Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lake of Honey

Today Ann's awesome office set up a trip to Lac Assal.  I think it means lake of honey.  It is around 155 meters below sea level, pretty low.  Its in the same crack between the African and Arabian plate that the Dead Sea resides in, and includes the Red Sea.  According to tectonic drift theory (PanGaea), the Arabian plate has been moving away slowly but keeps colliding with the European and/or Asian plates.

It's moving away at about 1cm per year, and places like the Dead Sea and Lac Assal are getting lower as a result.  Old religious books explain that god got mad at sodomy and an angel turned the land upside down. Religion is always explaining things by making statements that require further explanation.  When you stop asking questions you are born again.

I'm very interested in cracks in general, cause that's where all the action is, but this one has some distinctions.  It isn't the same crack as the great rift valley, but it may be the drift of the Arabian plate and its associated drift are related to the great rift's creation. Thing I love about that crack, at the southern end, the earliest evidence of human kind was discovered, 3 million year old footprints.  At the northern end, the first evidence of an agricultural permanent settlement resides,the former tigris euphrates valley.  Talkin bout civilization.  In the rift is a lot of life.  Eveytime I wander into these realms of historically rich natural creativity I wonder what it's got brewing right now.

We looked at Lac Assal and I took a swim, it seemed a little more salty and bouyant than the dead sea, I could get all four limbs  and my head out of the water almost up to the first joint.

Feet almost to the knees, arms to the elbow, head and my chest was out of the water, too.  But it burned.  And unlike the Dead Sea there were veins of salt covering the bottom, you had to be careful because there were some crystal formations that rose out of the veins.  I reached down to touch the veins and they felt sharp with geometric surfaces like what you see in crystal formations or basaltic rock.

Then I scampered out of the water and doused myself with fresh water from a bottle that we brought.  In the air, as the my skin was drying and before I doused it off, I could feel the grit and burning sensations in various orifices. What was being created in my cracks, I wondered, as I floated in this salty, desolate and beautiful lake...

The whole beach was whitish salt for about 400 meters, with huge chunks of dirty brown salt, peninsulas of salt that must have weighed about 200,000 tons on top of the whiter salt.  I took a closer look and I couldn't tell if they were salt or dead coral, the shape of the smallest parts looked like something between crystal and coral's (life's) fractal shape.

The local vendors find skulls of antelope and camels and put them in the water for a few days and they come out glazed.  We bought one for six bucks because they looked so cool.

I found this out from one of Ann's coworkers, Serge.  He had seen the glazed skulls as we were walking towards the lake and didn't understand how animals could be so stupid as to go into it and die so he asked around.  I was talking to him after I went for my swim.  He said "I didn't think these animals would be that stupid!"  And I said, "You mean you didn't think they would be as stupid as me?"

He laughed.  I didn't have much interaction with the people in Ann's office because I don't speak French, but it was nice to make one guy laugh.  I think you could throw a toothpick or a piece of meat in the water and the salt would grow on it. Months later, the skull began to smell.  Insects crawled out of it.  Pieces of salt fell off in transit and more smelly and more mutant bugs.  I began to see the skull in a different light one night:

We stopped at one of the hot springs that feed the lake and I was amazed at the colors of the algae or whatever.  There was algae, and there was this fine green stuff growing that looked like hair with hair sprouting off of it, very fine, and the color was amazing.  Green, but, it was like it was green and beyond the visible spectrum.  With my polarizing sunglasses on, it sparkled and was not quite in focus.    I felt like it meant something, the color, it seemed profound.

Growing in water that was, I'd guess, about 105 F.  Upstream, where the spring was and the water seemed to be above 130 F, there were just these palettes of green black algae growing.  It wasn't sulfur smelling, it didn't smell at all.  It was below boiling,  but I could only put my finger in for 2 seconds before getting mild burn.  So maybe around 138F.   Ann and I watched a sheet break off and make its way downstream.  It was dark green and never broke the surface as it moved, about as big as my hand.  I was watching it and thinking that after it got down forty meters or so the temperature of the water would have dropped by 30 degrees.  I was wondering if it would survive.  I still wonder, because if it did, if it does, that is some bad ass algae, right?

