Friday, July 10, 2015


I realized over the past couple of weeks that I am really not a bucket list kind of person. I've never made a bucket list let alone set New Years resolutions. It might seem contradictory since I've been super lucky to travel a lot, and I'm a very goal oriented person. But truthfully everything I have done has simply been because I seek out opportunities and seize them when I get the chance. Last year I never would have guessed that I would be fasting for Ramadan (done with that experiment for now) or wearing a hijab everyday. 4 years ago I never could have guessed that I would end up being an official resident of the Netherlands for nearly 3 years (soon to be four more since I finally got and accepted my PhD offer). If I were to make a bucket list, it would literally change daily since the more and see and experience the more things I think I would like to do and see. But I've never felt pressure to complete things off a list. I just go with the flow and walk through any doors that are open along the way. Anyway, some bullet point adventures/thoughts from the past couple weeks.

  • About two weeks ago I had the "opportunity" to drive across the desert on non-existent roads to nearly melt in desert heat near the Djibouti border. The last time they made this trip they got lost in the desert because literally everything looks the same and there aren't convenient roads or street signs to direct you. And when I said drive, I meant literally drive. Yes I drove without my license in a big four wheel drive truck across the desert mountains. It was great fun besides my strong desire to throw my hijab out the window never to wear it again.

Early morning light in the desert after driving all night.

Melting in the early morning near the Djibouti border. People literally do nothing during the day but lay in the shade in water soaked clothes to withstand the heat. Thankfully, Hargeisa is not this hot and has a cool breeze.

Too hot to wear the hijab properly. Sorry. Taking a break from driving duties. No Somaliland is not like Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to drive.

  •  My conclusions from two weeks of fasting: I can see the value in trying to develop empathy for people but I don't see the point of empathy if it's not translated into action. Like what if when I fasted the food I'm giving up got given away to people who are hungry not by choice? Also, I think fasting has to be super intentional and come at a time when you are focused on fasting and your reasons for doing it. Not when you are busy with work and can't halt normal daily activities. While I like the idea of Ramadan and that everyone is "suffering" at the same time, as a non-Muslim I feel that fasting should be more intentional and suited to the individual. The biggest conclusion is that my body can't take it. I guess I burn off food quickly yet can't eat a lot at one time. Not a good mixture for fasting. 

Breaking the fast.
  • Mobile money is amazing. Surprisingly, although Somaliland is certainly undeveloped it is easily (at least in urban areas) a cashless society. I literally simply bring my phone with me everytime I want to make purchases. I get the merchant number from venders, type in my pin code and the amount I want to transfer and voila the merchant has received the money. This type of payment is so convenient and makes a lot of sense in a place where dollars are mostly used (Somaliland shillings are only used for small payments) and the banking system is not well functioning. I am very curious to understand why mobile money is widespread in Somaliland yet not as much in places like Uganda and Rwanda that are more developed. 
  • I have to confess. Living here as a woman is super hard, perhaps harder than I expected. Although the bag dresses (think a giant piece of fabric sewed up on either sides with holes left for the arms and head) are actually more comfortable when it's hot, I feel invisible. I've never been one to dress provocatively but part of me wouldn't mind if someone was checking out my butt because my body shape is somewhat visible. While I don't have any desire to flaunt my body, I like it and don't feel like hiding in clothes that make it impossible to know whether I'm male or female. Perhaps if I felt that dressing this way was a way to get closer to God and I grew up like this, I would feel more comfortable. But right now, this experience is fully stretching my adapting skills and comfort zone. 
  • Finally: the big news. I accepted a PhD position on frugal innovations in Africa for four years in the Netherlands. Thankfully, I will be spending a big chunk of those four years in Kenya and Rwanda. It is both comforting to have some certainty in my life but also frightening that I have just fixed the next four years of my life. Yikes. 

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