Saturday, September 25, 2010

45 - O Flower of Africa

Berbera waterfront
We continue on down to the coast to Berbera, Somaliland's main port on the Gulf of Aden, stopping off on the way at a little village where Mohammed goes to see his father (he's out of town), and at a home for handicapped children for whom Abdi has brought a big bag of sweets (they seem to be suffering from some forms of autism but are very sweet.) Berbera, an old town that goes back to Turkish, Omani and even earlier times, is disappointing, with no buildings of interest although it has a massive white beach that is a magnet for holiday makers in winter.

 Like Burao, Sheekh and Erigavo it was badly damaged, as bombed out buildings and sunken ships still show, in the civil war in the late 80s between Somaliland and the central government before Somalia finally disintegrated into an ever changing factional kaleidoscope. It also has a massive forest of African flowers - that's what Hussein calls the millions of discarded blue, pink and yellow plastic bags playing in the wind, flapping vigorously from the branches of trees or swarming in a mass assault over the bushes.

Waterfront with garbage
We drive away from the heat towards the crags and pinnacles of bush- and tree-clad escarpments, past yet more baboons and up onto the 4,000-foot plateau to the coolness of the small towns of Sheekh and Burao. On the way, we stop off at a little tea shack run by a woman with six sons and a daughter (the husband is working in Burao). Mohammed plops down on a plastic chair, his gun dangling earthwards; it's bolt-loaded, and looks like World War One vintage. It's loaded at the moment but it's not clear whether it's cocked. Whatever, a fat lot of good that's going to be against a  kalashnikov in the hands of a Shabaab or other unsavoury character!

O Flower of Africa
Yet more flowers
A 'field of flowers'
Sea front near Berbera
Berbera courtyard
Nomad Max - OK, they're not exactly racing over a dystopian outback on turbo-powered motorbikes, but here on the high plateau of Somaliland there are many nomads with many, many more camels loping across the sandy savanna, part of it covered with close tufts of green and copses of flat-topped trees, much of it totally treeless. There are eight police checkpoints, and at least one burned out tank from the 80s civil war, on the 60 odd miles of tarred road from Burao to the boondocks turn-off. And, what else, here's Mad Muggins with his suite of three, now jolting across the horizon on an eight-hour obstacle course of ruts, rocks and ridges.
Road rises to the central plateau
Looking down from the heights
It is here that you can truly see the nomadic and pastoralist life of Somalis: flock after multiple flock of goats and black-headed sheep, little stone wall-enclosed encampments of low domed structures made of sticks, tarpaulins and anything else at hand, more permanent villages of similar domes, rock houses and the ubiquitous little green and white mosques and minarets - and thousands upon thousands of snooty camels. In fact camel raising is a major industry, Somaliland having exported over 31,000 of them to Saudi Arabia in 2008 amid 2 million head of livestock overall.

All the women are head-scarved with billowing robes, quite a few of them fully veiled as well. We stop in a little village to drink tea and watch the clearly affectionate interplay of siblings with each other - that is except for Mohammed who has nipped into a little shack and is now emerging with his rifle slung over one shoulder and a fistful of qat in his hand. Here's hoping he doesn't get too euphoric with his freaking gun.
Termite castles

Road to Erigavo
Termites take over tree
Pastoralist village
Camel herd
Village mosque
Lurking grey baboons

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