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A whistle-stop tour of the Somalias on a succession of tiny planes

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Had I been smart, I would have stayed in Garowe an extra couple of days and got the direct flight from Garowe to Nairobi on Saturday. However I wanted to leave today: today is (maybe) a holiday in Puntland for Independence Day (I say ‘maybe’ because it’s about independence from the British, which doesn’t technically apply to Puntland, only to Somaliland – but everyone I spoke to was convinced it was a holiday, so…), and Friday’s the weekend, plus I have a meeting in Nairobi tomorrow afternoon. So when I saw it was possible to get from Garowe to Nairobi on a Thursday with a change of plane, I naively wondered how bad it could be, and vaguely assumed that the plane change would take place in Mogadishu, which would make sense. It only became clear when my ticket was issued yesterday that in fact I would be leaving Garowe shortly before 9am, flying northeast to Bosaso, then west to Hargeisa for a change of planes, then south to Wajir, and finally Nairobi, arriving at 5pm, after a good eight hours of travel on tiny planes. Oof.


Early breakfast in Garowe: Somali pancakes with honey (they were not discernibly different from other pancakes that I’ve had, but the hotel receptionist insisted they were Somali pancakes – which, given that I was eating them in Somalia, I suppose they undoubtedly were), and PROPER COFFEE. This is one of the best things about Somalia; I am constantly saddened by how difficult it can be to get proper, decent coffee in much of East Africa, given that they grow so much of it. Somalia and Ethiopia are exceptions – of course you can find decent coffee elsewhere too, but the default assumption tends to be Nescafe.

P1070829 P1070830 P1070831 P1070832 P1070833 P1070834 P1070835 P1070836 P1070837 P1070838 P1070839 P1070840

And this is one of the other best things about Somalia and Somaliland: shops are painted with images of their contents – supposedly to make it easier for the illiterate, but also just really attractive, especially as a lot of the paintings are really well-done. The poor quality of the photos is a result of them being taken out of the window of the car as I was being driven to the airport – these were all shops that I passed in the space of about ten minutes. Unfortunately I missed the AMAZING depiction of a lion standing on its hind legs and looking through something that might have been a telescope or a camera – next time Garowe, next time.


Delayed by camels en route to the airport. Shortly after this I saw a small group of warthogs, which surprised me as I would’ve thought Puntland would be too dry for them (I see them all the time around where I’m staying in Nairobi these days, where it’s much lusher). Other animals spotted in Garowe (none of which were spotted animals): an impala, and three baby ostriches, all of which seemed to be resident in my hotel.


Plastic bags really are the scourge of the more arid, windblown bits of Africa.


And onto the first plane!


Puntland looks a lot like this from the air – but the closer you get to the coast, the more dramatic it becomes, with dry riverbeds carving their way through flat-topped mountains, and very little sign of human habitation at all – other than the occasional fenced enclosure filled with tiny white dots, presumably sheep or goats


P1070849And then the coast. I long to swim from one of these beaches, but unless I manage to get to Berbera in Somaliland, it looks likely to remain a pipe dream.


Bosaso was much hotter and stickier than either Garowe or Hargeisa, thanks to being at sea-level rather than at altitude. However the incessant wind that I’d encountered in both Hargeisa and Garowe was still there – apparently it’s always like this at this time of year. It also featured a very gaudy crashed plane:


I do love / hate the prevalence of crashed planes around the runways of more obscure African airports. There’s one in Wau (South Sudan) that people are living in.


Approaching Hargeisa! Time to go through a very confusing security / screening procedure and board a slightly larger but still tiny plane!


Leaving Hargeisa. At this point I lost any momentum to keep taking photographs and concentrated instead on solid, focused reading. Having finished the vampire anthology, I returned to Chasing Misery, an anthology of essays by women working in humanitarian contexts, which I started a while ago (actually on another plane, I think between Juba and Wau). Full disclosure: Kelsey is a friend, and I know a couple of the other contributors, so I may be biased – but there were some really interesting perspectives here, and parts of the book are very affecting. My favourite essays were actually both of Kelsey’s contributions – particularly the titular essay, which includes the following:

“We are not the sort of people who go where we say we are going. We are not the sort of people who go places for other people. We are not people who need others to come and be where we are. This is what makes us so interesting. This is what makes us think we are in love with each other when we are not. We are in love with ourselves. We are in love with the idea of ourselves. It is actually a mad grasping fit of jealousy that we mistake as love when we see our lives lived by another.”

Perfectly put.


(Arrived back in Nairobi-home around 6.30pm. Finished The Concert Ticket in bed. As suspected, loved the second half significantly more than the first. Highly recommended.)

Written by Jess

June 26, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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