Reading about Djibouti

Hot.

My #1 impression of Djibouti. On-line or in a book, it’s a word that came up in every single thing I read about the country. We all are shaped by geography, but in the milder places of the world, nature can be overridden. Not so in a desert nation. Sleeping, eating, work, play, prayer; all are dictated by the dominating presence of the Sun. And when that country happens to be in a political and economic hot-spot as well…strange things abound.

The first book I read, Passage of Tears by Abdourahman A. Waberi, was a bit of a tough journey for me. The writing was beautiful, but the story left me surprisingly cold. I have the feeling I could revisit it somewhere down the road and have a very different reaction. It’s an internal, meditative work and maybe I just wasn’t in the right headspace when I encountered it.

Lake Assal, Djibouti
Lake Assal, Djibouti
(image by “Lake Assal 3-Djibouti” by Fishercd – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I still wanted to know more about the country, so I let Google be my guide:

  • There’s a sizable US Military base there, Camp Lemonnier.
  • It’s hot.
  • It’s a great place to go if you want to swim with whale sharks.
  • And according to the internet, just about everyone there chews khat, which I found to be fascinating.

After reading a somewhat breathless Esquire article from a few years back, I felt compelled to learn more.

Fortunately, someone has written a book all about it: Eating the Flowers of Paradise, by Kevin Rushby. It’s an entertaining account of his travels through the countries in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula (Ethiopia, Djibouti, Yemen) where khat use is deeply woven into the social fabric. Really interesting stuff, and I felt like I learned something new.

A khat market in Harar, Ethiopia
A khat market in Harar, Ethiopia
(image by “At The Chat Market (Detail) (2782041206)” by A. Davey from Where I Live Now: Pacific Northwest – At The Chat Market (Detail)Uploaded by Elitre. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

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