There are other sweets out of Mogadishu that I devour enthusiastically, an array of crunchy, colorful, cookie-ish treats that generous colleagues hauled to the office for me during a recent trip. And when I write haul, I mean it: in total I carried more than 10 kilos of sweets back to Hargeisa. I daresay no one takes their sugar as seriously as Somalis, and after four years, it’s rubbing off.
…All this as prelude to the moment of my friend’s arrival, when he actually gave the mostly-eaten basket of pastries back to the waiter in disgust (at me, for ruining my appetite with these snacks!), and promptly ordered me to a rooftop I didn’t even realize existed, for a proper breakfast. Upward and onward!
In my estimation, fadiirad is, ethnocentrically speaking, the local equivalent of a Tex-Mex burrito bowl, eaten from an aluminum take-away box on the street. The base of it, literally and figuratively, is a grilled bread called sabaayad, according to The Googles it’s similar to India’s paratha – a flat, flaky, oily, simple combination of flour, water, salt.
It’s 3:00 a.m. in Hargeisa, and I’m caught between a (literal) nightmare that woke me, and suhoor, the pre-dawn meal before Ramadan fasting begins, which makes it useless to go back to sleep now. So, let’s do this… I’ve long been a fan of the start-over, the blank page which holds promise, tabula rasa. I made “art” prolifically as a child, but one errant mark of the crayon gave way to a whole new creation, the first (second, fifth, twelfth) “failed” version tossed aside. Even today, my amateur paintings are often four or five layers deep, whitewashed multiple times in dissatisfaction, a more economical alternative to swapping in a fresh canvas. I never had much patience with fixing, or saving a sinking ship, which always seems to get me in trouble. When I do stick it out, it’s with a “new leaf” mindset: This isn’t what it was before, it’s something different. That’s how I’ve always found the energy to dig in to relationships, jobs, creative projects, etc. Ironic, then, that in my newest endeavor I …
Hargeisa Literary Magazine brings together some of the strongest elements in my life right now: creative writing and Somali culture. I’m fortunate to have convinced a good friend to squander her free time on the same, and we’re full-speed-ahead towards the publication of an inaugural issue on 1 April. The magic is in the mission of this apparently niche endeavor: to provide a platform for the diverse and cosmopolitan array of Somali voices worldwide.
I’ve lived in Hargeisa for nearly three years, and learned a lot through trial and error and… more error. I can get around pretty well on my own, including at the market, diving in, finding what I need, negotiating a bit, and jumping back out. But there’s one section of the market I haven’t been able to wrap my mind around: Grain Alley. (This is a totally fabricated name that I established to reflect how intimidated I am by this place. It works, yes?). Grain Alley is lined on either side with giant sacks of legumes, cereals, and other dried goods. Vendors, all women dressed in colorful jilbab or wrapped in patterned scarves, sit perched atop their mountainous spreads , each sack not much farther than arms length… So, I’m reaching out, friends. Anybody out there a cereals/grains aficionado? Anyone cook regularly with these? What am I working with here?