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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Issas and Afars

When we first begin living in a new country/culture, we often think everything is immediately self-evident. Then, after a while, you realize there are mysteries lurking beneath the surface that only time reveals. When I first came to Djibouti, I categorized everyone I met as simply Djiboutian. As time passed, however, I was informed that there were two main tribes in Djibouti, the Issa and the Afar with the former being the majority. Later, I learned that there had often been conflict between the two including a civil war in the early '90s. It's difficult to get a lot of information about this conflict because members of both tribes are sensitive to discussing it probably for fear of what could happen again.

How does this affect everyday life? Well, prior to taking my trip to Lake Assal last week, I asked a few of my 'Issa' friends to go with me. They politely declined saying they would encounter 'trouble' if they went to that part of Djibouti. Apparently, the area around the lake is predominantly Afar and they would not appreciate an Issa being there. When I asked about going by myself, they assured me that I would have no problems. Isn't that ironic? A Westerner is safer in that part of Djibouti than one of its own citizens? Anyway, they were right. I had no problems at all.

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