On Going Local is a new (short) series that I’ll be running which will attempt to look at my life from an objective perspective as I transition from and NGO worker into an entrepreneur here in the developing world.
I’ve been here in Somaliland now for around two and a half years now. It has been a wonderful time, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
There are many aspects of Somali / Somaliland society & culture that I have found it easy to adjust too. But there are a few things which have been difficult. Not the least of which is the six day work week. Being an Islamic country, we take Friday off. But that most people take off. Going from a two day weekend to a one day weekend with shorter days throughout the six was a big adjustment and I’m not sure that I will ever fully adjust to it.
However, this is about space. Physical space. Like most development workers I lived for a long time in a gigantic house shared among an assortment of other expatriates, cleaners, cooks, guards, and staff. It can be a fantastically good time having all the excitement of different activities, smells, and languages around you. For a little while…
After a time, though, it becomes stifling. For one thing, you are never “off duty.” At any time of the day or night someone may come and knock on your door. Someone’s family member is sick and they need money; someone’s mobile phone was stolen and they need money; the guards caught two people making out in a dark corner behind the house; all sound tracked to random gunshots due to land disputes.
Most development or aid workers I know always like to say it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. And that is all well and good, but it isn’t a lifestyle I was very interested in. Sure you can try to set boundaries, but you don’t want to incentivize the people working with you to not tell you what is happening. That can lead to all kinds of problems.
This balance is incredibly difficult to achieve between having some personal space (when the standard living situation is tenement and shared, college-esque, except we’re not college age anymore) and being “open.”
I have recently moved out of that mansion into what would be normal to me. Luckily enough it is also what would be normal to a middle-class Somali. Instead of ten bedrooms (some of which were office space), I now have three. Instead of having to walk 15 minutes to get to the kitchen, it now takes me 15 seconds. I don’t have to worry about staff all of the time as I only have someone who comes to clean for me a few days a week & when I’m at the office. It is safer this way, as you are a target when you live in a mansion. You can do what you like without having to worry about being disturbed. You can metaphorically unpack your bags. You can find normality in an otherwise frantic existence.
The place I’m living now actually feels like a home rather than a dorm. And that is fantastic. I love my old roommates dearly, but it is so nice to have something that is “yours.” And when my wife comes down next year for a bit, my life will be complete!
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