Then we got in the transport and stopped again at the Indian Ocean, at the end of the Bay of Tadjoura, and had lunch while a bird seemed to be dying.  What do you do when a bird, looked like a plover, a kind of bird that may cover tens of thousands of miles in a year, is dying on the sand?  I should have looked at it, it could have been something in its beak, something simple and obvious.  Didn't.  I don't think I handled that right, I just did what everyone else was doing, abandoned it to inevitable demise.  Ann said "Djibouti is not kind to living things."

It was a fun ride.  There is hardly any arable land in Djibouti, about 20 acres in the whole country.  Looking at it, its as if some artistic deity got angry and took his divine shovel and blowtorch to it.  Somehow, that translates to beautiful desolation.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Freedom is the Only Way

Went with Ann to a Town meeting at the US embassy today.  This massive facility, employing some where between 35 and 40 Americans and around 200 Djiboutians, exists to service the needs of, oh, I'd guess 20 American citizen civilians and 3500 military folk.

By massive, I mean it takes up about 2 square kilometers, has a pool that we can't use, and weighs a lot.

So there were some good cookies and some coffee.  I met some nice people including a couple military guys that shook hands with Leon Panetta.  We asked them if they had some inside scoop on the recent operation that freed those hostages from Somali kidnappers.  They said they saw it on the news and didn't know anything until then...  I scrutinized their countenances, wondering if they were telling what they were told to tell or if it was true.  Like I could tell anyway...

I don't what to be a dick or a whiner but we all know that every sentence with the word but in it ends up contradicting what it said before the word but.

I love Africa but Arabia, I haven't gotten that feeling yet.  And this place feels more Arab than African.  It is OK for me, I tried to help one guy out and now he always asks me for money to feed him. I have no idea how to get him a job, no idea how to get him out of his rut.  It hurts me in the dark part of my optimism because it seems so hopeless.  His front teeth are brown and black and red and green and shaped like shark fins.  His smile like a searing wound beneath bloodshot starry eyes searching for hope in a waterless plain of pain.  His English like a surrealist rendering of a quaint English landscape peppered with French mispronunciations.

Yesterday, I was cashless, no money in the bank, and I was going to the gym to work out and he tapped me on the shoulder.  I said "Hey Andi, I don't have any money."  He took affront, saying "I am just your friend" and I momentarily accepted that and asked him how he was doing.  No answer, he just said "I will see you later my friend.."

I come back home and find 1000 djibouti francs ($6) in some shorts that have a secret tourist pocket.   Ann is going to the prison tomorrow and that always makes me worried and she has no money left on her phone so I know I have to spend at least 500 on phone credit for her.  Which leaves 500 to buy ancient dried up copenhagen at the tabac.

I make that trek across the square and Andi hits me up for some cash and I try to ask him about his family, his day, he offers nothing.  Refusing to relate.  You know, I realize I am a fool, I cannot be his friend,  I cannot help him in self realization.  I'm not going to give him $3  because I am sick and sickened at this relationship with him.  And also because I am jonesing for some tabac.

Today my paycheck came through and in the night I reflected upon my relationship with this guy.  The first words he said to me were lies: "I am a technician."  And he has lied since then.  "You are looking for a bicycle?" he said,

I reply "Yes, a used one but a good one"  

He promises "I will find you one".

I say, because he has a cell that can take pictures, "If you do, take a picture and show it to me".  I already knew that people here will tell you they know something that is simply not the case.  "Yes, you give me francs and I will find you a pair of green socks, no problem....a place to get beer after 8 oclock no problem...a guitar.."  Always promising the world but delivering only an emptier pocket.

So I told him to take a picture of the bike and he said OK, but he'd have to get 1000df for cab fare to see it and take the picture.  I fronted him that.  Next day he told me he found an excellent bike a childhood friend was selling  for a great price.  "Cool" I said, can you show me the picture?"
My Djibouti sense tingled at his reply:"No, it was too dark to take a picture".

So I blow another 1000 to get to the place and back to see a bike that is too small and to see his "childhood friend" not even greet him properly.  The bike was crap.  And to me, this was two bad lies. You can see vague acquaintances, men on the street, walking hand in hand, they ALWAYS greet each other with a handshake at least.  The bike seller barely managed a nod in Andi's direction and Andi told me they had played football together when they were babies.  As he dragged the piece of shit bike out of some shack, I offered twenty bucks and was countered with 200.  "Lets go" I said.

