Being a guest in Somalia

Written by Christina Radtke November 2013. Posted in Being a guest, Int. Skills

Being a guest in Somalia

The sun is slowly rising and the familiar sound of Islamic prayer can be heard throughout the whole city. Far away the faint sound of crashing waves and the smooth echo of gunfire can be heard. The temperature is comfortable and it simply appears to be a beautiful, average day. But wait a minute…it that the echo of gunfire? How can this possibly be a normal day? This is shocking news, you might think. Well, not in Somalia, welcome to the world upside-down.

Somalia is what you could say is a failed state. A civil war between Islamist extremists and a failing government has been on the daily schedule ever since 1991. This has brought famine and extreme violence to the country. It is easy to think that no Somali should be trusted. But here comes another shocking fact: Somali people are quite known for their hospitality!

Despite the fact that the majority of the people have experienced death and pain in their surroundings, they still consider hospitality to be of the utmost importance. Pursuing the lifestyle of a Nomad, it is essential to build up a support system in order to survive. Their hospitality is not just seen as desirable but more importantly as an obligation. A guest will be welcomed warmly and treated with full respect. The Somali will put all his efforts into preparing a grandiose meal and is almost afraid of being seen as closefisted. His ultimate goal is to ensure a convivial time for his guest. You could even go as far as saying that it is dishonourable to ever turn a guest away.

The desire to offer great hospitality cannot just be found in certain geographical areas of Somalia. It appears to be a general, almost national, belief. Numerous poems have been written about hospitality and make it clear how vital it is for the Somali to follow this example:

“Erga toban habeen soo dhaxdayoo timi halkaan joogo
Tulda geela inaan loogo waad igu taqaaniine
Waa laygu wada toosayaa taajir saan ahaye
Gacantaan tashiilada aqoon sow la tebi maayo?” (Asnaan Sharmaarke)

[If after travelling ten nights messengers come to my dwelling
You know that it is my custom to slaughter them a camel
And all will awake to the feast as if I am wealthy
The hand that gives without restraint wouldn’t you miss?”].

This poem shows that the Somali are driven to welcome a guest with all of his possessions and will even try to offer things he might not even possess, meaning he will not cut any costs. Families will be judged by others on how they treat their guests. It is not just welcoming a guest properly (sooryo) that counts, but also giving him a memorable goodbye (sagootin).

So, dearest reader, are you already packing your suitcases and eagerly Googling flight tickets to Somalia, thinking this could be the greatest holiday destination of all times, feeling so warmly welcomed? Well, you might want to slow down a bit. Somalia might be a “guest’s paradise”, but nonetheless it is also one of the most dangerous and violent countries in the world.

…Like I said:  “Welcome to Somalia, the world upside-down!”