I arrived in Hargaysa, capital of Somaliland and the first patch of land of the Somalis since escaping the brutal civil war in 1991 as a young kid. After going through some of the routine checks, the first resonating words, echoing through the halls of Hargaysa-Cigaal airport was: “Welcome to Somaliland”. Somalis’ entrepreneurial nature is reflected at the dozens of companies, gesticulating in a bid to win you over with their unique services. Your luggage does not leave the premise until it has been fully checked and ascertained that it belongs to you.
The minute I stepped out, I was confronted with the pinch as the vast bare of blue sky was pulsating with intense heat. The first thing that catches your eyes is the green, white and red horizontal stripes representing the national flag of Somaliland, painted everywhere – on uniforms, vast walls, large buildings. An euphoria of pride is in the air and I soon come to discover the root of it.
Hundreds of civilians, patiently awaiting to receive their loved ones or esteemed guests. You cannot help but grab the initial attention of the throng as they meticulously assessed every passenger that exits the terminal; scanning whether he is a local, diasporian, a foreigner or God knows what.
As I took my initial steps, marvelling at the thought that these feet have roamed the land of Europe for the past 24 years, finally reconnected with its ancestral homelands – the land of the Somalis. As I sallied through the crowd, I took intermittent pauses, idly analysing my surroundings.
My uncle, whom I haven’t seen for the past 2 decades was patiently waiting for me on the other side. In an attempt to pick out his nephew – whom he last saw as a toddler from a surging crowd, he periodically shouted my full name. We finally found each other, going through the predicted motions of relatives that have not seen each other for an extensive time, the usual drill. My uncle is a voluble man, and considers a moment of silence to be end of the world.
Our main plan was to head straight to Burco, the provincial capital of Togdheer, so we rushed through the gates and set out on a lengthy journey — involving close to six hours.
Before we departed Hargeisa, we stopped by at a petrol station, manned by a service crew to fill the car whilst we went inside the service station’s shop to purchase some snacks. On the dashboard, rested my camera equipment, the car windows were fully open and the keys was still in the ignition. I pestered my uncle to close the car windows whilst locking the car. The crew filling the car overheard the conversation and chuckled: “don’t worry brother, this is Somaliland, your belongings are safe, the country is safe”. These words were echoed by my uncle who added, whilst pointing at a lone police soldier sitting there, as long as he is there nothing will happen. I was pleasantly surprised, for even first-world countries do not possess that bold level of security — proudly espoused by the locals — even if there was a squadron of police around the corner.
We got what we needed, and headed out for what was going to be long and enlightening trip to Burco.