Road Trip, Djibouti style 

When we returned to Djibouti City from Mogadishu (last weekend), we booked a trip with Bambu Service Touristik to visit Lac Abbé on the Ethiopian border.

African road trips are precarious. You have the crazy drivers, lack of petrol stations, dessert roads and rocky roads and a general lack of, say, signs. 

A straight drive from Djibouti, Lac Abbé is probably a three or four hour drive depending on conditions. We had several stops booked into our day.

I was extremely excited about this trip, because Lac Abbé is traditionally Afar nomad territory. Djibouti, as a country and former colony of France (granted independence in June 1977), has two traditional ethnic groups (among a host of others): the Issa Somali, with connections to Somalia and Somaliland, and the Afar, who hail from/migrate to Ethiopia (and I believe Eritrea).

I had just returned from a three day visit to Mogadishu. Mogadishu had opened my eyes to the influence of Somali culture in Djibouti. As soon as I returned to the streets, I recognized the food for sale. And now I could go see the Afar region.

As a student historian, I was thrilled.

  
As you drive into the countryside, you need more improvised structures. Often small huts made from the volcanic rock, sticks, corrugated metal and other recycled objects. Tires are the fence of choice.

  
Homes often have tires fencing in little yards…

Along the route we saw a lot of cylinders and it turns out there’s a big water infrastructure project underway to bring water from Ethiopia to Djibouti. 

   
 
Again, big news for a small country with no natural resources. 

  
Our guide built a coffee stop into our trip and M and I do love coffee. I had forgotten how much I love tea in this area of the world. I think their secret is boiling the sugar into the water before adding the tea. Though I’m not sure. I don’t like sweetened tea other places.

 

making our coffee


  She poured our coffee from her thermos bottles and when people paid her, she tossed the coins in a basket under her little table.

coffee and tea

  

other patrons having coffee


Our next stop was the town of Ali Sabieh. That will be my next topic. 

The Amazing Lives of Camels

Our second day in Somalia featured some excursions outside of Mogadishu. We visited… for lack of better terms… a camel dairy farm.

Apparently we arrived at just the right moment as two of the camels were mating. We were told that camels mate for four hours, and we had arrived in time to see the camels finish. (I posted a video on my Instagram account: angelackerman.) A baby camel gestates for 13 months and will have an average life span of 25 years.

Camel milk is touted for its medicinal properties against cancer, HIV and other diseases. We tried some fresh out of the camel (from a communal African bowl) and it was sweet and had an almost vanilla-like taste. I kept comparing it to almond milk in my mind.

They gave us some in a plastic sandwich bag, tied at the top in a knot, to take home. The armed guards in our contingent and our other staff also took some, but they bit the corner off their bag and drank it right away. We put ours in the hotel fridge. After dinner, M bit the corner off the bag (not as eloquently as our Somali hosts) and we poured it into our water glasses.

I mixed up the glasses and M corrected me. At this point I reminded him that we had shared a communal bowl with a bunch of random Somalis and he was concerned about switching our glasses…

We both decided that cold it tasted like milk. We were disappointed as neither one of us likes milk. Maybe you have to drink it warm.

 

 

The Coffee Lady in Mogadishu

On our first day in Mogadishu, we were driving back to our hotel, Hotel Sahafi, when the traffic slowed and a gendarme told us that the white car a few car lengths ahead of us contained a bomb. Apparently, a suicide bomber had made it this far (about two miles from our hotel) when authorities noticed the bomb and the bomber-to-be deserted the car and ran.

As a result, the road was closed and we were rerouted until the car bomb could be diffused. We were returned to the hotel and locked in for the night. While our driver and guide were getting information from the gendarme, I noticed this woman making coffee and started taking photos. Since I don’t speak Somali more than “Yes,” “No,” “My name is…” and “Move,” I didn’t realize at the time that we were so close to a live bomb.

Of course I used the time to snap street photography from inside our vehicle. These photos were taken on the outskirts of a makeshift village of refugees who left their homes in flight of the rebel group Al Shabaab.

