Can you imagine the first time I learnt about Somaliland (and the fact that it wasn’t just a fancy name for Somalia) was at the end of 2014 when I was dating a Somali-British guy who had been born in Somaliland? All this time anytime I heard about Somaliland, I thought it was another name for Somalia. Similar to Cote d’ivoire = Ivory Coast or something like that.
Anyway fast forward a few years and now I was living life as a proper fiction novelist – traversing the African continent for book launches, literature festivals etc. I heard about the Hargeysa International Book Fair and how amazing it is and decided I have to get invited. I’m a bit of a stalker, an optimist and have wide networks - so the time lag between me hearing of something and getting there is usually not that long:-). I know I am lucky and I never forget to appreciate it and be helpful to others whenever I can.
I got to the airport for my flight to Hargeisa and realized I had left my specs at home. This was not going to work out – it was one of the rare instances I was flying wearing contacts (dailies.) I paid my cab guy double fare for him to go back home and bring me the stuff I had forgotten on my bed. I got to the airport and I had so much wahala – I had my flight details sent to me but the flight details they had at the airport had the wrong name. My flight had unfortunately been booked under the name I commonly use – Ciku Kimeria – rather than my passport name. I had feared this and had reminded the organizers a few times, but it happens. It’s an honest mistake – people assume that my chosen name is also my “Government” name. I was desperate to get on that flight as I had heard there are not that many flights on that route. I pleaded with the airline people – please call the travel agent who booked the flight (as they had those details on their end.) On my end, I was desperately contacting the festival organizer. These were the least helpful airport people on earth. They did not seem to recognize the urgency of my issue. The lady was typing slowly, asking silly questions etc. then finally it happens, “Yeah. Your flight has left you!”
So I end up being sent to the Ethiopian Airlines office in the airport – they were even less helpful than this lady. “From this office we can only send emails – no calls”…Like….seriously?? So they could only send an email to the Ethiopian Airlines person in Hargeisa who had to change my details – then we wait – me chewing my nails, her filing hers (ok…just kidding, but she might as well have been doing that for how laissez-faire she was.) No response to the email. Finally I let her borrow MY cellphone for her to call their Hargeisa contact who would change my flight details. My flight had left at 1pm and all this foolishness was only resolved at 3pm. I was finally sorted out and booked on a 5:30pm flight to Hargeisa with an overnight stop in Addis.
I found mypal – James Murua – literature blogger extraordinaire also stuck at the airport. He had arrived in the morning for yet another flight to Hargeisa (also to attend the festival) and the airline had told him the flight had been cancelled. Not a small issue – his airline only had one flight a week to Hargeisa – meaning even if they bumped him to the next flight, he would miss the whole festival.
We did the only logical thing to do when you’re stuck at the airport and have nothing to do, but wait…we drank – 5 or so beers each – to lighten the load.
Finally managed to check in for the 5:30pm flight to Addis. We got to Addis at 8pm. There was an airport shuttle to the hotel I would be spending the night in – I sat and waited in this airport shuttle for 50 good minutes. By this point I was so tired and ready to get my own taxi to this hotel. I would have to leave the hotel at 5:45am for my next flight to Hargeisa and these people were wasting my precious sleeping time. At the hotel I quickly ate then went to the room to sleep. This was the coldest hotel room of my life in the global South. Actually I don’t think I have ever been in such a cold hotel room even in the North – because if it was winter, there would be a heater in the room. Ah – actually I’ve been in a colder room, but that was in the Bolivian desert. There was a good excuse for it to be cold. Hotel room in Addis – what’s your excuse?
I requested a blanket and waited another hour for it to come. I was so irritated by the time I slept..especially knowing I needed to be up in five and a half hours.