Anyway,  I know life is hard and Really Hard around here.  I just don't like being played.  I gave him cash to check the thing out and he just took it.  That's not a friend.  That's a player, trying to play a sucker.

He lingers still, where the security guards' purview ends, waiting for me to feed him.  And I buy cat food at the store to keep a stray alive that is already showing signs of pregnancy.  To clarify, that means I care more about strange animals than I do about strange people.

I don't know, I used to think I was a good person, I felt comfortably tortured by reasonable decisions.  Of course you give money to the poor, of course you help the less fortunate.  Now, I think the me that thought that was an idiot.  Yeah, and the me that thinks this is a jerk.

But the thing at the embassy was great.  I am starting to like being an American.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Divine Contact WIpe

So many things I don't understand, but I pretend to, to get by. I lie, walking like I'm confident and know where I'm going, or smiling at the dude with no legs on the bike that moves via hand cranks.

From 20120123

I did throw him 100 francs (=60 cents) and say "bon velo", to which he replied "merci". This was on my way back from the cold beer store with 3 frosty golden tuborgs in a bag.

As I was working today I heard some guy yelling and some other guys yelling back at him, it was like that game marco polo, but at high volume. It was getting into my ears and dislodging the music I was trying to crank to drown it out. So I went to the balcony and looked, one stumbling bastard shouting at nothing in the middle of the square. Two guys at their tables of crap they were trying to sell yelling back at him.

It would get quiet for a while and the guy, the rooster (same guy) was standing at the edge of the circle, holding a salute as traffic circled around him.

Yelling all the time, maybe its the way the language evolved, inclusive of everyone across the barren plains, and now it is just trying to be heard above the crush of hopelessness.

I rode my bike out to the Haramous area, where the new US embassy is, and took a circle around the mosque out there. I have been really down on Islam since being here. Partly because I read "infidel" and partly because at 4am two megaphones bathe us in their sonic Q'uran recitations thru our closed and shuttered bedroom window and one other crashes in thru paned glass and wooden door from the back.  It is loud enough.  It evokes a prayer on my part consisting of a single finger.

 So as I'm riding my bike around this mosque, I saw the flip flops in the entrance, and considered the garbage clotted beach in front of it.

I started wondering if riding my bike instead of walking it was some how an affront. Wondering, but not caring.

From 20120123

I look at these streets. Richest neighborhood in the city, but you can't even look at a nice house without seeing a shack made out of cardboard and tarps on the trash strewn lot in front of it. And broken glass and nails and shredded corrugated metal all over the street. Forget Allah, I thought, and within minutes I got a flat tire.

From 20120123

Insha'Allah.  If Allah wills it. A real smiter that one. Islam means submit, but really, its stupid not to have a patch kit when you are riding on broken glass and nails and shredded corrugated metal. So I probably just needed to "submit" to common sense. And here I was conflicted about blaming Allah versus blaming myself and that argument didn't seem to be doing anything for my tire, so I kept riding, thinking this is actually a better workout, and then one of the sprockets on my derailleur snaps off and nestles quietly into the roadbed.

Now I need a cab, so I take out my phone, because I have the number for 4 different cabbies in there, only to discover that every single one of my contacts has been deleted, I assume because its a crappy touch screen and its been jiggling in my pocket for 40 minutes. Every contact is deleted except for "Abdullahi" a guy that works with Ann and speaks 7 languages, and a contact with no number, just first name "Egg" and last name "J". Abdhullahi means "Slave to Allah". I figured Egg J just got dialed into the contact list by my thigh randomly, but who knows.

Now I'm walkin my bike, and a cab comes by going the other way. I figure I'll catch him on the way out, this neighborhood is like a gated community and most cabs are travelling with one way fares.

Sure enough he comes back out and I tell him the destination and he looks at my bike, like it is some great hardship to throw it in the trunk and somberly offers double a fair price to take me home. I'm just like, yeah, whatever (cab drivers always try to rip you off here you have to bargain and they still try to welch by pretending not to have change, etc.). He digs around in his glove compartment, and then digs around under the actual antelope fur covering the dashboard and comes up with a bent chisel looking thing, which he then jimmies into the trunk hole and wiggles for a while until it pops open. I throw the bike up in there, Jump into the front seat, moving his plastic baggie of Qat onto the center console.

He speaks no english, I speak no french or somali, we get along great in silence. Random photo below.