 

Addicted to Somali Cuisine

I have fallen in love with the food in our hotel in Mogadishu. My amorous affair began with goat, moved to the Somali version of fried chicken, devoured the rice and perhaps might have peaked over the quality of the fruit. And that was just lunch.

I adore eating. I live to eat and enjoy every morsel that enters my mouth.

In Somalia, this was the first taste:

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Rice, with “Somali sauce” in the upper right and banana

Have you ever seen rice so beautiful? I added some of what the servers are calling “Somali sauce,” a hot sauce that seems like a blend of harissa and ketchup.

For a main dish I selected goat. M chose chicken. The other option was camel. Hopefully that will be an option again today. I would like to try camel.

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Goat

Dessert at lunch and dinner is fresh fruit. Appetizer is the best bananas I have ever had and limes. I am not a fuit eater. At home I occasionally eat a banana and I adore raspberries. I can eat watermelon or strawberries but won’t go out of my way to do so. Well, they bring out this melon after lunch, carefully draping a napkin over it to keep the flies off. I liked it. Was a tad indifferent to it, but it cleaned the palate and had a mild, fresh taste.

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Papaya?

When we returned to the hotel early (due to a failed suicide bomb attempt and a still live bomb strapped to a car two blocks away), we enjoyed a coffee, some sort of donut and samosa.

 

On the second day, our tour guide/”fixer” told us to wrap the samosa in the donut. I liked them better eaten separately.

Dinner the first night was chicken steak, spaghetti and a vegetable mix of what appeared to be potatoes, onions, peppers and carrots. It tickled my tongue so much I ate enough for at least two people.

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The spaghetti had an unusual spice to it and a little bit of meat, a tad on the dry side but in a good way. M insists the stray herb is cilantro. I wish I would have taken an after photo of this platter. The staff brought this for the two of it and I demolished most of it.

IMG_7912And then came the fruit course, lovingly and carefully covered with a napkin. I do not eat fruit. My daughter on the other hand eats fruit as if she were part monkey. I ate the papaya (? on the bottom) first. I liked it. Then switched between the mango and the watermelon. In comparison to the mango, which had a texture that melted in your mouth and a potent flavor as if someone had condensed it, the watermelon (though juicy and the most flavorful watermelon I have eaten) seemed bland.

I had noticed earlier in the day, a man in a fouta that squeezed the limes into his water. I had also seen the lime squeezed over the rice. Definitely an “a-ha” moment. M added lime to the Coke he was drinking to combat a caffeine headache. And the staff constantly offers us Coke and bottled water. And the occasional Sprite.

Our guide suggested we try Somali injera for breakfast to compare to the Ethiopian version. Our server offered us “omelette,” liver or porridge for breakfast and seemed a tad surprised we wanted injera. We ordered omelette and then he asked how we liked our omelette. His first offer was “scrambled” so I accepted that and assumed omelette was his term for eggs. He brought a giant portion of eggs, injera and, of course, we asked for Somali sauce. I really believe they make it for us fresh when we request it.

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Somali injera for breakfast with “omelette”

The injera has a crisper texture and is less spongy than the Ethiopian.

Meanwhile, at a nearby table, I watch the same man who revealed the uses for lime. He was having raw egg and honey for breakfast.

When we returned to the hotel for lunch, we dined in the fancier dining room and had no choice of goat or camel. Merely fish, chicken leg or chicken steak. But we started with a lovely cream of vegetable soup, with fresh juices: mango, watermelon and limeade. I drank them all and all delighted me.

Our dinner last night repeated the dinner the night before, and breakfast was also the same today. I must come back and try the camel some day.

Maraq

I posted an entry on my food blog today about creating my own variation of the Somali stew, Maraq.

It shares a lot of my thought process in the kitchen and may even reveal a bit about my family. Don’t mess with us when we’re hungry.

It also includes my recipe… But we have no taste test until later…

http://bit.ly/1pwCO5w

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