My first experience of Hargeysa was in Nadifa Mohamed’s The Orchid of Lost Souls about three women and the way that they cope as their city falls apart. It was set in the late 1980s as Somalia fell apart. The Hargeysa of today is different in ways that one cannot imagine if you are obsessed with following the news of our neighbours to the West by watching TV you will probably have a very negative view of that part of the world. The true is that city is kicking and what better way to show this than having a glimpse at the Hargeysa International Book Fair. Here are some of highlights of the events from the festival as culled from the materials sent to us here at JamesMurua.com by festival organiser Jama Musse Jama. Thank you sir.

On 8-13 August the city also hosted the seventh edition of the Hargeysa International Book Fair. That’s right: the seventh. The opening ceremony on the Friday had speeches as well as a play from Said Salah, a prominent Somali poet, teacher and literary giant presented a play in which young people who took trainings in creativity and imagination presented their work. This was followed by a week long of cultural, literary and academic awesomeness with guests from continents of the world, with more than a dozen nationalities attending. The highlights? Presentations from some names you might know. Or not. They included;

Nuruddin Farah

Farah, not to be confused with that guys who won medals for the UK at the Olympics, is one of the best known Somali writers. You want to read his Wiki Page to know more about him if you have never heard of him (shame on you).

In his well attended event, Nurruddin talked about his long writing career spanning over 30 years. He talked about how he started to write and the challenges he faced as a young rising writer with oral tradition in a language that is not his mother tongue. Nurruddin also talked about how his novels reflect the reality of Somali culture and the challenges Somali women face in a largely male-dominated society. After Nurruddin finished his lecture, he gave the audience a chance to ask him questions. The questions centered on his experience in the writing profession, issues of identity in his writing, how he portrays Somali culture and tradition and his attitudes toward Somali women.

Nadifa Mahamed

The session was dedicated to the launch of The Orchid Of Lost Souls the second novel by Nadifa Mohamed, a successful young British-Somaliland writer. After Nadifa completed a short presentation of the book, the chair of the session asked her questions that probed many aspects of her experience in writing the book and her personal experience as a female writer. The audience also asked her questions that focused on her writing profession, on the content of the book and its characters, her research process and the way she represents Somali women in her writing.

M Walls. Book launch & Panel on nation-state building

Michael presented his new book based on his PhD thesis entitled, A Somali Nation-State: History, culture and Somaliland’s political Transition, published this year by RedSea Publishers. After a short presentation, SONSAF spoke briefly about the book and posed Michael a series of questions, relating in particular to the issue of clan in Somaliland politics. Michael was asked questions by the audience, on Somaliland recognition, whether the words ‘Somali’ and ‘democracy’ were incompatible terms (Nuruddin), what was meant by a ‘hybrid’ system, etc.

Igiaba Scego

Igiaba is a Somali writer and activist who has grown up in Rome, Italy. She is the author of several autobiographical works including La Mia Casa e’ dove Sono and Salsicce, from which she read an excerpt during the panel. To the amusement of the audience she read out a list of characteristics which made her- in the eyes of others- ‘Italian’ or ‘Somali’.

Graziano Graziani

Graziano is a radio presenter (on Radio 3 in Italy), a writer and a journalist with an interest in theatre. Throughout his stay in Hargeysa he produced, alongside Igiaba, a radio documentary on the book fair and Hargeysa more generally. This will be presented on Radio 3 in the coming weeks.

During the panel he presented his book entitled Stati d’Eccezione: Cosa Sono Le Micronazioni? He first developed an interest in the concept of ‘micronations’ when he wrote an article on the Principality of Sealand, a little known sovereign nation in the North Sea. His book describes over 40 case studies of micro nations, and categorises them according to three ‘types’: micro nations formed for political gain, ideological, and artistic projects.

The festival ended with a gala at the Maan Soor, attended by hundreds of guests. Djibouti singers dominated the first part, as the guests were given some snacks and drinks. This was followed by a play written and directed by Artan, who also came on stage to play the hyena! The play depicted the trials and tribulations of nomadic life. In the first part the nomadic group suffers from severe drought and famine, and they struggle to keep their children and animals alive- a child dies and the rest of the family is severely malnourished. When the rains arrive the nomads wash themselves, drink plentifully but they throw away the reserves of milk forgetting their previous struggles. Wealth and prosperity also bring selfishness, and an argument over a woman leads two clans to pick up their arms. But the rainy season is short, and soon drought and famine return and the cycle starts all over again.