Wednesday, November 23, 2011

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!

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