Berbera and Harar Round II

I have really fallen behind on blogging lately. I have been busy at the school working six days a week and teaching three different classes. Most of my free time now is spent trying to figure out what I want to do after my contract ends on July 30th and identifying jobs I might be interested in after Somaliland. If anyone has any input about business analyst-type positions in frontier markets (Africa, Central/Southeast Asia), please send me a note.

In the month since I wrote my last blog post, I have managed to make two small trips, one to Berbera and one to Harar.

Berbera is Somaliland’s biggest and most important deepwater port. Located on the Gulf of Aden, Berbera has the potential to be a major player in the shipping and logistics industries in East Africa and the Horn. However, due to Somaliland’s lack of recognition and poor infrastructure, Berbera continues to be overshadowed and outmatched by its western neighbor, Djibouti. The Djibouti port handles almost all of the cargo heading from Asia or the Middle East and destined for Ethiopia. As a landlocked country with over 80 million people and one of Africa’s fastest GDP growth rates, Ethiopia needs a reliable port capable of handling its rapidly expanding imports and exports. There are talks of a trilateral deal between China, Somaliland, and Ethiopia to expand Berbera port and build a new road from Addis Ababa to Berbera, but until that happens, I do not see Berbera as realistically being able to serve Ethiopia’s freight needs. I am most clearly reminded of this every time I go from Somaliland to Ethiopia – the last 45 minutes from Somaliland towards the border in Wojaale are spent swerving and bumping on an unpaved dirt road. Without a sealed, tarmac road linking Somaliland with Ethiopia, there is no way that Berbera will ever become a legitimate cargo hub.

Ships at Berbera port

When Somaliland was a British protectorate, Berbera was used for shipping livestock, frankincense, and myrrh to Aden, in Yemen. During the hotter months, the Brits had to move their colonial outpost to Hargeisa, because it was simply too hot to live in Berbera year-round. It is reportedly one of the hottest regions on earth, and even when I visited in January, the temperature was probably over 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Despite this, the beaches in Berbera are really beautiful and completely isolated. The town itself now has a population of less than 30,000 (mostly people who service the port or the international airport) and the beach that we went to was totally empty. Although beaches I visited in Kenya, Zanzibar, or Southeast Asia were more visually appealing, I actually preferred Berbera, purely because there was no one else. Being constantly hustled by beach boys or sharing the sea with hundreds of other tourists really cannot compare to being the only group of people on the beach as far as the eye can see. Not many travelers pass through Somaliland or the Gulf of Aden, and the only locals around seemed to be fishermen. I realized that Somaliland and Somalia must be some of the only places in the world where one can visit a phenomenal beach and be literally the only person there to enjoy it.

Dylan enjoying the scenery in Berbera

What the Gulf of Aden washed up...


I made the 3 hour drive north with a group of other teachers and we spent the day swimming around, eating fish and chips at the Maan Soor Hotel, and generally enjoying the fine weather and peaceful surroundings. It was a great day trip, although the beach was much nicer than what we saw of the town itself. A lot of the aerial bombing damage from the Somali Civil War seems to have never been repaired, and the skeletons of decrepit buildings are still visible throughout town.

Camels on the way to Berbera

My most recent trip was last week for our midterm break. I visited Harar in eastern Ethiopia with a group of other teachers. This was my third visit to Harar, and it is quickly starting to feel like a second home for me. It is a great place to go for a short trip and to experience some of the things we cannot get in Somaliland (good food, beer, freedom to walk around without an armed guard, women without headscarves). Despite knowing the city well, I always enjoy exploring the alleys of the old town and finding new restaurants and cafes to sample.

Although eastern Ethiopia is predominantly Muslim, there are a number of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in Harar. Although I am not religious, one thing I like about Ethiopians is that they are quick to come together with friends and family to celebrate the vast number of Christian and Muslim holidays. My last visit to Harar coincided with Eid al-Adha, and I was able to attend the massive Eid prayer at Harar Stadium. This time, we visited during the holiday of Saint Mary and were treated to a massive neighborhood feast. Our good friend in Harar, Ermiyas, explained to us that the whole neighborhood had been invited over for a celebration of the holiday – and this meant lots of injera, tibs, and talla to go around. Last trip, I sampled tej, which is a local Ethiopian honey wine. This holiday, we were each given a bottle of talla, a different Ethiopian homebrew. Talla is dark and not carbonated, with a malty flavor. I enjoyed it, and it just added to the celebratory, communal atmosphere.

Serving out injera and talla for St. Mary's Day in Harar

Another highlight of the trip for me was going to see Arthur Rimbaud’s house in the Old City. The famous French poet is rumored to have lived in the house in the late 1800s, although even our guide told us that he may never actually stayed in it. Either way, he lived in Harar for a few years during the time, and the house has now been converted to a spectacular museum.

The house is filled with poems he wrote and photographs he took in Harar, Yemen, Djibouti, and even Berbera. It was fascinating to see what the city of Harar looked like back then, and also to see portraits he took of local Hararis.

Arthur Rimbaud's House in Harar

Portrait taken by Rimbaud

Ethiopian portraits, circa 1880s

The part of the house that I enjoyed the most was the attic, which provided a colorful panoramic view over Harar’s Old Town. The varied colored glass provided a really cool photo opportunity and the room would have been an amazing place to have a meal and look out on a sunset over the city.

The attic at Rimbaud's house

Multi-colored view of Harar

Our last mission in Harar was to successfully feed some hyenas. Back in November when I visited, we tried to feed the beasts on the day of the Eid feast, and the hyenas were surprisingly not hungry at all. We realized that their lack of appetite was due to the fact that sheep carcasses littered the streets of Harar for the slaughter, and the hyenas had spent the day chomping on bones in rubbish piles throughout the city.

This time, we were lucky, and the menacing hyenas had regained their appetite. We watched with excitement as the Hyena Man whistled and lured them in with his bucket of meat scraps. They circled him and got disturbingly close, before one boldly ran forward and began eating scraps of meat out of his hands. After the Hyena Man had warmed up and was steadily feeding a group of three hyenas, he asked us if we wanted to try.

I had a great, yet terrifying time, feeding the hyenas first from a stick held out from my body, and then from the same stick held in my mouth. As my brother later pointed out, the fact that I didn’t get any rabies shots before moving to Africa must have been absent from my mind. Regardless, it was a thrilling experience and definitely something I will laugh about for years to come.

Feeding the beast

Danger is my business

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4 thoughts on “Berbera and Harar Round II

  1. wpse says:

    Great photos, as usual. But looking at the one captioned “Danger is My Business” I see there’s a kitten casually standing next to you and the hyenas. Maybe Harar cats are exceptionally brave; or maybe feeding hyenas isn’t quite so dangerous after all. Drinking the talla homebrew was probably a bigger risk……..

  2. Dmac says:

    At least you didn’t eat Chinese razor clams…


    You are doing a good deed for the Somali young ones. Educate them about the world outside. But don’t mention anything about the bad of clanism. It is ingrained in the culture. Maybe you can get through to some of your students. Hope your enjoying the different culture, which you obviously do, since you are there.

    Maybe a solution to the problem in the horn of africa is in sight (probably within the next 5 years or 10.)


  4. intootin says:

    Did you find a job? Does this mean we will no longer hear from you from Somaliland?

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