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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Sadness in Berbera

SOMALIA | Sunday, 10 March 2013 | Views [1675]

Why did I come here? That's what I asked myself 20 minutes after arriving in Somaliland's largest coastal city. The barren landscape for most of the way is hauntingly beautiful, and I felt it would have been more fun to pitch my tent out in the middle of the Somali desert. When I called in at the Al-Medina Hotel they were full but I was pointed to some no-name hotel a few metres away. There I was, and given a small room on the third floor. The shower doesn't work, the sink leaks, the toilet is a the squat kind, the walls need a paint job, and there are electrical wires sticking out of where outlets and/or light switches once were. For a second I was like "hallelujah, there's air-conditioning" but the air-conditioner didn't work. The light at the end of the tunnel was that the bed was extremely clean and comfortable as if it'd never been slept in.

The windows have no screens but there's a mosquito net. From my window I had a view of a mosque and the ocean in the distance, and from the balcony I had a view of a huge heap of plastic water and soda bottles. I wanted something to eat, but I had no idea where to go. A local working at the hotel showed me a couple of places but neither of them seemed interesting so I ended up getting an ice cream and a non-alcoholic malt drink before going for a stroll. Berbera is probably the most depressing place I've ever visited. There is plastic and rubbish all over the place, the buildings are crumbling as though they've had no work for 50 years, and I walked past a woman in a hijab selling tea who had a front tooth so crooked it's as though she was punched hard in the mouth at some point. There's no shortage of places to buy something to drink or something to snack but I really felt very lonely. When I called in at a fly-blown "hangout" some locals chatted to me as I enjoyed a glass of Somali tea. They were chewing qat as they chatted to me, asking me about life in the US and so forth. After spending more than a month in a landlocked country I really wanted to put my feet in the ocean. Past crumbling buildings I walked I briefly played football (soccer) with these children. I may have been lonely but felt like I must enjoy myself. These kids were so happy about getting their photo taken.

The waterfront is dominated by rubbish, decrepit buildings, rusted-out cars, and half-sunken ships. It's difficult to put your feet in the ocean when there's all that pollution around you, but I did have a nice view of the sunset tonight. I gazed over the Gulf of Aden as the sun dipped beneath the horizon.

Fishing is an important industry here, and you see that with fish painted on the facade of various buildings. Kids play in old freezers that were once used for storing fish. I should add that Berbera, despite being on the coast, gets extremely hot in the summer. Temperatures often exceed 40 C in July and throughout the year there's very little rainfall. The evening call to prayer began as I was walking back to my hotel. There's very little to see and even less to do in Berbera so I went up to my room and lay there for a long while. It feels like I'm at the end of the Earth; as far as I could possibly be from anywhere! The power went out, and gazing out the window I could see the entire city was out briefly. On my walk earlier I notice a misspelled sign that's meant to read "Washington DC" but like in Ethiopia, many signs are misspelled. The power outage and the mosquito net should allow me to slumber peacefully.

The morning prayer call had me up at 5:30 AM the next morning. Good thing since I wanted to make a move; after one night I had enough of Berbera. As I stepped out onto the balcony for some fresh air I had that same view of a million plastic bottles in a vacant lot. Las Geel was on my mind and if I had enough time I could possibly get back to Ethiopia this afternoon. A camel gazed over the fence as I passed a heap of old, rusted out cars before I walked for awhile. There wasn't a place open yet to get a cup of tea so I'd have to do that later. A truck picked me up and took me past the airport and I was into the beautiful periphery that I dreamed as whilst in Berbera yesterday! 

One beauty I can think of regarding Berbera is that as a traveller I had the city all to myself. Even though I found it depressing and often sad to look at, in retrospect I feel like I didn't give Berbera enough of a chance. Maybe I would have felt differently if I had a week or so to spare, or even better have that time and know somebody. If given the chance I would totally go back!


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