Exhausted after the party train and getting over a bit of a cold, I was woken by chanting from outside. This time it wasn’t religious in nature, but the streets were full of people marching along and chanting. I joined Claire on the balcony for a few minutes. We knew what this was about. We had been doing our best to follow the local news and from what we could tell a mosque was burnt down about 2 weeks earlier. A retaliatory burning of a few churches had occurred. The Islamic council had given the government a deadline to act and punish the people who burnt the mosque down. We hard heard that deadline was the 1st of January. We didn’t expect to see these protests here in Dire Dawa.
The plan was to go to the city of Harar for our final night in Ethiopia. Harar is a wonderful walled city with a Muslim majority. Ethiopia itself is made up of many different people all speaking a different language. In terms of religion, the majority is Ethiopian orthodox but there are a significant number of Muslims here also. Religion has rarely been an issue in the past. It is the different ethnic groups which actually are the basis for the states of Ethiopia, that have caused issues in the past. Despite the issues, the states enjoy reasonable autonomy from the federal government and that has worked quite well for the country to remain together as a country.
We went an had breakfast to ponder our situation and decided that the safest option was to leave a day early and head to Djibouti, assuming we could get to the airport and change our flights. We could not get in contact with our guide in Harar, so couldn’t get enough information to decide to continue on. The locals, of course, saw the protests as nothing more than an inconvenience in the short term. One of the hotel staff was surprised when we said we were going to the airport, as he remembered us asking about how to get to Harar. In fairness to the staff and the locals, the protests were non-violent, but that is not the issue. Things can change rapidly and we didn’t want to be caught up in that with no options to leave or go elsewhere.
We asked for a transfer to the airport and we were told it would be 11am before the roads were clear for traffic. About 30 minutes later we were told a van was leaving and we could go with them. It turns out a guy we had seen around the hotel was a South African private military contractor and he had a local Major in a van with a driver waiting to take him to the airport. So we set off in the van avoiding the protests until we got close to the airport and the main road in was blocked.
The Major spoke to a few of the protest organisers and we started to drive into the crowd of people and soon the van was surrounded by people, who at any stage might object to some foreigners being allowed to leave. Fortunately, they didn’t, although we didn’t have to drive far before finding a dirt road detour, it was an unsettling moment for all of us. We arrived at the airport safely and feeling lucky.
The airport itself was mostly a breeze, moving out flights forward a day and eating some lunch. It was 7 hrs though in probably one of the worlds smallest “international airports”. The flight was short and we arrived in Djibouti to another of the worlds smallest international airports. Our transfer was waiting for us and after withdrawing what seems like a lot of money and getting a few notes (In Ethiopia a lot of money means a wad of 100 Birr notes), we set off for our hotel for the night. It all looked quite nice until we hit a dirt road a few hundred metres from the hotel. Fortunately, the staff were friendly, arranged to order us dinner from a nearby restaurant doing delivery and put a nice touch on the end of a crazy day.
Djibouti city (the country is also Djibouti), is a city with a lot of promise, with faded and worn architecture dominating the streets. However, the restaurants and bars we have visited inside have been nicely decorated and very modern looking. From the street, you would not expect what you see inside. The streets are generally safer to walk around in the day, with very little hassle from beggars and touts. Still its a bit rough in appearance in the European quarter which is a shame.
We did, however, make use of the facilities and had a New Years day buffet at the lavish Kempinski Palace Hotel, that charge in excess of $500 a night. The buffet itself was a bit eye-watering in price but given we had no real Xmas celebration the lunch buffet was a nice treat, with a large selection of food to choose from, including a dessert bar that would have made my mother tell my father to stop being a pig. The real reason to come to Djibouti is a trip into the desert to see the landscape there and that’s all to come in the next 2 days before Claire heads back to Canada and I continue on to visit 2 small gulf countries.