En route: Preparations for Djibouti

The preparations for a voyage are perhaps as much of the “experience” of a trip as the actual travel. Passport photos, visa applications, daydreams of what itinerary you might want and packing a suitcase frame the essence of what the trip will be.

My traveling companion, M, whom I’m sure you’ll hear more about later, he reads the tourism guides, speaks the languages and books the hotels and modes of travel. I do silly things like fuss over shoes, shop for a new journal, and read books.

Thank goodness I got my new 2×2 photos when I did. The same day I visited the local CVS (poor new employee couldn’t load the batteries in the camera, use a memory card or figure out the photo machine— the store manager had to do it himself) I fell walking the kids home from school and took a chunk out of my chin that probably should have received stitches. The last of that scab fell off last night.

When M and I started planning this trip, he originally considered Mauritania. I took Nina Sovich’s new book, To the Moon and Timbuktu, from the college library (on my husband’s card). In the book, Sobich follows her father’s use of Timbuktu as a reference during her childhood and her own appreciation of Mary Kingsley’s Travels in West Africa to embark on her own journey in the region. She travels alone, in part to soothe her own marital restless and as homage to her Swedish mother who loved the African continent.

I read Kingsley myself 20 years ago in college. I still have the book and may reread it before embarking on my adventure, though we are no longer visiting Mauritania. Many of our destinations are decided by the availability of seats on airplanes and Djibouti proved logistically more feasible. This greatly excites me as I have wanted to see Djibouti for almost four years.

M thinks I’m crazy. It’s beautiful country, with a shortage of water, a small piece of land (the size of Massachusetts) carved out by the French colonial empire. As I type this, it’s 10 p.m. and 90 degrees. The French have abandoned Camp Lemonnier and the majority of their FFDj presence to the Americans, who are there to fight terrorism in the Middle East. Between piracy, terrorism and even cyber security, Djibouti’s strategic location on the horn of Africa has made it a garrison town for Western Europe, the United States and even the Japanese.

I can list many reasons why visiting Djibouti appeals to me. It received its independence from France in 1977, which means this country is younger than I am. It’s an artificial/crossroads kind of country. It didn’t develop organically but due to western involvement. It once served as the largest overseas French military operation. After the loss of the Algerian colony, while France still conscripted its young men into national service, thousands of French men spent a year here. The geography is supposed to be some of the most unique and breathtaking terrain (and most inhospitable but yet inhabited) in the world.

My husband thinks I’m crazy. Like Sovich’s spouse he doesn’t share my enthusiasm for the bizarre. My daughter has started her own travel memoirs and says some day she will visit Africa. I hope she does.

One month from today, I will board a plane for Paris and thus will begin my travels in East Africa.

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