Performances from the play
Performances from the play

It took a while but I finally made it to Hargeisa the second largest city in the Somali region. I was here to attend the eighth edition of the Hargeysa International Book fair.

Day one started on a bit of a downer. I had booked Jubba Airways on the recommendation of a well-travelled friend. I was scheduled to arrive on Friday afternoon; enough time to acclimatise in time for the beginning of the festival on Saturday. It was not to be as the airline had overbooked a few dozen extra people and we were left at the airport battling poor Jubba Airways staff. It was not a pretty sight that one. The man was telling us that we would have to wait for the next flight on Tuesday. I had a festival to attend; people had work and other commitments. One woman was set to attend her wedding. Eventually a plan was made and we were booked on an Ethiopian Airways flight the next morning. We arrived on Saturday late morning at the airport and made it to our hotel and checked in.

I’m told by everyone who attended the opening session, which included a keynote address from the First Lady of Somaliland, kicked ass. I’ll be sharing the speech when the festival organisers share it.

There was a scheduled visit to the Hargeisa Cultural Fair at 4pm but for some reason that didn’t happen. I hope that I can still see it before I leave this country.

Events are happening at a hall in the Gulaid Hotel and as I wanted for the panels, I moved around the different stands where folks were showing their wares to those who would want to check them out. Somaliland is a region of such extremes you learn from those stands. In the US stand you see how people of the Isaaq clan were murdered in the tens of thousands by deposed dictator Siad Barre before the country imploded in 1991. There were images shown of some of the horrors and the graves of those brutalised by a murderous regime. Even as you see the horror you are also shown its beauty. A series of photographs in a series called “flowers of Hargeisa” depicts the women who are the flowers of the city who have battled to ensure that the space they grew up in is a better place. The images depicted include those of the woman who trained a thousand midwifes, the woman who open the first coffee shop and more.

I was reminded that this is a modern African city while walking around as I heard Ciara’s I bet and other hits in the region and on international music charts were playing in the background. I have to mention from my moving around and interacting with the many volunteers recruited to help with the festival: the girls in Hargeisa are gorgeous.

Being day one of the festival, people were there in their droves. The first panel included Hargeysa festival founder Jama Musee Jama, Allesandro Gori (University of Copenhagen) and Dr Michele Petrone (University of Florence). It was an important session talking about the current situation of the written literary tradition of Somaliland and the Horn of Africa. The session was quite scholarly and many people were spotted surfing on their phones hopefully not making #SomeoneTellAcademicsToBeMoreFun trend on Twitter.

This session was followed by a book presentation in the Somali language which I cannot tell you about without misrepresenting it. What I can tell you is that the Somali people’s love of their language is very commendable and the festival organisers were kind enough to do this event with locals in mind. So while I might not have understood proceedings I was chuffed at the use of local languages.

The evening ended with a silent play by playwright and director Cabdiraxmaan Yuusuf Carlan. I think that this watching of Heartstrings Ensemble and their farces has really messed up my theatre watching muscles. I have to confess that I didn’t understand what the play as about. There were errr… five guys and two girls. It looked like they were depicting a herd of herbivores. One seemed to be the leader of the pack and he was assuming the authority over the rest of them. Suddenly, shaglawa baghala, another dude, who I assume was a carnivore appeared and the stage cleared as the herbivores took off. One poor herbivore was sadly “attacked” and died; the sting in the story was that the herbivore who was bigger than their attacker fell upon the carnivore who started making pathetic dying sounds. The audience applauded the performance enthusiastically. Was there some symbolism that I missed there? Was this a political play that was couched in herbivore and carnivore interactions? I probably need to read more about this topic.

The evening ended with festival guests settling down in the hotel.

There will be no drinking here in Somaliland.