjiga, only to get on a minibus headed for the ancient walled city of Harar.

We arrived in Harar just as the sun was setting, and checked into a small hostel in the center of town. Only then could we take our headscarves off (more sweet freedom), and change out of our dresses and into pants. It was at the hostel when the unfortunate incident happened with the phone. Oh well, keep calm and carry on…

Anyway, I was too excited to really be upset. I managed to fish the phone out and rescue my SIM card (with all my work contacts on it!). I put it aside and went to see to other things.

Like dinner! We found a Western-style restaurant and had a wonderful dinner of pizza, burgers, and beer. It was unbelievable to be able to sit in a restaurant and have decently-priced, decent-tasting food and drink. Nobody stared, nobody judged, and nobody stood around with guns. No calls from the school saying “Could you pick up xxx while you’re in town? Oh yeah, and don’t forget yyy and make sure you’re back in an hour for zzz meeting.”

We spent the next couple of days eating, wandering around, meeting new people, and just enjoying life. I had never realized it before, but there is a certain degree of stress that comes from living in Somaliland. It’s a very edgy place, with very strict laws and social codes, whereas Ethiopia, being a multi-lingual and multi-cultural society, cannot really function that way, and thus maintains a more relaxed, chilled out atmosphere.

I don’t know, but it sure was nice to wander around town in a tank top and jeans, take pictures, drink coffee in cafes, and not have to always be worried and stressed out.

Harar is located in the eastern part of Ethiopia, and is basically half Muslim and half Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. It sort of straddles the area between the Somali region and the Oromo region, with many influences from Somali culture.

I recognize that outfit.

The city has a wall around it like a fortress, and has been an important market for regional goods like qat.

It is known for it’s dark roasted coffee (ooooooh!).

That’s another great thing. Coffee. Everywhere. Yes!

I think I’m going to like it here…


  1. It seemed that you had a great trip...cool! But, sorry about your cell phone..Isn't it nice to be out off modern 'panopticon' technology for sometimes so you could enjoy the real freedom?

    And the last two sentence is typically yours "Coffee. Everywhere.Yes!"...hahahaha...

  2. Your words do a wonderful job painting the picture- the pictures add even more.
    Thank you!!!!