Thursday, September 30, 2010

47 - Half-Time in Hargeisa

Hargeisa's MiG monument
Time for a breather, so it's Hargeisa with its pleasantly balmy climate for a couple of days to watch the World Cup finals, a viewing apparently banned in southern Somalia under pain of death by the Islamic fundamentalist (with the emphasis on fundament) Shabaab areseholes.

The city, of course, is a mess given its history over the past 25 years; the roads are broken-up bits of tarred surface, mud and dust, bordered by mini sand dunes, but there are plenty of fresh green trees, some buildings going up, and it's very lively and busy with market stalls everywhere, and cars and vans jostling with pedestrians, donkey carts and goats.

If the place looks in a serious state of disrepair now, it must have been a post-apocalyptic wasteland before reconstruction cleared up much of the devastation wrought by Somali dictator Siad Barre's planes and tanks in the 1980s civil war, in which 50,000 people are estimated to have been slaughtered in the systematic destruction of the city, street by street, row by row. By the time Barre had finished, not a single building was said to have remained with a roof, and the independence leaders even considered leaving the ruins and building a new capital elsewhere.

Independence Avenue, Hargeisa's main drag
Now on Independence Road, the main drag, a downed green camouflaged MiG fighter from Barre's forces has been hoisted atop a plinth as a victory memorial. It was shot down in 1988 after taking off from Hargeisa airport a few miles away to bomb the city. Also now, in 2010, muggins' photo shoot is interrupted by the polite (I believe) shouts of pleasant smiling kids. I'm standing in the MiG's shadow, right in the middle of their marbles pitch.

The Savoy, Hargeisa Style - The walled presidential palace at the eastern end of the centre is protected by large blocks of concrete against any Shabaab suicide or other attacks, and photos are clearly verbotenissimo. Nearby is the Imperial Hotel, where it's all at; the building is run down, but its meal and tea garden is THE watering hole for the local literati, gliterati, politicati, reporterati - and mugginsati - since it's bang in the centre of government offices.
Main drag
Here, at little tables scattered amid copses of flowering bushes and trees, the latest scraps of 'news' can be gathered and regurgitated in the 'information bourse.' Strangely nobody seems over-eager to rush over to see if muggins has any tasty morsels to offer, and I sit in splendid isolation under my tree, daintily raising a cup of tea to my lips. I continue reading the weekly Somaliland Times, looking up every now and again to give an in-the-know wink, to no avail - nobody takes me for Somaliland's 'deep throat.'

More main drag
I forgot to bring a barrow-load of Somaliland shillings with me and only have high denomination dollars, so I purchase the second-hand paper, which goes for the equivalent of 32 cents when virgin, from a kid with an Ethiopian 10 birr note – about 75 cents. After half an hour, the transaction totally forgotten as I'm about to indulge in another in-the-know wink, he returns with a wad of shilling notes - my change. Wow, such honesty deserves to be rewarded. Keep it, young man, quoths I, in awe at the exception to the 'money, money' treasure-hunt call you get from some passersby - and not just the kids.

At afternoon tea muggins is more successful; a winning smile has replaced the in-the-know wink and I'm in deep globe-engirdling tidbit exchange with a Somalilander - who lives in Sweden, came back to help monitor the elections, and speaks English - and his two white-bearded uncles, who wear round embroidered caps, play with their worry beads, and don't-a speak-a de English. Thanks to us, all global problems are now solved and the world is at peace.
Tailor's corner
Bearded Vulture Up - Well Hargeisa may not have Djibouti's discos and booze bars, but there is life after dark and the city seems pretty safe to wander round, with the central stalls still active at 10.30 or 11 p.m. But there's no night glow on the horizon as you approach from the countryside since there are no street lights, just the fluorescent strips in the shops and the weak naked bulbs of the stalls.

And, oh shit, even though it's dark - and it may be black hawk down in Mogadishu - the bearded buzzards are up and about in Hargeisa, bellyaching from their loudspeaker aeries atop scores of mosques to crack the spiritual bones and feed on the marrow of the faithful. Despite that, though, there could be a bright future on the horizon if they can get their act together; Somaliland is said to have large oil, gold and diamond resources.

Ministry of Commerce
Supreme Court
Imperial Hotel garden cafe - 'Deep Throat' Time
More deep throat
More garden cafe
And more
There but for the Grace of God - Wow, perusing my Somaliland Times - this just in: 'On June 22, the Chemin de fer Congo-Ocean (CFCO) rail company announced that a train derailed on the railway line between Brazzaville and the southern coastal city of Pointe-Noire in the Republic of Congo. At least five rail carriages plunged into a ravine near Yanga station, about 66 km (40 miles) northeast of Pointe-Noire. Initial reports indicate that at least 50 people died.' And to think that I was at that very time toying with the idea of taking that train instead of entrusting myself to the notoriously untrustworthy wings of Africa's Fly-Me's.

Hargeisa side street
Shoeshiine and marble boys beneath MiG memorial

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