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).
I hope it’s okay that I’d rather arrange Chinese take-out to slurp on the floor among loved ones instead of a rehearsal dinner, and a bagel, cream cheese, and perfect cup of coffee before the morning ceremony at city hall, and a hastily-planned, go-with-the-flow, joyous nighttime bacchanal** somewhere loud and full of frayed edges, friends, and family. I’m working on making meaning in the details, incorporating people into rituals, people that I haven’t seen in far too long. Readings by celebrants; Celtic ancestry knitted into a fancy sweater, replete with symbolism of fisherman’s ropes, Irish moss, and honeycomb; French braids by familiar fingers; cookies made of powdered sugar and paternal tradition; a bouquet assembled unprofessionally but, more importantly, with memories of sleepovers past, and with more than a little artistry.
Over the last five or six years, my constellation has expanded, the points of light farther flung, moving ever outward. But the weight, the gravity of the galaxy remains. There is no escaping yourself. Recent chapters of my life have seen travel like I hadn’t expected, but that I embraced with the zeal of a child offered an unexpected dessert–that’s for me?!–probably undeserving but jumping at the opportunity, spoon poised for attack, in knowing haste. I’ve seen my fair share of visa-related riots, people crowded around the speaker panel, lunging towards the glass and banging with their fists, arms outstretched, frantically waving white paper visa applications like so many seagulls flitting madly around a dumpster, shouting at the tops of their lungs about trips that should have started 3 days ago, and the ineptitude of the staff and the obscene processing delays.
Cheese is the epitome of luxury when it’s not available where you live; mine is running out, and I’m starting to panic. Here’s a list of the most comforting food items I typically pick up, consider, re-hash, debate, remove from the shopping card, and maybe put back in the shopping cart. Maybe.