Lemon Juice and Fleece Blankets (Hargeisa, Somaliland)

There is no conductor on the bus, no ticket collection — only a Zaad number, written on the roof in permanent marker. We send our fares without acknowledgement or question to the driver, a cashless society. 

As Salat al-Maghreb approaches, the air loosens around us. We drive with the door open, rolling down the street with the city beside us, traffic to thick to allow for enough speed to close it. Gas station, bakery, computer shop, pipe fitter, tyre supplier, supermarket, bookstore.

A man scatters water from a bucket to hold down the dust. White people with laminated signs in Somali stand in the intersections, palms outstretched. The driver says they’re from Syria. Fifty men gather around bundles of imported cast-offs, holding up tailored shirts and jeans to their hips while the merchants shout about discounts. Two women sit on white, plastic chairs, the hems of their jilbabs fanned out against the ground. A old man in a kofia and perfectly-circular gold glasses sticks his head out of the front passenger window of a bus, grinning. A woman sits on the corner, holding up a piece of paper with her Zaad number, hoping the phone will buzz from a stranger’s kind deposit. Businesspeople in dress clothes walk home from the office, holding binders and briefcases.

Inside the mall, across from an eight storey hotel covered in glass windows, there is Cookies Time. Three booths and two tables, nestled next to a glass case full of bakery and cheesecake. Three women order a plate of cookies and flip their niqabs up over their foreheads to eat. The table on the other side of us is four young men, wearing black sweaters with gold letters, and immaculate tennis shoes with dark skinny jeans. I order an Americano, which comes in a pink ceramic cup, and a lemon juice.

Outside, we get a rideshare and go to Cali Jirde. 

You can hear the music from the street, on Wednesday nights at Cali Jirde. If there is a place to see and be seen in Hargeisa, this is it.

Onstage, one man beats the drum, one plucks the strings, and one belts into the microphone. There is no use describing Somali music in English, but still — like waves, crashing and endless and somehow taking you home, wherever you are from. When they get tired, a woman comes to sing. When she tires, a group of teenagers in white, gold, and navy blue costumes comes to the stage to dance. Women across from men, they line up and dance across from one another, each daring the other’s next move, spinning so fast the fabric billows up like parachutes.

A man stands and takes the microphone, delivering and impassioned speech about the importance of dance and music and culture. The crowd applauds, as we are those who have come to see these things. The performers return to the stage, and we listen as we eat dinner, seated in our chairs, wrapped in fleece blankets.

As the end of the evening approaches, the music and dancing expands from the stage as the beautiful people of the city introduce themselves. An old woman in a gilded yellow hijab grabs everyones’ hands and plays match-maker, dragging couples together relentlessly, not in the slightest discouraged when her offers are declined.

But, at exactly midnight, the music cuts, as though we are all Cinderella. The lights go up, and the place empties within minutes, the crowd vanishing into taxis and ride shares and vehicles with private drivers, to be redistributed to houses across the city. The next call to prayer is in five hours.

If you’re in Hargeisa and would like to attend Cali Jirde’s music nights, these happen every Wednesday evening, from 8 o’clock (ish) until midnight. You can read more on their website.

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