The Red sea water bottle and the wonder that is Djibouti

A crow perches on the terrace along the shores of the Red sea at Sheraton hotel in Djibouti.Photo | Mary Wambui

What you need to know:

“Bring me a bottle of water from the sea?” my sister requests. What a strange request? Instead of requesting for fabric or perfume, my sister is actually asking to get a feel of the actual waters that Jesus walked on

I am standing on the shores of the Red sea, near Djibouti Palace in Kempinski when a text from my elder sister comes through via WhatsApp.

“Please bring me a bottle of water from the sea?” It’s quite an unusual request.

 I ask her “What for?”

“Soveniour! Carry about half a litre in a small bottle.” she texts back

Still in shock, I ask her “Will it be allowed past the airport checks?”

“You are going to declare it before they ask.  You can carry the desert soil as well?” 

Mary Wambui taking a selfie on the shores of the Red sea at Sheraton hotel in Djibouti. Photo | Mary Wambui

At this point, I laugh out loudly. What a strange request? Instead of requesting for fabric or perfume, my sister is actually asking to get a feel of the actual waters that Jesus walked on during a storm in the book of Mathew albeit on the side of Galilee in Israel.

The request for soil was to tease me for getting shocked at the request for water. I know for sure!

However, it was her thirst for what she had not seen that gave me reason to extend my stay at the beach soaking my feet in the waters that I imagined contained healing properties.

I am in Djibouti for an Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional training of media practitioners from the East and Horn of Africa on adoption of Gender sensitive reporting to Counter violent extremism.

Research shows that terrorism is no longer a preserve of men, women too can be perpetrators of the vice through financing, planning and executing attacks.

The training is meant to create a community of journalists that advocate against terrorism and violent extremism. 

A group of 23 journalists from Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania and Rwanda were shortlisted from a pool of over 1200 applicants to attend the training that sought to demystify our gender preconceptions when reporting stories on terrorism and violent extremism.

One of the participants, while narrating what had amazed him during the visit, reckoned that a Djibouti woman had confessed that they take early morning swims in the sea to detox their skin, she claimed the water has healing properties.

It is this healing that I sought when I soaked my feed into the sea for two hours hoping to leave the beach with softer heels.

“You are lucky you visited during winter, this turns into a natural sauna over summer” Raymond, a Kenyan I met during one of my night escapades at the city tells me.

Temperatures in Djibouti extend to above 40 degrees Celsius during summer, making it easier for the locals to shop at night.

A normal workday here begins at 8am and ends at noon after which locals, mainly Muslim retreat to the mosques for prayers and to their houses for shade.

At 4pm, businesses reopen and the city comes to life but it's most active at night when the sun is completely gone.

“Security is good around here, no one will grab your purse or phone,” a local tells me.

True to her words, the few days I have been around here have shown me a rare side of humanity.

The people of Djibouti are kind and always willing to help. It is a small country with a population of less than a million and I get the impression that everyone knows everyone.

How then do you explain that after taking a cab to town, the following day, my fellow East Africa women and I were driven straight to our hotel without telling the driver where we had booked for the night?

“When I first moved to this city, I took a cab and the driver asked if to drop me home and I said yes, curious to see if he knew where I resided. I was shocked to see him drive right into my gate,” Dr Simon Nyambura, IGAD’s Director of the Centre for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism in the Horn of Africa, confessed.

Luckily, Djibouti is a safe country, arguably the most crime-free nation in the Horn of Africa with near zero cases of terrorism.

This however does not mean that it is free being a target seeing that it hosts more than 10 military bases of countries that are engaged in the fight against Al shabaab in Somalia.

And as trends in terrorism continue to change with the adoption of technology to fundraise, radicalise and plan attacks; Djibouti can learn a lesson or two to maintain the safety amongst its population and the calm along its streets.

Apart from the military officials guarding the presidential palace, I am yet to spot any other officer donning bullet proof vests. The most sophisticated weapon sighted is a small rifle.

I long for that day when my home country shall be free of terrorists and the need for constant surveillance. I’m sure security officials also long for a similar kind of rest.

From a week of eating preserved food to bathing in very salty waters, I miss that plate of Ugali and Sukumawiki the most.

Thank you Djibouti for your hospitality but nothing feels better than home.

Even Rita misses her matoke and Alex his Githeri.

And no, I will not carry a sample of the Red sea waters home.



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