musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Notes from the Somali Border

Actually I was actually about 100km from the border in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, but I got your attention didn't I?

By way of background, my NGO has been doing an assessment of people's needs in the Horn of Africa. If you haven't heard that there's a drought in that part of the world, turn off CNN and switch to Al Jazeera. Trust me, you won't go back.

Needless to say, people in the Somali region are hurting. It hasn't rained at all in over a year and their already precarious pastoralist lifestyle gets more difficult each day rain doesn't come. They need water, food, money, access to healthcare, etc. You name it, they probably need it. Well, maybe not an xbox 360. They don't need that. 

But enough serious stuff. We'll be compiling a snazzy needs assessment document; in case anyone is interested just let me know.

Instead of writing a summary of my trip which might or might not bore you to tears (if you're a tree-hugging bleeding heart expat humanitarian aid worker you... well... you probably cry about everything anyways so no harm done), I've broken the trip down into special little quips that will hopefully elucidate some of the ridiculousness that essentially sums up 'normal' life for me right now.

On time
Apparently the Somalis closely follow the Ethiopian clock which I sadly didn't even know existed because most 'highlanders' (i.e. folks from Addis Ababa and other non-desert areas of Ethiopia) in Addis have mostly adjusted to the western clock. Not so with our Somali friends. So here's how it works: Our 7am is their 1am. Their day starts at 1am. So our today is still their yesterday until the minute after 6:59am our time. Got it?

On marriage
"What, you're not married? Ok. When you go home you have to make a plan for marriage." - the driver

On Islam & marriage
"Oh, your father is Muslim? Does he have 4 wives?" - same driver who, as an aside, is waiting for us to get another project so that he can 'take' another wife. He apparently only has one so far. As an aside to the aside, in retrospect I should've told him that my mother is the only woman my dad can handle or, depending on who you talk to, is the only woman who can handle my dad.

On telecommunication
If you want to truly travel to the end of the telecommunications universe, I recommend travel to the middle of the Pacific Ocean or the WFP compound in Gode. You can expect similar levels of connectivity to the outside world in either instance.

On light
Always bring a flashlight (or a torch as the Brits would say) to a place where electricity comes on for 4 hours each day. Doh.

On dinner
I was fortunate enough to have several amazing meals with our staff, each one more decadent than the last. 3 things struck me: 1. this is a ton of food, hopefully they're giving the leftovers to the whole neighborhood (turns out they were), 2. it's definitely more uncomfortable when the women who prepared the feast can't enjoy it with you, and 2. goat can be prepared in quite a few different ways.

On divorce
"I don't get you Americans. When you divorce the woman gets half." Yes, that is the common practice in our society. "That's dumb, she didn't earn the money so why should she get it if I divorce her?" - random staff member who apparently looks a lot like some rapper I've never heard of called Big Show; which is quite amusing because according to my cursory google search just now, Big Show is an overweight Caucasian WWE wrestler who has dabbled in rap. I tried to argue with him about this one then finally gave up when I started getting a headache.

On diplomacy
"Didn't you know, Israel is funding al Shabab so that Somalia can be destabilized?" - also Big Show. To which I responded... huh? Don't worry, he couldn't even remotely back that one up.

On camel milk
Yes. I had some. Yes, it was warm. No, it did not have a lasting effect on my digestive system (as was promised by our local staff).

On pastoralism
"Do you have pastoralists in America?" - another staff member. They're quite vocal those Somalis. Yes, I replied, but where I come from we call them cowboys.