I’ll admit pomegranate scones seem incongruous, like a peacock in the bathtub, but with some zest from oranges and mandarins (provenance: desert oases in Awdal Region of Somaliland) the tart pomegranate works. Did you know that winter is pomegranate season? (You probably did, you smarty-pants). At least in the northern hemisphere, that’s the case. The gems around our home had been looking awfully plump and crimson on their branches lately, despite dry and chilly weather. I just assumed they were in a good mood for whatever reason, but it turns out they, like me, get rosy cheeks from the brisk air!
One of my closest friends talks to me about “upward spirals” of life lessons: Our baggage is ours, our faults and failings won’t leave us, and they come around again with cyclical persistence. But we face each approach differently, with a higher level of understanding. Each time, it’s a newer, better, stronger us that takes on those tired challenges. This is how you manage to accept the stuff that haunts you: it’s never the same you, even if it’s the same stuff.
Are you familiar with fernweh? A German friend mentioned it to me the other night over pizza. It’s all the nostalgia and longing of homesickness, but not for home–for somewhere far away. In the dry, dusty capital city of Bamako, at the edge of the vast Sahara desert, I cried over stunning loss and dreamed of the lush greenery of Ireland. In fact, I longed for it, I felt fernweh for Ireland, though I’d never been. In my gut it was a place I had to see, a place of my ancestry, and an antidote to the sand pit (literal and figurative) in which I found myself. Years later, after I’d moved on to work in the Horn of Africa, the Addis Ababa to Washington D.C. flight route was rearranged to include a fueling stop in Dublin. Embracing serendipity, I extended my layover on the Emerald Isle, my first trip as a solo traveler. It was, indeed, the tonic I’d sought, albeit delayed…
It’s getting to be that time again…when my stash of comfort foods from home has waned and I’m weeks away from my next trip, so it’s time to get creative with local finds in a non-local kitchen (see Somali loxoox, still beyond my level of skill). It’s an expat food-lover’s conundrum: How to create magic, or at least something edible, out of a selection of options you’ve spent too much time with already. (This may also be a regular lover’s conundrum). In the interest of honesty, I’ll admit that the first cute little flour volcano I molded and filled with bright yellow eggs on our slightly angled counter top turned into a sticky, slip-and-slide disaster; I tried to whip it together with the gentle dexterity of Godzilla and ended up with egg yolks in my lap. That may have happened with the second cute little flour volcano as well. Then I wised up, forwent my ego, and mixed the dough in a perfectly reasonable bowl, which worked out a bit better, per my lap. A breakthrough: orecchiette. Al dente thumbprints that held pockets of buttery tomato sauce and delivered them in perfect form right down the hatch, one after the other.
Sometimes you keep your head down for a bit too long, buried deep in your laptop, your creative work, your chores, and you forget to look up and press your face against the world. The humdrum becomes drudgery, the drudgery becomes dead weight, your whole environment becomes a nuisance. It’s (way, way too) easy to lose sight of the charm that’s just next to you, of opportunities for humor and grace. Herewith, in attempt to recapture that charm, and reclaim my gratitude about life overseas, are some of the things I appreciate most about living in Hargeisa.
If it’s camel milk you’re after, you’re in luck; head to the market at dawn or dusk and you’ll find the absolute freshest available, just after it’s milked, to cure whatever ails you. When my partner’s mother visited us earlier this year and fell ill, his father brought her fresh camel milk, with fervor of devotion, just after milking time morning and night, as she insisted it was the most effective tonic and quickest route to health. What you can hardly find unless you have the right connections, is fresh cow’s milk. Local stores carry massive canisters of the powdered variety, most often mixed into Somali tea or instant coffee. Some groceries have shelf-stable liquid milk, but this has simply been dehydrated into powder and then rehydrated again – a far cry from fresh. If you’re lucky, you’ll find non-dehydrated liquid cow’s milk in cardboard cartons in the refrigerated section of the most expensive groceries, but even that comes from abroad and, given the limitations of cold chain shipping in the region, I question its integrity. …
After more than a year of dreaming, thinking, planning, pushing and pulling, getting off track and finding the way back again, we’ve managed it at last, setting up shop in Hargeisa’s international airport. There were delays of the self-indulgent and self-doubting varieties: Is this the right path among all those others? Is it the most profitable? What about that other shiny-looking opportunity over there… Does anyone really buy t-shirts? (Turns out, to our great relief, yes they do).