From 20120123
Wherever you go, you'll be better off respecting the local deities.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

trailer and the rooster

Just some random clips thrown together

This is the guy who wakes us up some mornings, yelling at cars and passersby. He's doing a little cleanup...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Toilet Nut Knob

Rough day at work for Ann today.

So we scored some pizza and beer at the local Pizzaiolo. Decent. On the way out, saw this fellow with his sharp traditional Afar clothes, and his stick. A lot of these older dudes carry sticks of different lengths, haven't figured out what they mean. I saw a guy with a 6 inch stick and when they get longer they look like canes, maybe its some carryover from herding goats in the rolling scrub hills of Somalia. Maybe its some status thing, I don't know. Sometimes when they go into buildings they give the stick to a security guard to hold until they come out.

Anyway I noticed the guy's stick because it had a white knob on the top. At first glance I thought it was porcelain or camel bone. I gave him a nod as we walked by, thinking he must have some special status, and then got a closer look at his knob. It was one of those giant plastic nuts that cover the bolts of a toilet.

Earlier, watching the sunrise, I saw the guy making the noise that passes for the rooster's crow. Looking down from the balcony, the first thing I noticed was his giant ears. He was bugging the guy cleaning the street, yelling something at him, the guy swiped at him with a broom and he veered away. Then he started yelling at a passerby and that guy made a feint with open palm and the rooster cringed making aye aye aye aye noises.

Midday, I can see all the SUVs parked in front of the Planete Hollywood below me, and there are six kids in between two of them, 8-10 years old, maybe. 2 of them have shirts on that have colors, the other four are wearing clothes that have aged to grey. One kid, one whose shirt still has colors, has a pair of orange flip flops on, the others are barefoot.

I see an elderly gentleman done up in semi traditional garb with a stick checking his look in one of the SUV mirrors. The barefoot kid with colors in his shirt goes over and starts punching the old man in the shoulder until he leaves. It strikes me that these kids have assigned themselves protectors of the SUVs and hope to collect a tip when the owners get back.

The kid that punched the old guy wrestles the right flip flop off of the other kid and puts it on.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Life in the Turd World

Ann takes to the blog....
One thing I’ve noticed here in Djibouti is a strange proliferation of animal body parts on the street. When we were living in Jordan I was walking home from work one day (and it had been an especially hard day) when I looked down and saw a dead kitten. This made me feel REALLY sad and I vowed to keep my eyes above waist level from then on whilst walking in (some) foreign countries.

From Our Place in Menelik Square

Unfortunately I keep forgetting about that. A few weeks ago we went to the swanky Kempinski Hotel for a little escape-from-Djibouti action. A day spent lounging at the pool, waiters with little bow ties bringing us drinks etc. Then we had to go home and since we don’t have a car and it isn’t 120 degrees out (yet) we decided to walk a bit. Almost as soon as you leave the hotel grounds you know that you are back in Djibouti. The bougainvillea and manicured lawns give way to thorny sticks clinging to life in dry, cracked mud puddles. The smell of cocoa butter is replaced by the smell of shit (because people are well, shitting, in the sea). But what really brought it home that we were no longer in Kempinskiland was that I looked down and saw something about two feet long with hair and what was unmistakeably, a hoof. “Is that a goat leg?” I asked Reed. “yup” he said and we kept walking. 

From djib country

About a week later I was walking home from work (not looking down) when I came upon the IOM dog. I used to work for IOM and they are just down the street from our office. The dog is always out in front of their office and he only has three legs and is super scroungy in a very endearing way. The two times a year it rains he rolls around in puddles and then goes around caked in mud for the next month with his little pink tongue lolling about. He manages just fine with his three legs and it would appear that this happened quite some time ago. On this particular day when I strolled past him I had some stale cookies to give him but he was engrossed in something else and was chewing away quite happily and ignored my offering. Curious (no! bad idea!) as to what could be more enticing than stale French cookies I looked closer and discovered he was gnawing on an animal leg, no a DOG leg. Now the strange part is that it was not HIS missing leg as his leg has obviously been missing for a long time but it was some OTHER dog’s missing leg. It even had all it’s little nails still. Sadly I did not have my camera or even Reed with me to witness/process this.

