Our flight from İstanbul to Djibouti takes five hours. We land in the capital of this former French colony. For Turkish citizens, visas are required here, though you can get them at the border for $90.
Djibouti is a relatively small country, with a population of just 900,000. It achieved independence in 1977. Its official languages are still both Arabic and French, though people speak Somalian and Afari widely too.
Djibouti’s neighbors are Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Because of its location, it is a strategically important country, close to the Arab peninsula. The Yemeni shoreline lies only 20 kilometers away from Djibouti.
Most of the Djibouti population is composed of Isa Somalis and native Ethiopian Afars. In fact, the breakdown of the country’s population is 60 percent Somali and 35 percent Afar. Notably, nearly 100 percent of Djiboutians are Muslim.
Mosques and their minarets dot the city silhouette of Djibouti. Here, the weekend holiday begins on Thursday afternoon and continues on through Friday. The first day of the week is counted as Saturday.
There are a number of beautiful hotels throughout Djibouti, most of them along the shoreline.
In terms of climate, Djibouti is one of the hottest countries on earth, especially during its summer months. In fact, the temperature sometimes reaches and passes 50 degrees Celsius. There is very little rain, and even the winter months bear no resemblance to winter in much of the northern hemisphere.
The capital of Djibouti carries the same name as the country: Djibouti. It is by far the most crowded and developed city in the country.
Two thirds of the country living in Djibouti city
There are around 600,000 people living in Djibouti city, or about two-thirds of the entire population of the country. The city square at the center of the city is called Menelik Square. It is the most well-known and congregated city square in the country.
Djibouti city is a port city. Part of what makes this port so important is its proximity to global shipping routes. The natural deep port serves not only the population of Djibouti, but also the country’s many neighbors. And the port is also, notably, the gateway to the rest of the world for neighbor Ethiopia, which is otherwise landlocked. Yes, Ethiopia, with its population of around 100 million, depends on the port of Djibouti for exports and imports going out to and coming in from the rest of the world.
There are two military bases in this tiny country. One belongs to the French and the other to Americans. There are many French and American citizens living here.
While doing some filming in Djibouti, we can’t help but notice a relaxation facility where there is a sign posted that says “Closed to everyone but the French.”
Activity in Djibouti begins with the morning prayers, and continues into the stifling heat of the afternoon. State offices open at eight in the morning and grind to a halt at 12 noon. There is a four-hour rest period that runs from 12 p.m.-4p.m. These same state offices then reopen for another two hours.
At around one in the afternoon, the national habit of chewing “qat” begins. Almost no one is left on the streets when this starts. You wouldn’t be all that wrong to say that life in the city comes to a halt during these hours. As it is, the heat makes it impossible for most people to operate during these hours anyway. People return to their homes, or wherever it is that they are chewing their qat, for this time.
Interestingly, Djibouti pays Ethiopia around $300 million annually for all the qat it brings in.
The streets of the capital city are full and filled with action, though we notice that people are not so enthusiastic about being filmed. When they learn that we are from Turkey and are Muslim, they become more open and friendly, though.
During our tour of the city, we visit Mahmud Harbi Square. This is one of the city’s most famous and important squares and meeting points. It is a spot from which you can pick up minibuses and shared taxis to a number of other points. The most historic mosque in all of Djibouti is the Mahmudi Mosque.
The currency in Djibouti is the Djibouti franc. You can head to a bank to change money here or you can use one of the money changers lined up along the streets here. Interestingly, many of the money changers we meet here are women; one is named Halime. She waits in the shadows of a tall building hoping to change dollars and euros into Djibouti francs for customers.
The general landscape on this front shows just how safe Djibouti is as a country. Most women walk around with bags of money for change and yet there is no fear of robbery. We only wish the same could be said for Turkey.
A luxurious hotel in Djibouti
Locals in the capital
The Parliamentary building of Djibouti