Nairobi to Addis Ababa (5) Garissa

Whilst in Lamu we’d toyed with the idea of heading North West into the Kenya/Somalia frontier region and the town of Garissa. Having read various warnings about bandits on the roads we were leaning on the side of caution until we found a coach-surfer listed for Garissa and were able to get in touch. Reassured about the potential hazards of the road (‘Bandits? Well, I’ve never seen any…’) we decided to hop a bus in Malindi and head up to hang out with Daniel, our new found coach-surfing Peace Corps buddy. It didn’t take long before we felt like we were very far away from Malindi and by the time we reached Garissa it was all beginning to feel like Hargeisa: Somali being shouted, portable huts (aqal) off in the scrub,camels and other livestock all over the place, the smell of goat fat and incense. It was reminiscent of Hargeisa in other ways too. We were back in NGO land – secure compounds and fancy hotels for international staff, detached from the hustle and bustle of the town. No doubt this side of the town is even more busy these days, given the famine in south central Somalia and the influx of refugees (and aid workers) to the camps in the border regions. Garissa is a real frontier town and there’s much more ethnic heterogeneity than Hargeisa. There’s a cultural divide and interesting dynamic of interaction between traders and businessmen from the Kenyan interior and the Somalis who consider this territory to be, well, Somali. A fascinating place but not one we had much time to linger in as we needed to move on quickly back to Nairobi before starting the long haul north towards the Ethiopian border.

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