If one does have an affinity for the four-legged friend it’s a tough town. I hit what can only be described as a new low-low when I chased down a pack of teen-age boys and threw a rock at them. They were throwing rocks (they started it!) at a dog and then a little cat and I lost my shit. Yes there are plenty of people that don’t have enough to eat here and I should save my energy for them and some countries just don’t have the same feelings for animals and blahblahblah. Fuck that. I work in a refugee camp and I know how bad off people are and it occupies 99% of my waking hours so excuse me if I want to focus a tiny amount of energy on animals. Wow, see what happens? Anyhoo I was a crazed banshee shouting at them, throwing my rock, stalking them for a few blocks shouting them down in English (I’m pretty sure they got the gist of it, most people seem to understand f-bombs). Reed said “I was right there with ya until you threw that rock…”. I’d like to say I’m not proud of what I did but obviously I am because I am writing about it.
From DjiboutiLicious - Shots from and around our apartment

Another fascinating (might be a strong word here) thing about Djibouti is that people talk REALLY loud. I would go so far as to call it SHOUTING. The lingua franca (besides Frenchy) is Somali and you really cant tell if the person shouting is happy/furious/excited/crazy/all of above. Sometimes they do it right in your face and we call it being “thundergunned” after an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia. It’s a good verb. “You know that short, lighter salesman with the Kanye glasses? He fucking THUNDERGUNNED me today when I was getting off the bus”.

Next to thundergunning horn honking is another national pastime. There is really little to no need seeing as there is one measly traffic circle downtown and not many cars but for some reason they can’t seem to negotiate it and end up jammed in these goofy configurations honking like maniacs, even though they could easily pass the blocking car. I suspect they long for a proper traffic jam so they could really let loose on their klaxon action so they just pretend to be mad and honk away all the while shuddering in ecstasy. 

And then there are the beggars and qat-chewing drug addicts on the sidewalks (and I use the term ‘sidewalk’ loosely here). At first I resisted giving money to beggars but I felt like such an asshole that I started carrying a pocketful of change and when I remember I buy biscuits to give the rugrats instead of money (they scowl, one even gave me the finger). As for the qat I suspect the government doesn’t mind having almost the entire male population addicted to drugs as that effectively prevents them from rising up and demanding oh I don’t know, jobs? Education? Health care? Clean drinking water? Streets that don’t stink like piss? And yes people here pay taxes. You think WE get a raw deal ha!

We fall asleep to the pounding bass of Club Hermes (Herpes)  and waken to the blare of the mosque (4 a.m.). Somewhere in between is another layer of hell which is the karaoke bar that caters to the Japanese soldiers. It's pretty bad but makes for interesting dreams.

One has to be able to HANDLE Djibouti and some days I can’t. But most days it is funny as hell and nothing ever goes like you think it will (should). 
Happy 2012. Peace, love, and fresh air to all!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Xmas in Addis

Ever since I read the Sign and the Seal, about the whereabouts of the real Lost Arc of the Covenant, I have wanted to go to Ethiopia. From here, it is a $350 round trip, and as long as there are no Eritrean stamps on your passport, they love Americans. So we head to Djibouti International (the only airport, there are no other airports in the country). We met an American we'd met before there, pretty cool guy, IT consultant for the US base here, while we were waiting for our flight. He gave us a short list of places to check out. As per our poor travel custom, I don't think we checked any of them out. We did see two US drones take off from the same airstrip. Our pal commented that it was funny that on base, there is serious security around the drone hangar and really no acknowledgement that they exist, but here from the bar at the airport we can watch them take off about 200 meters away. I got a little nostalgic for my home town McLean, knowing that the kids flying those drones were probably in Langley. Reminds me of Ender's Game.

We'd decided to check into the Sheraton, the 5 star hotel in Addis Ababa, so I figured we'd probably won't going to see much of the city. The rule of thumb I've learned from travelling is the nicer the hotel, the less you see. Actually I probably read that somewhere, but let me confirm it. Knowing this, I took some shots from the shuttle on the way to the hotel.

From 20111231-203010

Iron Like a Lion In Zion.

From 20111231-203010

No way this scaffolding would be OSHA approved.

From 20111231-203010

I didn't take pictures of the guard at the gate, they had these giant black mock pith helmets, almost like the hats the Keystone Kops wore. And when I got out of the cab, the guy that grabbed our meagre luggage had a top hat like tom petty wore in that one video. Taller than Abe's stovepipe, and flaired out at the top. It made me feel a little sad to see people wearing these costumes for a job, but then I remembered what I wore in High School in the marching band. Also that they had good jobs. No unemployment rates in Addis, that ain't published and it isn't on anyone's tongue that we found.

