Sunday, February 18, 2007

Purgatory

The War on Terror. A nice idea in theory perhaps, but on closer inspection it just doesn't make the grade. For a start if one were to think about it carefully the name itself doesn't make any sense. Terrorism is the use (or threatened use) of violence against non-combatants for political purposes, which is basically another definition of modern warfare (although war doesn't target civilians, the way war is waged nowadays they bear the full brunt of its effects). And so I have become one of the latest casualties in this contradictory war (for those of you who are reading this back home don't worry about me, I'm OK, I'm just giving in to my penchant for self-pity and melodrama).

The Horn of Africa is one of the places where this so-called war is being played out, which at least partly explains my earlier problems with the Ethiopians and the police. I am sure it is also the reason I am having difficulty getting into Eritrea (my guidebook says it's possible to get a visa in a day, but it's been over a week now and I've been told that it would take at least one more) and I'm hearing rumours that Sudan is posing problems for overland travellers. This has cut the number of options open to me down to one: taking a boat north to Egypt. So for the past week I've been doing the rounds of the ports here in Djibouti with Chris (a Canadian traveller who is also trying to get out of the country) trying to see if there's anything going our way, and if so whether they'll take us. Private yachts seem loath take hitchers and so we've been concentrating our efforts on cargo ships.

The cargo port is a fascinating place with ships and sailors from all corners of the globe: Ethiopia, Korea, America, Panama, Syria, India and China are all represented. Initially I felt like a trespasser who didn't belong, lurking around the ships and asking where they were heading and when, but soon I began to enjoy clambering aboard and carrying out my investigations. The range of responses from the different nationalities just served to remind me how topsy turvy this world is. When inquiring at the American ship we were deluged by an avalanche of no's before we even had the chance to ask a single question. Most ships would turn us away with a polite negative - "sorry, we're not allowed to take passengers" or "we're going in the other direction" - but it was the Arabs, who lately seem to have all been tarred by the terrorist brush (so much so that I can't even wear my keffiyeh in Djibouti without getting taunts of "Al Qaeda"), who invariably welcomed us aboard and offered us tea and cigarettes even if they weren't going where we wanted. One friendly captain who took the time to speak with us explained that in the past hitching a ride was no problem, but that during this past year there has been a security clampdown in the Red Sea. There are constant patrols and checks at sea and visas are no longer issued on arrival at ports, so shipping agents are very reluctant to take passengers for fear of getting into trouble with the authorities and running up delays. Not good news for us travellers.

In between our frequent visits to the port there hasn't been much to do except laze about, shoot the breeze and play silly games. And so I've begun adopting the local custom of taking a siesta and doing nothing at all between midday and 4 o'clock (although I've drawn the line at chewing qat). Not that you can get anything done during this time even if you wanted to as the whole country grinds to a halt and starts chewing qat. If only I could be so insouciant but I'm getting rather fed up and just want to get out of here as soon as I can.

1 comment:

Ex-Shammickite said...

Oh no, so you're still trapped in Djibouti. You must know all the locals by their first names by now. A boat to Egypt sounds like a good idea. I was in Egypt a little over 10 years ago, this time as a Tourist, not a Traveller, and I thought it was a wonderful country, and would love to go back and have another look. You'll enjoy it, once you get there!
What sort of food can you get in Djibouti? Obviously no fish'n'chips and beans on toast, but it would be interesting to hear about your dining experiences. BTW say hello to your Canadian companion, where is he from in Canada? V cold here, Djibouti may not be ideal, but at least it's warm there. F.