A Travellerspoint blog

Eating out in Somalia

I knew things would be different before I even arrived. I was staying in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and trying to find a way to visit Somalia safely. The words ‘safe’ and ‘Somalis’ have not been used together in decades, sadly. I went to an office of Ethiopian Airlines to see if I could go to the North part of Somalia, known as Somaliland. A former British colony, they had been living in a relatively peaceful manner for a few years.

When I asked the man at the Ethiopian Airlines office for flights to Somalia, I thought they would have only one destination – Hargeisa in Somaliland. No, the man barked at me “Mogadishu or Hargeisa!?”. Dumbfounded, I asked him if they really were flying to Mogadishu, especially as I had seen news reports the night before about the airport being shelled by rebels. His reply was “Yes, daily. Mogadishu or Hargeisa!?”. You know that inner voice that is telling you sometimes to stop why you are ahead? Well, I just had to know. So, I asked.

What happens if they are shelling the airport in Mogadishu? What happens then? His answer was “If they are not shelling the runway [notice not the terminal] we land. If they are shelling the runway, we come back to Addis!”. Before I could even ask, he then barked “No refunds!”.

Ok, one return ticket to Hargeisa please.

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The next day I flew out of Bole Airport and found myself looking down on a desert landscape with two mountains in the distance. A nice soft landing and I was on the ground. The heat rose from the tarmac, but it was a dry heat. Very warm, but comfortable.
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Several taxis asked me if I wanted a ride. But first they asked me “UNHCR!?”. No. They then would list a few other charitable NGO’s. No. Do you have a hotel? No. Hmmmm…

I then found a taxi driver that spoke enough English that when I asked about a hotel, he told me the best was the Ambassador Hotel and it was within my budget. Off we went for about one mile. It is right next to the airport.

Arriving at reception I was greeted with “UNHCR!?”. I should have said yes probably. No, please list off every NGO operating here….nope. When I finally told him I was a tourist, the man in reception was most confused looking.

OK, off to a reasonable room with air-conditioning and a nice fridge to cool all of the alcohol I brought. There are no import limits! No other options except to bring your own, but I brought plenty.
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OK, off to find the city. I managed to finally flag down a local bus and was eventually deposited in the middle of the main market. I spent hours seeing the sights, meeting people and snapping photos.

Towards the beginning of the evening, I was inside a shop buying soft drinks to take back to the hotel when a very large man (especially by local standards) demanded to know who I was and what I was doing. His English was not great, but I understood his questions. I didn’t understand why he was asking all these questions, but he was insistent and, did I mention, very large?

When I finally told him where I was staying – he stated the name of the hotel owner and indicated that it was about to become dark and that I would be a target for some would be thief who might wish to rob me. It was apparently almost unheard of, but he was worried about me safety. He marched me to the side of the Airport Road and flagged down a local bus. He spoke to the driver and pointed at me. Apparently that the big man would hold the driver personally responsible for my safe return to the hotel compound. The driver kept looking at me through his rear-view mirror the whole journey. As I bumped along in the air-conditioned bus that I had been told-off by my grandfather.

I was dropped off in front of the armed guards at the entrance to the hotel compound and went to my room to put things away and prepare for dinner. I had seen a hotel, named the Scandinavian Hotel nearby and it looked like they had a restaurant. I decided to walk there after dark and have a meal. In the meantime, I opened was may have been the only bar in Somaliland in the comfort of my hotel room.
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As night fell, I headed towards the compound entry point which was guarded. They 2 guards did not seem to want me to go outside of the compound now that it was dark. The larger of the two men, I suddenly realised, was the man who had told me to go back to the hotel! He still wanted me to stay inside. I wanted to go outside. Eventually they let me pass and I started walking along the very dark road towards the Scandinavian Hotel.
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A few dozen meters into my one-and-a-half-kilometre walk, I realised I was being tracked. A skill I developed in the mountains of my native North Carolina. I stopped and walked back and found my guardian, dress all in dark clothing, with his equally dark AK-47. He indicated that he would escort me wherever I was going.

In a short while we arrived at the courtyard of the Scandinavian hotel. Their guard with and AK-47 seemed to know my guard with an AK-47 and they sat down to talk. I was then greeted by the hotel manager and ushered in to the dining room upstairs. From the window I could see the 2 guards talking, but also noticing everything that moved along the dark road.

Being the egalitarian guy that I am, I told the manager that whatever I ate, he was to also serve my guard as well.

Before I could even ask for a menu, the man announced in a positive manner “Tonight we have special steak!”. I thanked him and asked for a menu. For some reason I was thinking of something else. The man re-appeared with the menu and announced again manner “Tonight we have special steak!”. I again thanked him, but told him I would like a chicken dish from the menu. He told me, “Sorry, we do not have that dish, but we have special steak!”. I then thought about the fresh fish option. “Sorry, we do not have that dish, but we have special steak!”. Ok, I then asked for spaghetti. “Sorry, we do not have that dish, but we have special steak!”.

Then it hit me like a thunderbolt. I was visiting one of the poorest regions in the world and a small hotel like this just would not have lots of food just laying around to serve all the tourists – as they would be few and far between. They would buy fresh food daily in only the amounts they needed.

“I would like the special steak!”.

I have never seen anyone in a restaurant happier to receive a meal order.
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How was the special steak? Excellent! It was made from thin cuts of local beef with a mild curry like sauce. It was served with fresh salad item and even a side dish of pasta. A fantastic meal at a great price and I felt very safe. The manager even went to take photos of the hotel for me so I could write a hotel review later.

Dinner done, I collected my guard and off we went to our hotel. We both were full and walked a bit slower. At the entrance to our hotel compound the big guy thanked me for dinner and gave me a big bear hug. I thanked him for being my guardian.

Posted by DAOonVT 19:22 Archived in Somalia Comments (4)

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