Few countries in the world can boast such a wide cultural base as Djibouti. It is located on the Horn of Africa along the Red Sea, one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. Arab, Indian, French, Somali and Yemini cultures all blend in with the local Afar and Issas tribes.
The capital, named after the country, is a minor port and the city has a wonderful mix of French colonial architecture, sprinkled with traditional tribesmen, French legionnaires, hennaed women, Somali refugees and American soldiers.
The food is as colorful. Local cuisine has taken the influences of regional African dishes, added in some seafood and given it a French twist to create some unusual specialities. This includes foie (liver) and cabri farci (stuffed kid goat).
The landscape is desolate, dry and very hot with temperatures ranging between 61 and 117 degrees Fahrenheit. The dramatic volcanic landscape, arid desert, vast salt lakes, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea coast are the main attractions. It is a ‘biodiversity hotspot’ with a wide range of fauna and flora. There are over 800 plant species and almost 1,500 animal species, as well as the beautiful coral reefs.
A common sight outside the towns and cities are tribes of Afar nomads and caravans of camels. They still practise the tradition of filing their front teeth into points and the women are adorned with headdresses of beads and scarves. They are known for their incredible skill of memory. They remember long messages, phone numbers (most communities now have a cell phone, especially if they are nomadic)and family trees. This gift is attributed to their traditional and nomadic lifestyle where the spoken word is seen to be of more value that the written word. More of their history and heritage is shared verbally than has been documented, and this is a celebrated and highly respected aspect of their culture.
Djibouti is dwarfed by its neighbors Ethiopia and Somalia. It is often dragged into their confrontations and unrest. This is partly because of its location and value as a port, and partly due to the region’s tribes living across country borders. Today Djibouti faces many modern challenges of politics, technology and disease. The country is dependent mostly on Official Development Assistance (ODA) and poverty creates further problems. But this East African secret is distinctive in its beauty and unique in its people.