Still, first thing we noticed, Ethiopia is CLEAN. And the people are nice. And they don't try to rip you off. I guess I'm talking mostly about Addis Ababa, but also in Lalibella and the airport. And unlike Djibouti City, you can't smell either piss or shit or death at any given moment. You can smell frankencense and that spice, cardamom, and occasionally hash. Didn't see anyone throw garbage on the street, saw a lot of trash cans and people used them...

The difference between the third world and the turd world. They grow Qat in Ethiopia, it grows there like a weed, cultivated and a major export to the arab world. The stuff is a mild amphetamine that breaks down with time, especially in heat, and the amphetamine compound degrades. Over time. Like the mind of the users. The rapid degradation is one of the reasons that Ethiopian Airlines was founded, and before that, the Djibouti-Addis train, now defunct. Because Djibouti is a major port, serving the red sea, Yemen, the saudis, etc...

So you would think that in Ethiopia, where you can get the good stuff, you would see a lot of qat chewers, but in Djibouti they are everywhere, green teeth, slurpin a bottle of watered down coke in a Dasani 1.5 liter, grinning their green grins, exposing their wild stained and rotting teeth.

And I didn't see any of that in Ethiopia, maybe the good stuff hits you before the rot occurs. Maybe it hits you so hard you are finished forever. I don't know.

Next we went to Lallibella to see the churches hewn out of the rock. Here's a trailer of the trip:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

some frame grabs

If cruelty is beauty then the landscape around here is like consummation.
From djib country

This guy came up to us on the highway and got psyched for a piece of candy:
From djib country

And God made the ground like asphalt:

From djib country

OK. Looks like a marmot, but has hooves. This little guy, a hyrax, shares an ancestor with the elephant and the manatee:

From djib country

I went to visit Ann in Ali Sabbieh, where she was interviewing refugees, getting their stories. This is the outskirts of the big settlement an hour away from the refugee camp. It looks post apocalyptic, but its not. There is no coming back from the apocalypse

From djib country

Ali Sabbieh, equally close to Somaliland and Ethiopia. Me and Ann walked around after she finished work at Ali Abdeh

Walking back to our hotel from the office. Note the pride:

From djib country

This goat was just born, had to step in the afterbirth to get this shot:

From djib country


The spirit of Christmas has descended. Djibouti was colon-ized by the French and when they left, its hard to say what was left behind to enrich the country. As is the case, I'm sure with any colon-ial endeavor. French plumbing, e.g. may or may not be like the plumbing here, which separates us from sewage by a layer of asphalt. Most of the time.

Nevertheless, I surmised that the French restaurants around here in Downtown Djibouti-ville would be run by stalwart Gaullish entrepeneurs and retain actual French chefs. So I talked Ann into roving down into the nearest one, even though she was not excited by the prospect. For vegetarians, I guess there is not much typically on offer. For meateaters, there is some serious weirdness. In front of the place, we saw this guy:

We go in, not much happening. They send us upstairs with the others. We try to find a table where the three unnecessary airconditioners are not triangulating on our heads, but the only table meeting that criteria is 5 feet from the toilet, which has no door.

We opt for a table by the stairs. I am unsuccessful in filtering out Ann's complaints about the AC blowing on her face and one waitress turns one of the AC machines off, and then another one turns on a secret fourth one that drives cool air into Ann's ear. We note small children in the room shivering and covering themselves with napkins, for warmth, from other tables, and finally get the secret fourth turned down.

I have been focussing on the menu. I know there must be some nice meaty things in here, its all in French, though. The steaks are obvious, but frankly, every piece of beefsteak I have tried in this country tastes vaguely of shit. To the point where it doesn't repel me so much anymore, I am beginning to find different qualities in shit taste. Not into this at the moment, Ann points out on the menu the pork loin. I think yes. Granted, haven't seen any pigs for three months. Have seen cows, but mostly goats. Not one single chicken. The waitress comes up and asks if we want a menu in English. Ann is totally confident in her command of the language, as am I. I have decided on the pork loin, so we are like: "Non".

