Tonight marks the end of my 14-week stay in Djibouti. The saying “Time flies by when you are having fun” is fitting. I took a blink and my time in Djibouti somehow went by without even noticing. I found great friendships in Djibouti. I have grown as a person when my ideals were challenged. I laughed when I came across cultural oddities and have found myself in some of the most inspiring moments.
As my time here in Djibouti has come to a close, I had some time to reflect my Djiboutian time. I found Djiboutians to be some of the most hopeful, humble, and determined people. Do a Google search and one will find Djibouti to be unapologetically hot, small, and useful for its strategic geographic location. Djibouti may not be known for its agricultural impact but it is highlighted when discussing foreign military bases. Although generally unacknowledged, Djibouti’s location is imperative to the security operations of many of the world’s super powers.
To an outsider, Djiboutians may seem lazy and unmotivated due to the insane amount of khat chewed, but if anything, Djiboutians are empowered by the expat community surrounding them. Djiboutians recognize their significance which empowers them to aim high. After working with teens this summer, I’ve found their most common aspiration is for a better life. Djiboutian teens desire to be educated, hope to reduce poverty levels, wish to reduce mortality rates by becoming doctors, and hope to increase education by becoming teachers. Young Djiboutians dedicate their free time by attending English classes in the evening, visiting American Embassy programming, and reading English books.
Not only is the young population hopeful, but their community leaders are dedicated to developing the country. Railways are in construction, Air Djibouti re-debuted to boost tourism, Djibouti welcomes their arms to thousands of refugees, and roads continue to pop up around Djibouti City’s metro. Talk with the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellows and they have plans. Some wish to train women business skills in hopes of economic development; others wish to learn how best to train their peers to become better teachers; and others, hope to develop agriculture in rural areas of the country.
In conversations with Djiboutians, the mentality is realistic and optimistic. Djibouti knows it’s a young country which lacks basic sanitation, education, and innovation, but that does not mean they do not have the desire or the resources to find solutions. Djibouti is growing. It’s expanding. And it has the spark to start the fire of a thriving democracy; it has dedication and aspiration.
A young Djiboutian asked me if Djibouti could be like the U.S. one day. In my opinion, it can be better. Djibouti has its own culture, filled with communal traditions in which has created a strong Djiboutian culture that should never go away. The beauty in Djibouti is found in its kind, hospitable, and welcoming people. Djiboutians do not care where you are from or what you are doing in their country, they only hope to become friends and teach you something about their transforming culture, a sentiment I hope it never loses.
I have faith that one day Djibouti will be leading the region. While the region continues to battle, Djibouti has come together to strive for a stable 21st century. I thank the Djiboutian people for opening my eyes to what hope and beauty looks like in people. I believe Djibouti will show the world what a strong communal vision paired with dedication looks like. It is a bitter sweet moment to leave Djibouti, but I look forward to the day when I return. Djibouti will be the leader it hopes to be. I hope, however, it will continue to remain its gentle, welcoming country it is because that is what makes the country so beautiful and the foundation for a prosperous future.
Thank you, Djibouti, for allowing me a small glimpse of your traditions and livelihood.