CapitalMogadishu
GovernmentFederal Government
CurrencySomali shilling (SOS)
Area637,657 sq km
Population17,753,310 (2002 estimate based on 1975 census)
LanguageSomali (official), Arabic, Italian, English
ReligionIslam
Electricity240V/50Hz (UK plug)
Country code+252
Internet TLD.so
Time ZoneUTC+3

Somalia (Somali: Soomaaliya; Arabic: الصومال‎ aṣ-Ṣūmāl) is on the Horn of Africa, and is bordered by Ethiopia to the west, Djibouti to the north-west, and Kenya on its south-west.

History

The history of the Somali people dates back many centuries. The first time the word Somali was mentioned in a history book was 3500 years ago, when the queen of Egypt Hatshepsut sent a fleet of 5 large ships and a crew of 250 men to Somalia which the Egyptians called The Land of Punt. Punt means “the land of spices” from the aromatic plants that grow there. The Egyptians wanted to trade and they brought jewels and glass beads that they exchanged for gold, elephant tusks, myrrh, ostrich feathers, spices and different beads. Some of these items, especially the aromatic ones, were used by the Egyptians in their religious festivals and celebrations.

Climate

Somalia is principally desert. Major climatic factors are a year-round hot climate, seasonal monsoon winds, and irregular rainfall with recurring droughts. Mean daily maximum temperatures range from 30 °C to 40 °C (85–105 °F), except at higher elevations and along the east coast. Mean daily minimums usually vary from about 25°C to 40°C (77–104 °F). The southwest monsoon, a sea breeze, makes the period from about May to October the mildest season at Mogadishu. The December-February period of the northeast monsoon is also relatively hot. The “tangambili” periods that intervene between the two monsoons (October–November and March–May)are very hot and humid.

Food

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Somali meals are meat driven, vegetarianism is relatively rare. Goat, beef, lamb and sometimes chicken is fried in ghee, or grilled or broiled. It is spiced with turmeric, coriander, cumin and curry and eaten with basmati rice for lunch, dinner and sometimes breakfast.

Vegetables appear to largely be side dishes, and often are woven into a meat dish, such as combining potatoes, carrots and peas with meat and making a stew. Green peppers, spinach and garlic were also noted as the types of vegetables most commonly eaten. Bananas, dates, apples, oranges, pears and grapes are among some of the more popular fruits (a raw, sliced banana is often eaten with rice). But in Somalia, Somalis had a much larger selection of fruits – like mango and guava – from which they would make fresh juice. Somali stores, therefore, carry among the widest selection of fruit juices, both Kern1s juices as well as imports from India and Canada. And there is also a selection of instant juice: frozen or available as a powder.

Drinks

Somalis adore spiced tea. A minority of Somalis drink a tea similar to Turkish tea which they brought from Middle eastern countries to their homeland. However, the majority drink a traditional and cultural tea known as Shah Hawaash because it is made of cardamom (in Somali, Xawaash or Hayl} and cinnamon bark (in Somali, Qorfe).

Respect

This is a Muslim country. As such, be sensitive about where you point your camera. There are many great photo opportunities around every corner (the question is usually what to leave out of each image), but when photographing people, always ask first. Don’t ever, ever try to take pictures of women, even if you’re a woman yourself. This is considered a great offense and can even result in more than a few harsh words. Also don’t try to take pictures of anything that looks as if it could be of any strategic importance (i.e., has at least one soldier, policeman or, more likely, armed militiaman guarding it).

Respect the Islamic beliefs of Somali people: Women shouldn’t wear tube tops or skimpy outfits. It is absolutely acceptable for any nationality to wear the traditional Somali clothes.

Do not eat in public during the holy month of Ramadan — you may be fined or even go to jail. The Al-Shabab Islamist militia can be found in many inhabited areas. They absolutely do not take kindly to any kind of violation of Sharia law and as they are not affiliated with any kind of government, they do not have to abide by any kind of laws per se, they will feel free to punish any abberant behavior any way they please, often by floggings, amputations, or even executions. Government authorities also punish violations of Sharia law, but these are generally less harsh than those imposed by insurgents.

Alcohol is prohibited in Somalia and possessing alcohol will get you into a lot of trouble — and never drink and drive.

If you’re dining with a Somali, don’t expose the bottoms of your feet to him/her. Don’t eat with your left hand either, since the left hand is seen as the ‘dirty hand’. Similarly, don’t attempt to shake hands or hand a package with your left hand.

If your Somali friend insists on buying you something – a meal or a gift – let him! Somalis are extremely hospitable, and typically there are no strings attached. It is generally a custom to argue for the bill.

Never discuss religion from an atheistic or similar point of view. Even highly-educated Somalis who studied abroad won’t appreciate it and doors will close for you. Also be aware that the Islamic “call to prayer” happens five times daily and can be heard loudly almost anywhere you go. Just understand that most Somali people are used to it and enjoy it as part of the cultural experience. If you aren’t Muslim, it is not expected for you to participate, but you should always sit quietly and respectfully until the prayers end.

Staring is quite common in Somalia; children, men and women are likely to stare at you simply for being a foreigner, especially if you travel off-season and in out-of-the-way places. This is not meant as an insult; it rather shows an interest, and a friendly smile will leave the kids giggling and showing off, and the adults happily trying out their few English phrases.

Contact

The public telecommunications system was almost completely destroyed or dismantled by the civil war factions. Local cellular telephone systems have been established in Mogadishu and in several other population centers. International connections are available from Mogadishu by satellite. International outgoing connections also work from the cellular infrastructure. There is dialup internet access in Mogadishu, by visiting one of the internet cafes. Somalia has the cheapest cellular calling rates on the continent, with some companies charging less than the equivalent of US cent per minute. Competing phone companies have agreed on interconnection standards, which were brokered by the United Nations funded Somali Telecom Association.

Wireless service and Internet cafés are available

GSM Cellular Operators in Somalia

Somafone (GPRS 2G network)
Nationallink
Hormuud Telecom
Telsom Mobile
Golis Telecom Somalia
Somtel (3G network)