Trip to the Motherland
Beauty writer Sue Omar opens up about her spontaneous first trip to her home country of Somaliland on a one-way ticket.
There’s no doubt that 2020 will go down in history as the year that changed everything. For many of us, the pandemic had a major impact on the way we live, how we interact with one another and our plans for the foreseeable future. Last March, Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown in the UK to reduce the spread and risk of COVID-19. A few months later Black Lives Matter protestors took to the streets - ignited by the death of George Floyd in the US - to fight against police brutality and racial inequality. In the midst of the chaos and conversations on black identity, I suddenly developed a deep desire to explore my African heritage and visit the motherland for the first time. As a freelance writer, I am fortunate enough to work from anywhere in the world. So in the spirit of spontaneity, I booked a one-way ticket to my home country Somaliland, located in the Horn of Africa.
My Somali heritage & home town
Although I was born and bred in London, both of my parents grew up in East Africa’s Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. Throughout my childhood I heard such rich and colourful stories about my parents’ hometown that were bought to life with nostalgic photographs before the civil war broke out in Somaliland in the 1960s. Shortly after the war, Somaliland gained its independence and was colonised by the British, separating itself from the Northern part of the country more commonly known as Somalia. While Somaliland has been operating as an independent state for over 40 years, the rest of the world is yet to internationally recognise it as a separate sovereign state. Hargeisa is a thriving metropolitan city booming with businesses and a plethora of entertainment and hospitality venues, which are only a short drive away from the stunning natural landscapes in Somaliland’s remote countryside.
The journey to Africa
From Heathrow Airport in London, the journey to Somaliland was approximately 15 hours including a transit in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. As I stepped off the plane in Somaliland, I was greeted by so many family members – some of which I’d never met before. I instantly felt a sense of belonging and was overwhelmed with so many emotions. I couldn’t quite believe that after 30 years of living in London, I was finally home in Africa. From this moment on I was super excited to embark on this journey of self-discovery and learn more about my culture and heritage.
Connecting with my Somali heritage & black identity
Somaliland is one of those rare places in the world where the majority of its population is made up of its own people entirely. And while you may come across a few expats or foreigners here for work purposes, Somaliland is truly the land of the Somali people. Living in the UK as a Black-British Somali woman, I’ve experienced racism and discrimination in so many ways, so being back home in Africa gave me a sense of belonging that I have never felt before. On arrival, I did experience a bit of a culture shock as things are so much less developed in Africa as they are in the West. However, as time went on, I started to find beauty in the simplicity of life in Somaliland. One of the things I admire the most about the Somalis living in Somaliland is their contentment with life and kindness; the majority of people just seem to radiate happiness. Even if they have little, they practice gratitude daily. They are also very engaged with real life and conversations and aren’t really as obsessed with social media as we are in the west. The more time I spent talking to locals in my mother tongue, the more I improved my connection with my culture and learning the language, which is something I will never take for granted.
Embracing modest fashion & wearing hijab
Somaliland is one of the few countries in the world with a 99.9 per cent Muslim population, so one of the first things that I had to adjust to on this trip was wearing modest clothing and observing the hijab. Like other African cultures, Somali fashion and fabrics are bright and bold featuring pretty prints and floral designs. As someone that doesn’t usually wear the hijab on a daily basis, experimenting with modest fashion and dressing in traditional clothing has been one of the highlights of my trip. Some style staples that I packed for this trip included hijabs in a multitude of colours and abayas – a loose fitting cloak to wear over clothes – and lots of long maxi dresses to pair with light jackets or coverups. The traditional Somali dress is known as a dirac, which is a made of cotton or silk fabrics, and worn with a slip underneath and matching shawl. Diracs are a go-to outfit for special occasions such as weddings, events or Friday lunch with family to celebrate the Islamic holy day of the week. Below is one of my favourite looks…
The food & nightlife
I was based in Somaliland’s capital city of Hargeisa for the most part of my trip. It’s probably the busiest and most vibrant city in the country when it comes to evening entertainment and places to hang out and eat. Traditional live events are showcased on a regular basis in Hargeisa, which involves live music, dancing and sometimes even comedy segments. When it comes to eating, Somali food can be found on every street corner as well as other types of cuisine from across the world – from Indian and Chinese to Thai and western fast food.
The history landmarks: Visiting the iconic Laas Geel caves
One of the most iconic historical landmarks in Somaliland is Laas Geel, a remarkable site of natural caves featuring ancient drawings and engravings that date back beyond 18,000 B.C. I had the opportunity to travel to Laas Geel and see these drawings for myself, which was an absolutely unforgettable experience. We hiked up a mountain to get to the ancient caves at Laas Geel and the view of Somaliland at the top was absolutely breathtaking. For every sketch, our tour guide had a story to tell about humanity and the history of the people here in Somaliland. This location is most definitely one to visit if you ever get the chance.
Vlogging my trip
The portrayal of African countries in the media is usually negative as we are constantly bombarded with images of starving children and poverty. Reconnecting with your roots and visiting your home country can completely change your perception. That’s why it was really important for me to capture the beauty of my home country, culture and share my experience on my YouTube channel.
To watch Sue’s Somaliland Vlogs head to youtube.com/sueomar
Feature image by Rax Arn.