They bring some fresh bread, no butter, and some other tablespoons of something and then comes the meal. The pork Loin looks small to me. Like a sausage. I know it is not a pork loin or a sausage that civilized people would eat upon the first cut, as the aroma comes out and saturates my senses.

After the first bite of this "pork loin" I reminisced:
I remember every time someone would leave Kibondo when we were in Tanzania, they would have a big goat bbq. You would get beer for a while as they roasted it, and when it would smell perfect and you got hungry for it, the line for food would start. I would be totally salivating from the smell, and get in line immediately. But after the first time, when I got a bowl of the stuff they offered before the bbq was ready, a stewy soup. I learned that they char the good parts beyond recognition and offer a bunch of pieces of intestine and stew that smells like crap and tastes pretty gaggy, like it takes some serious will power not to gag for me. And intestines are really chewy. I started to lay out the pieces in front of me that wouldn't chew down and wonder what their functions were, because they were clear examples of anatomically functional adaptations. But Ann was sitting next to me and she said "If you don't get that away from me I will throw up"

So I pretty quick wolfed down the sausage and washed it with rose(yeah, we totally drink pink wine here) and french fries, fully suspecting I was eating intestine. The parts of the pig that don't get into the hot dog. The unclean parts. I googled "Disgusting French Foods" when I got home and found out that my dinner actually made the list of "Stinkiest Foods"

Take a pig colon and slice up the other intestines around it and stick them in the colon. I was eating a pigs entire asshole. I hope its not true that you are what you eat. But fron the way the french around here act towards us, it may be the case.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Planete Hollywood

There is a Planet Holly wood here in Djiboutiville. Not according to the thrice bankrupt company founded by Robert Earl, former president and CEO of the Hard Rock Cafe, with the cash from Hollywood stars Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

From djib country

The logo is consistent, and there are pictures of stars in this "Planete Hollywood" but the service is typical of downtown Djibouti.

I ordered a Double Cheese Burger and got it. You would recognize its ilk if you have ever microwaved a single cheeseburger at an AM\PM Mini Mart. I peeled the top bun back and showed the semi hot Djiboutian waitress the single layer of of debatable meat patty. I said "I ordered a double burger. Double. This is SINGLE." She said "Djibouti Double." She didn't even smile. But she's right. Here in Djibouti they gladly charge you double, triple for nothing extra. You get more for less and nothing for more sometimes, I guess.

This country should be prosperous right now. It has a huge port and it is the only port that Ethiopia can use. Ethiopia used to think it had its own port in Eritrea, but the war put a lid on that jar. So many trucks move through here.

Many trucks, many military personnel. But the government here gouges as much as it can, and rather than taking advantage of a momentary window to create a vital economy, the gov't here chooses to squeeze everyone until they have to leave.

That is what is meant by a Djibouti Double. Nothing more for twice the price.

There is, in the same building as the one we live in, a "Djibouti Olympic Committee." It is right next to the disco "Club Hermes" which Ann and I have started to call "Club Herpes" because there are a lot of Ethiopian Hos up in that joint.

Update: I finally gave in and went back to Planete Hollywood to get a burger, this time I ordered two single burgers, thinking to double up the meat patties and toss the bun. On the menu, the single burger is 900DJF ($4.80) and the "double" is 1300DJF ($7.80). So I get the two burgers and they are exactly the same as the "double" I got twice before, as I pretty much expected. Then I pull the one meat patty from one, trying hard not to look at the yellow lettuce, and stick it in the other bun. I look up and the waitress looks astonished. "Why didn't you order the double?" I had to laugh as I tried and failed to explain to her...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the world, 40 to 50 something feet. They have brownish beige coloring on top with white checkerboard or constellation patterns of white. In Kenya they call them "papa shillingi" because the white parts look like coins(shillings), and in Japan they call it "geger lintang," which means "stars on the back".

You can go snorkeling and harass these majestic animals here in Djibouti if you've got the cash. If you are more ecologically inclined, like Ann and I, you can shell out $180 to ride on a boat for 6 hours and NOT EVEN SEE their starry asses.

The boat:

wooden, my backpack smelled of diesel, washed the beach towels we brought three times and they still smell that way, quaintly primitive for 18 minutes and ridiculously inadequate for the 5:42 after that.

