Monday, February 25, 2013

Joy of Djibouti

Floating in Lake Assal, the lowest point in Africa and the world's largest salt reserve
This weekend I hit the 6 month mark of my time living in Djibouti.  Six straight months without leaving the country, and a wonderful six months it has been.  I’m serious—not one ounce of sarcasm.  I really am enjoying living in Djibouti and look forward to the next 18 months here.

This may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you.  Djibouti has a bad reputation.  When telling people I was moving here, the responses I received were usually “My condolences” or “Where?!” I myself didn’t know diddly-squat about the country until it appeared on our bid list. Researching it online didn’t provide many clues as to what to expect, and books on the subject are hard to find.  Not even Lonely Planet can tell you much—just a few pages inserted into their book on Ethiopia.  After over a year of studying the topic, what I had learned could be summed up in the following points:

1)    Djibouti is freakishly hot much of the year
2)    Djibouti’s main sources of income are the rent paid by the Americans and French for their military camps/bases here. The port is also a major player in the economy.
3)    There are thousands of non-Djiboutian military troops stationed in the main city
4)    The vast majority of Djibouti men are daily users of a drug called Khat (read High in Hell for more about this)
5)    Men who have made their wealth from piracy own fancy homes here.
6)    Most Djiboutians are extremely poor
7)    Most of Djibouti is unfit for agricultural efforts
8)    There didn’t seem to be much to see/do in Djibouti  (which turned out to be completely incorrect)
9)    Djibouti used to be part of Ethiopia, but the French rented it to use as a shipping port and never gave it back.  Now it is an independent state.
10) BUT there is the snorkeling and the whale shark migration to look forward to!

After arriving and getting my official orientation, I learned a few more things--- like that HIV and tuberculosis levels are very high, and that one of the most extreme forms of female genital mutilation continues to be inflicted on the majority of Djiboutian girls.

So now that I’ve told you all of that, I’d like to say (especially to those considering coming here) that life in Djibouti is actually quite nice if you are one of the lucky ones to have a living wage.  Djibouti is full of stunning beauty both above and below the waterline. Djibouti has good restaurants and beaches, and in the winter the weather is fantastic.  There is a decent French elementary and high school and a French-run hospital with competent staff. Unlike most capital cities in the world, Djibouti has extremely low rates of random violent crime.  Muggings and car-jackings aren’t an issue here. Neither is air pollution or getting stuck for ages in snarled traffic.

Thus, I plan to dedicate a number of my upcoming posts to the joys of Djibouti.  

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