By Ingeborg Vardøen
I first saw Hagias when most of it was destroyed. It was an emotional and shocking experience. Refugees from Somaliland had begun to arrive in Norway in the late eighties, and had talked of the horrors and destruction in the city. Encouraged by some Somalilanders and out of curiosity I visited the town in 1991, shortly after independence was declared. It was still a ghost town, but the spirit of the people impressed me.
Some of the very few cars that were here carried banners declaring guns were unwanted. There were mines everywhere, but women in beautiful, colorful dresses strode proudly through the battered streets, looking like queens. The new flag was on top of the president’s house, then empty apart from a few chairs and tables in one or two rooms. A rag tag soldier invited me in when I walked past, and showed me around. Being one of the very few foreigners here at the time I attracted attention. Curiosity, yes, but I was shown great hospitality. I remember being invited out to a small restaurant where we were given pieces from old exercise books to wipe our hands when we’d eaten, and thinking people here found their own solutions in dire circumstances. I also was invited to eat with some senior freedom fighters and heard of their vision for the future. An impressive bunch of men with a cause, proud to have captured their own city.
When leaving I was driven to Berbera in a “technical”, accompanied by Yusuf Gabobe who told me, while we speeded along on the potholed, and sometimes non-existing, road, about the fighting he had been part of. We nearly didn’t make it as there appeared to be no fuel in town, but it turned up from somewhere, miraculously.
Since then I have returned regularly, in the last five years bringing other Norwegians with me to show them the country they have heard of, but know little about, and which impresses and charms them, making many into Somaliland fans. They see Hargeysa, where they walk freely in the streets and in the markets, they talk to people, visit institutions, they see Las Geel, Borama, Berbera, Sheikh, sometimes Burco, and go back with their eyes open to other views than the ones the European media present.
After seeing one group off to Norway I decided to stay behind for a while. There was the election, which at first seemed to go off without any problems, to the satisfaction of foreign observers. Then the aftermath. For the first time on any on my many visits to Hargeysa I have heard gunshots. I know there have been incidents since 1991, but I have personally never witnessed anything other than peace.
In the last month the atmosphere has changed, one only has to look at the websites or read the papers, or, of course, to talk to people, to sense the feeling of skepticism, pessimism, disappointment and general unrest.
I have come to love this country, those of you who are in charge, please look after it!