What (not) to wear, in Somaliland…


Whilst waiting for the aforementioned permission to work I decided I should find some Somaliland-appropriate clothes. The fashion rules are pretty simple here, expose nothing higher than mid upper arm or ankle and cover the head. Women dont wear trousers so long skirts or dresses are the mainstay. If you think this leaves no room for individuality or glamour you’d be wrong. Headscarves can be worn in a number of ways, wrists are often adorned with gold, eyes may be heavily kohled, colours are bright and in the evening the dresses are embroidered or beaded and quite beautiful. 

I asked Fahima, the lovely operations manager at The Institute of Public Health to help me in my quest. Somaliland born but European raised she moved back recently to expose her children to her culture and help develop the country. So, along with friends we got a driver to take us to the local market after early breakfast. But not before she made me change from my UK clothes in to a traditional dress she had bought from home. ‘Its a traditional area’ she said. Translation: even thought you arent showing skin you still look too foreign.

The first task was negotiating entrance to the market. A labyrinth of sellers and stands and woman on the floor fanning flies away from wonderfully scented morsels of food, all piled under canvases slung between buildings. The matt of sellers spilled  into the street and we picked our way carefully to the shady market core. Once inside we had to choose materials, based on colour, pattern and textile. When all you wear is a large sack and a headscarf these details gain heightened importance. Cloth procured, we headed to the seamtress to get the dress, aka dirac, made up. Finally, the finishing touches – headscarves in complementing colours. 

And then came the fun bit, as we sat on plastic chairs the girls asked for the household items they needed. One by one, items were brought by young men eager to make a sale. A lady came round and we picked through her handmade jewellery. An old man wandered past with hot cups of somali tea. After deciding on the purchases to be made a man arrived, piled them into a wheelbarrow and off we went. Navigating our way out the shadowy market and in to the singing sunlight.

That should’ve been the end of the trip, but as we bumped our way down the chaotic streets towards home one of the girls spotted a fan she wanted. Immediately, the driver stopped, on a roundabout I should add, and shouted at the shopkeeper to bring it over. Hanging out the window, holding up a hooting line of traffic behind (with not an eyelid batted) the fan was examined and plugged in to demonstrate its power. It was paid for by saad, a kind of text payment sent phone to phone. And off we went, allowing the roundabout to function once again..


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