Humanity created an abstract world: one of politics, cultures, art, and religions, through our ability to communicate complex ideas. But all of these concepts are greatly influenced by something tangible and concrete: Geography. Take Djibouti, for example. It is a small country – about the size of New Jersey. One would believe this land, a hot desert and grassland landscape, does not hold much significance in the world. And yet, the placement of the piece of land makes it more significant than you could imagine.
Djibouti lies at the juncture of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, expanding into the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. It is a gateway into the Horn of Africa. The Middle East lies a boat ride away. The Port of Djibouti City, the capital, is among the busiest shipping routes in the world. It has a large international military presence, including the United States and China. After September 11th, Djibouti suddenly became a very important place for the United States simply because of its location.
For the last several years, geography has remained relative and important for Djibouti due to that most ancient human concept of boundaries. A simple line in the sand is scrutinized over, fought for, died for. Land is precious and political, the ultimate symbol of currency and ownership. In June of 2017, Qatar announced it would dismiss its military presence within the boundary in question, one between Djibouti and Eritrea. As neighboring countries have been cutting ties with Qatar, taking a stance against terrorism and against countries (Qatar) who seem impartial to fighting terrorism, the isolation of Qatar acted as a catalyst to the military exit. Since then, China has taken its place as mediator, but Djibouti and Eritrea continue to simmer and brew over a physical landscape that symbolizes so much more. The boundary in question is valued due to its trading leverage: a small island, and a patch of mainland. For these countries, that piece of land is the difference between prosperity and poverty.
Boundaries have always been, and forever will be, a hot-bed for warfare and mistrust. Russia and Crimea. Israel and Palestine. Pakistan and India. While the Djibouti-Eritrea boundary is not even the most disputed or contentious of these, it highlights this: At the heart of our present-day circumstances, the land has controlled our destinies, not ourselves, and our fate is tied to our planet’s fate. We are entirely dependent on its resources.
Furthermore, it is a reminder that the land we live on can be more than a physical place, but a spiritual, philosophical entity of ourselves. The ground we sleep on, the soil we harvest, and the trees we watch grow into space holds our very identity. Desert, ocean, forest, mountains – it all shapes the way we live, the experiences we have, and therefore, our beliefs about the world. We lose ourselves within it. It stores memory from yesteryears, the imaginings of our future, and reaffirms our place in the world.
An excellent example of this is Scarlett O’Hara at the end of the classic film, Gone with the Wind. After too much sass, personal tragedy, and miscommunication, Rhett Butler leaves Scarlett to her lonesome. What pulls Scarlett out of her depression and misfortune? The thought of returning to Tara, her childhood home and family plantation. Land is the only thing that matters, her deceased father’s voice says, dancing through her head, as Scarlett regains her precious dignity. Tara, despite being in ruin after the Civil War, grounds Scarlett throughout the movie, and pulls her through war, loss, and yes, even being deserted by the charming rascal, Rhett.
We naturally crave definition, labels, and structure in a floating world, ever-changing. So much so, we kill and die for things like boundaries. As our world becomes smaller and more globalized, this will continue to be a topic. As our world becomes more and more stretched for resources, the land evermore precious, may we continue to advocate for our planet and for future generations. But in the meantime, let’s talk about our hopes and fears over a delicious stew of spiced lamb. Nothing says togetherness like a pot of stew, an age-old cure for the blues and sorrows of humankind.
Teresa: “Easy to make, delicious to eat!”
Spencer: “This had more of an Middle Eastern feel. I am really starting to love the Middle Eastern flavors, and lamb is growing on me.”
- The capital of Djibouti is Djibouti City
- The official languages include Arabic and French, but many people speak Somali and Afar
- Djibouti is home to one of the saltiest bodies of water on Earth: Lake Assal
- Over 93% of women and girls in Djibouti have undergone female genital mutilation surgery, an unnecessary and dangerous procedure that increases death and maternal mortality rates. The practice, rooted in gender inequality and done throughout Asia and Africa, is highly popular within Eastern Africa, including Djibouti
- In the past two decades, education, including expanding the number of children receiving it, providing quality educators, and resources used to teach, has been a priority of the Djibouti government – and they’re getting positive results. Read more here
- Djibouti is a multiethnic nation, but the majority of individuals are Issa Somali (60%) and Afar (35%)
- Adopted after Djibouti’s independence from France on June 27, 1977
- Blue: Sea, Sky, the Issa Somalis
- Green: Land, the Afars
- White: Peace
- Red Star: Unity and Blood shed for independence