“Where’s Djibouti?” Says everyone who asks where we’re going next. I first heard of this Northeastern African country about fifteen-years ago when reading a report about a man who was arrested for smuggling “khat” into the United States. My research revealed that khat grows on a flowering shrub in the highlands of Ethiopia, native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It contains a mild stimulant that increases your level of dopamine and makes you feel good. Khat is legal in Djibouti. I’ve wanted to travel there ever since. Marilynn wants to travel there because of the exotic locale and geological diversity. “Some people just need to see it” is an affliction that both of us share. It’s that simple. So, here we go.
We arrive in Djibouti City two days ahead of a scheduled tour. We don’t care much for tour groups but must use one to explore outside of the city. Jumping independently into a totally different culture awakens all of our senses and makes us feel alive. Heat, dust, the Islamic call to prayer, colorful garb, and people speaking Afar and French that we do not understand greet us.
Hot, exhausted and sweaty, we check into our overpriced hotel room with great air conditioning. The faint smell of sewage and not so faint sound of pounding, grinding construction forces us to the outdoor terrace for bottles of cold “St. Georges” beer. We love to just “be” in a different country.
Let’s hit the streets, exchange money and cop some khat. Trucks bring khat across the border from Ethiopia four times a week, their second largest export. Most males in Djibouti chew it daily.
We almost glow while walking the streets as two of the few white people. Not a lot of “sights” here, but the dusty roads, markets and friendly people are enough for us. Despite living in what we would consider poverty, people appear happy.
Women sit on street corners with purses full of money for exchange at the best rate in town. Difficult for us to comprehend how they do not get robbed. Theft and violence in this mellow Islamic city do not exist, outside of a few anomalies I suppose. Drop your wallet on the street, and a stranger will bring it back to you with a smile and no expectation.
We communicate with hand, body and facial gestures. I manage to buy a bouquet of khat, for sale on many sidewalks, while Marilynn takes photos of the transaction. After my purchase I can’t find her. Is she in a vendor’s stall? Did she get lost? As my concern grows, I spot her in the distance surrounded by cops! She must be totally freaked. I am.
She sees me and we walk towards each other. “You’re the one buying khat and I’m the one who gets grabbed by the cops!” She shakes her head. “I thought he was taking my phone!” Turns out that the police only wanted to delete photos from her cell phone that showed people’s faces during the khat transaction. I cannot contain my laughing. As a matter of fact, we hear lots of laughter on these streets.
We walk to a restaurant terrace across the street from our hotel where beers cost five US dollars instead of six and devour a pizza before bed. Nothing is cheap in Djibouti, and one does not come here for the food. Oh yes, I chawed some khat, but did not feel anything. Tomorrow, I’ll try a much larger chaw prior to our initial tour group meeting.
The construction noise finally stops. Shortly thereafter, the disco below our room begins booming. Didn’t bother us. We slept a solid eight hours. Looking forward to heading out of the city to the boonies of Djibouti!