After a three hour motor, watching the crew cut up fresh fish into kebab sized chunks, assuming that was going to be our lunch, we arrived at a typically trash strewn beach which was apparently the milieu of our esteemed and large quarry. One group of 6 got off the big wooden boat about an hour before we arrived, and took a launch. As the wooden boat anchored (there was no name upon its bow or stern) a launch pulled up to take the rest of us to see the whalesharks. Our cadre consisted of me and ann and one amercan rancher from cali named phil and 13 french soldiers, 2 of whom were women. We roved around in the launch randomly for an hour and saw no sign of the checkerback. Made it back to the boat and I was alright, anticipating the awesome kebab lunch, but amazingly, even as they were finishing cooking those kebabs on the boat, we were offered cold cheesy croissants and salami sandwiches. I assumed they were appetizers for the kebabs and rice which was sizzling inches from my fist, but then they scooped all that tastiness into big platters, loaded it into boats and headed towards the beach. I looked at Ann, what the fuck? is that for dinner? Long story short, NO. Nothing.

Then the six who took the other launch reappeared, all flush with their viewing and swimming with the whale sharks, and proceeded to head to the beach to eat all that I watched sizzle and mature on the coals. How I tried not to hate them. How I failed. One 65 year old guy that will probably outlive me had a baseball hat that said "Crystal Mountain"

For us though, No whalesharks, no kebabs, weird food tease and I can no longer in good conscience recommend this sucky Djibouti travel bureau called "Lagon Bleu" which is blue lagoon spelled wrong which was a decent movie starring brooke shields before this horrible incident and now is only a bague whaleshark shaped inkblot on the dark part of my soul.

We did see a cuttlefish, the water was really clear.

On our way back, we got offloaded from the wooden nameless boat onto a fiberglass 19 foot long 6 foot beam piece of crap with an out board. The sun was going down and we were in an open ocean (indian ocean) shipping lane with no running lights and no life preservers. I had my arm around Ann as I realized that our lives were forfeit because I had not taken the proper precautions and the sky darkened and we rode ten foot swells toward the barely and less discernible lights of Djiboutiville on the wrong side of the channel bouys.

No big deal.

End of the Square

I was working here today, on this west end of Menelik Square in Djibouti city, when a great shout rose above the daily noise of horns honking and people yelling at each other and competing mosque megaphones blasting out calls to prayer and monotonic sermonizing.

I took a look from the balcony and saw the police bus and a bunch of police. Broke out the video camera. Round up:

I think it may have been students protesting the kleptocracy around here but Ann thought it might be refugees.

It struck me that I had noticed this big police bus and couldn't figure out why they always parked it right in the square every day. There is a second police truck, a cab with a flat bed and a cage around it, with corrugated metal on top. Sometimes they park that here. Even though the city has a downtown spread that might accomodate 500,000 people, there is no industry here for the common person. The gov't sucks up all the cash from the port and it seems like the actual population is around 40,000, despite the municipal footprint. So I couldn't figure out why they would need TWO big trucks to haul away offenders every night. I found out today.

Djibouti borders Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somaliland. Ethiopia is the one you want to be aligned with around here, its big and moving in the right direction, and it has its own commodities market. Eritrea, to the north of Djibouti, has a port, one of the main reasons that Ethiopia didn't want to lose it, a reason that spent lives in a bitter war called civil by the Ethiopians and defensive by the Eritreans, supposedly ending in 2000. Djibouti is Ethiopia's port, and that's why Djibouti gets great deals on power,transport,Qat and military support from Ethiopia. Also, there is a big detention center in Djibouti for any native Eritreans, especially males of military age. Eritrean conscription is mandatory and lifelong.

But Djibouti doesn't get enough cash to maintain that detention center so the Djibouti police periodically head downtown and fill up a couple of police cattle trucks with refugees from Somalia who are downtown at the wrong time and use them to muck out the Eritrean detainees stalls and generally act as slave labor at the detainee center in the neutral zone between Djibouti and wherever, until their paperwork is discovered within the UN's statute of limitations, about 2 weeks...

Which totally explains why the police are always hanging out downtown but doesn't explain why the refugees keep getting caught, since getting caught is kind of the anathema of being a refugee. Once you get caught, you aren't a refugee anymore, but do you want to be?

I went to the store today to get some food and all the guys in the city always yell stuff, hard not to laugh, like:

wassup brutha?
rambo tu!
NICE! yes?

Today I cracked up because somebody yelled:

Sup Nigga!