Giving something back

Fancy terms such as ‘cultural sensitivity’ and ‘low-impact tourism’ often boil down to good old-fashioned respect and common sense. As a visitor, you should be willing to adapt to and respect local customs and traditions. For example, learn a bit of the local language, seek the permission of the community leader before roaming through villages, and ask before you take photographs.

Be aware, too, that greeting procedures tend to be more formalised in Somaliland than in modern Western societies, and elderly people in particular should be treated with special respect. If you need to ask somebody directions, or anything else for that matter, it is considered very rude to blunder straight into interrogative mode without first exchanging greetings.

Somaliland is a strictly Islamic country and generally very conservative. It would be imprudent to get involved in religious discussions of any sort, and atheist or agnostic visitors will be better off saying they are Christian than declaring their lack of faith. Local clothing mores are conservative, for males and females, and should be followed closely by visitors. Be aware that Somalilanders, like most other Muslims, reserve the use of the left hand for ablutions, and the right hand for eating and other social activities. It is considered highly insulting to use one’s left hand to pass or receive something, or to shake hands left handed. If you eat with your fingers, as is customary in Somaliland, use the right hand only, or you risk causing serious offence.

Also be careful to use energy resources such as water and electricity efficiently, not to wash in lakes or rivers (regardless of local practices, because of pollution) or get too close to the wildlife. Shop locally and use the services of local people whenever possible. Buy souvenirs from the craftspeople who made them rather than via middlemen who will siphon off profits, and patronise small street vendors rather than big supermarkets. Don’t bargain unreasonably; the difference may be the cost of a drink to you but a whole family meal to the vendor. Use the services of a local guide, or a child who wants to help, and pay a fair rate.

Back to the top