Djibouti: A Wild Ride

A whirlwind. That is what I would describe this past week. I arrived at 12 am on Sunday morning, May 22nd. This week filled itself with lots of new people, experiences, and goats.

 

Friday’s are Muslims’ holy day. Therefore in most Muslim countries, Friday is reserved for prayer and relaxation. I work Sunday-Thursday. When I arrived at 12:00 am on Sunday May 22nd, I went to work at 8 am that morning. With my bags in the house of my new homestay family, I headed to the U.S. Embassy to attend my many orientation meetings.

Closest Mosque.jpeg

Closest Mosque to my house- I can hear the call to prayer

From the onset, I have been kept very busy. My team consists of the Public Diplomacy Officer, three local hires, and myself. As the PD department, it is our job to implement the U.S. PD Mission to Africa and more specifically to Djibouti- these tend to be more outreach programs, development, and press work. My past internship experiences allowed me to write a press release, put together and present a Social Media PowerPoint, and gathering programming for our Memorial Day gathering at the Ambassador’s house.

 

The business at work is only one part of my crazy week. My host family and I have had an event or gathering of some sort to attend every evening. From saying goodbye to other Foreign Service officers leaving post, welcoming new ones at the local wine and cheese dinner, attending a welcoming dinner at Ambassador Kelly’s house, and making decorations for the Memorial Day party. There certainly hasn’t been anytime to relax.

Mandela Fellows, Ambassador Kelly, Joia and I selfie

Obama implemented the Mandela Fellows: chosen African professionals to study in the U.S. for a summer and implement some of their study in their home country. I assisted in their Pre-departure orientation and made sure they knew how to use social media. Ambassador Kelly, our PD Officer, the fellows, and me posed for a selfie.

But what make the Djibouti experience so eccentric are its many quirks…

Today, I drove around the city for the first time without killing any people or goats. This is actually quite the accomplishment. The US Embassy actually gave out safe driving awards to our local hires for their ability to keep us safe. Djiboutians do not bother with road signs or even road considerations. They walk out into the middle of the road no matter the number of cars or people. People drive through red lights. They do not care for lane dividers or speed limits (if there even are any). I have seen people go around me because I was stopped at a stop light and they wanted through it- I saw a car drive in the middle of two lanes and then continue to not pick one for a whole meter.

Goats. Goats are to squirrels as Djibouti is to Des Moines. I walk outside my house every day and there is a heard of goats meandering. (I can literally hear them outside as I type.) They couldn’t care less about where you are driving which makes it extra difficult when you want to get to work on time.

Goats close to house

I have already embarrassed myself a few times forgetting the importance of gender. Walking into the local supermarket, Casino, you must be checked by a security guard. By accident I walked up to the man security guard without thinking much of it and was yelled at by the woman security guard for making a sexual advance to the man. I tell you, I learned my lesson.

 

The heat. It is the hottest I have ever felt. I am exceptionally lucky I live in a nice home where air condition occupies every nook and cranny. It has gotten up to 50 degrees Celsius, which is close to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. And I was just told it’s the beginning of “hell season”. I am sure the women covered from head to toe in their hijabs are dying inside.

 

The French, Somalian, American, and Ethiopian influences make for very interesting food choices. I love the cheap baguettes, wine, and cheeses. But I am also lucky to find new foods like camel. If you are a meat eater and love beef, I advise eating camel since it is much leaner and healthier for you but tastes just like it!

 

Camp Lemmonier- since there are 4,000 men stationed at Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti, Djibouti for strategic reasons, the U.S. Foreign Service Officers are able to go for its amenities. I visited my first Army base today. I felt like I was in Star Wars with all the khaki, but I am looking forward to many of its programming like the movie theatre, salsa nights, happy hours, and scuba diving certification.

 

Although it has only been one week, I am enjoying the city, the people, and my time. Hopefully since I now have my baring’s in order, I might be able to explore more of the city and country.

-Bills

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