‘It wasn’t what they expected but it’s beautiful’
Somalilandsun -Somaliland’s population was scattered across the globe by a civil war in the late 1980s. Though it remains unrecognised as a separate nation from Somalia, Somaliland is now a haven of relative peace in the unstable region. During summer the population of its capital swells with diaspora visitors who come from all over the world to spend their summer exploring the land of their family.
In a Guardian piece journalsist Kate Stanworth reports on how British-Somaliland youths explore their roots in a piece titled ‘It wasn’t what I expected, it’s beautiful’
Below all Words and photographs by Kate Stanworth
Sara serves coffee to a customer in the Cup of Art cafe. She came back to live in Somaliland from Cardiff in 2014 and founded the cafe with her brother in response to what she saw as a lack of good coffee in the city. Sara has met with some local resistance to her project, but says it has made her more determined to succeed.
Mohamed, 28, watches the sunset on a hill overlooking Hargeisa. He has travelled from Cardiff to spend the summer with friends and family. “I came to see the country, see the people, and have a bit of holiday in between,” he says. “I was born in a house down there [in the valley] just before the war, so I was two years old when the government started firing at us. Up on this mountain they used to put their guns, their shells and everything. That’s how the war happened and we started fleeing.”
Mohamed and his cousin Zak play pool – a western import – in a Hargeisa games hall popular with young diaspora visitors during the summer months. “People in the west have a different view about Somaliland, and Somalia,” says Mohamed. “When they think about Somalis they think about pirates, right? I had the stereotype at first. But now I’m amazed to see everything is just like the west – the only thing that’s missing is the snow.”
Market stalls and traffic in Hargeisa’s bustling downtown area. In the lead-up to its split from Somalia in 1991, the city was bombed so heavily that it became known as the Dresden of Africa. The mass displacement of the population that came about as a result of the conflict gave rise to a global diaspora whose economic contributions have since played a vital role in the country’s recovery.
Nadra, 20, an international development student, looks over the city. “I was born and raised in Sheffield and I came to Somaliland for the first time in 2010. It was definitely a culture shock. Although visibly I look like a Somali person and I speak Somali, people know that you’re not originally born here.
They have this stereotype that you think you’re better than them so they’re not really welcoming. Well, they are now, but back then they weren’t. But this time round I really love it. I feel like it’s really developed a lot and I am definitely looking to move here.”
Nadra in her aunt’s house in an affluent district of Hargeisa, popular with returning diaspora. “There are a lot of people who are studying now or who are thinking about doing something – saving up so they can come back here. On the other hand there are so many people who just don’t like it and would like to absolutely forget about where their parents really came from.”
Local and diaspora women take part in a demonstration of Sitaad, a form of female devotional dance and song at the Hargeisa International Book Fair, which takes place every summer in Somaliland’s capital.
The fair is a meeting place for both diaspora and locals that aims to rekindle the rich Somali arts and culture that were diminished by the war.
Hussein, a film producer from Leicester, with his mum at the house they are renting for the summer in Hargeisa. He was born in Yemen and went to Holland when he was two before later moving to the UK. “My mum was born and raised here and fled after the war,” he says. “I graduated from uni and I thought I would come here with my mum, and make her happy.
I hope to eventually set up my own business here … It [Somaliland] wasn’t what I expected, it’s beautiful. I’d like to buy some land here and build a house for my mum.”
Jabril, 20, From London, in his bedroom in the house where he is staying during a teaching placement over the summer months. “Growing up outside I wasn’t really aware of my Somali identity, but I had an awakening. I remember the first thing I saw about Somalia was Black Hawk Down, which is not really a positive portrayal.
But my parents love their country so they always encouraged me to learn. Now I’m Somalia obsessed … The opportunity arose for me to teach. I came for a vacation and an experience. I’ve had a privileged life compared with the average person here.”
Farah, 26, from London, in the veranda of a house where she is staying for the summer in Hargeisa with her new husband, with a view to coming back here more permanently. “I live in the United Kingdom, I grew up in Ethiopia, I’m originally from Somaliland – so I guess home is just everywhere.
The attachment I have to Somaliland – this is my DNA. Somaliland is where my heart is. It’s where I want to use my life to change something. Britain is very comfortable, but I have to leave my comfort and everything I love. It’s like two homes, one of them needs you, the other one doesn’t.”