13 January 2011
I enjoyed la grosse matinee (sleeping in) thanks to the uber-comfortable bed and the black-out curtain that kept out the brilliant tropical sun. The Kempinski is also located on the outside edge of the port and my room overlooked the pool with a swim-up bar and the ocean so it was very quiet.
After a quick breakfast at the full breakfast bar, complete with an omelet chef, we collected our rented Nissan Patrol and headed out to see the city. It was quickly evident that the greater part of the population didn't speak French or English and many of the signs were in Arabic. However, the business class and most of the people we met with were equally competent in English and French and my Franco-handicapped traveling companions were able to communicate very easily.
For the greater part of the population the day revolved around the noon Khat delivery. In the morning the men would work hard to make whatever he could in order to buy khat, then spend the next couple hours sitting around and chewing the narcotic green leaves talking to friends and enjoying the high. The first 30-45 mins are supposed to make the chewer agitated, but then a cool mellow sets in the and the individual chills for the next couple hours. The drug is not illegal and about 75-80% of the male population chews khat. A friend related that khat is part of the reason for the stability in Djibouti as it keeps the people mellow. If the electricity goes out for two days or there is no water or food prices got up it's not a big deal. But, if there is no khat delivery for two days pandemonium would follow. Accordingly the state protects and ensures on time delivery of khat everyday.
When we returned to the hotel in the early afternoon after exploring we could see groups of men sitting in the shade leaning back and relaxing. The streets that were busy in the morning were now practically deserted, with only a few cars driven by Forengies (foreigners) on the road.
Later that evening we visited another friend and had dinner with several expat families living in the area. I relished the A&W root beer and cheddar cheese, which are very rare commodities in Africa. Over a great dinner of mostly Italian dishes (spaghetti, pesto, bread...) we learned about life for the expat families in Djibouti. With no English-speaking schools in the area all the expat kids attended the French school and the opportunities for recreation for the families were very limited. Most agreed that life in Djibouti was hard for expat families but several had requested extensions to stay longer in the area.
After we said goodbye and headed back to the hotel we were amused by the different sets of guards we passed by who would jump to attention and rush to open the gates to their walled compounds when they saw our headlights. I guess there isn't a lot of traffic after hours in the upscale residential areas.