Djibouti: Djibouti City

Welcome to Djibouti City, a major shipping port and military base of operations on the horn of Africa…

… a place whose strategic location, religion, politics, corruption, and inhospitable climate conspire to create a perverse mix of wealth and poverty.

Where is Djibouti?

Despite its small size and arid climate, Djibouti’s location makes it one of the most strategically interesting countries in the entire world–first, as the southern gateway to the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes–second, as a vital seaport for landlocked neighbor Ethiopia–and third, but not least, as an international military base of operations in the midst of one of the most dangerous, politically-unstable regions on the planet.

Getting There

Djibouti is serviced by Ethiopian Airlines operating out of Addis Ababa…

Boarding plane from Addis Ababa to Djibouti
Aerial view of the flat, inhospitable terrain

Military Bases

Its location in the midst of some of the most politically unstable and dangerous countries in the world (Yemen, Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia) makes Djibouti a strategically important base of operations for American and European military powers.

International Military Presence: C130s, Ospreys
C130 off loading

Djibouti Passport Visa

As an American passport holder, I was able to get a visa upon arrival.

Notice the languages: French (a vestige of French colonialism) and Arabic…

Djibouti Visa

Djibouti’s Currency

The currency (Francs) is also a vestige of French colonialism…

Djibouti Francs

Taxi Ride from Airport, Taxi Driver, Peace Message Mural

Djibouti Hotel

$100 a night, no kidding–in a place of extreme poverty–a stark reminder of my freedom, safety, wealth, power, and privilege as an American citizen.

Mustafa, hotel owner
Shower with single knob, no hot water.
Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
Saying hello and thank you to the fun, friendly, [Christian] Ethiopian ladies in the kitchen.
Local Muslim lady left, four Ethiopian ladies right.
Some gratitude for my housekeeper, as well as some diplomacy and shameless self-promotion.

Djibouti Street Scenes

The Western military presence helps creates an atmosphere of relative calm and safety in a place where poverty, famine, unemployment, human trafficking, prostitution, and drug abuse are widespread.

The following photos beg a simple question (just one of many): What prevents a miniscule fraction of the countless megabucks coming in from outside military interests to trickle down to providing some shade for mothers and their children at the bus station?

Djibouti Bus Station: Buses, Police
Trash Pile
Djibouti Bus Station: Ladies, Minibuses
Lady, Pigeons
Goats really do eat almost anything
Mosque, Ladies, Taxis
Mother and child. (The police stopped me and looked through all my pix after I took this photo) [Frank hopes to turn this into a separate travel story]
Empty Streets during Friday Sabbath

Food & Drink

I don’t remember what this cost, but probably the equivalent of several day’s wages for a hard-working citizen here.


Rubbing elbows with multi-national military personnel at a first-rate Italian restaurant…
Taking advantage of my privilege–enjoying delicious pizza and beer–despite the rampant injustice and poverty just outside the front door.

Random Stuff

Police matter seen from hotel room
Kobe Bryant, Turkish Airlines Advertisement

Shisha Bar on the Waterfront

Sharing a shisha with Fatuma and Arafo, two delightful ladies from Canada who spoke fluent English and were in Djibouti doing business development. [Frank plans to turn this into a separate travel story]
There’s a story (currently classified Secret) behind the empty space. [Frank plans to turn this into a separate travel story]
Sunset over the port of Djibouti

Departing Djibouti, Another Lesson in Humility

[Frank hopes to turn this into a separate travel story]

As I arrived at the Djibouti airport to fly back to Addis Ababa, an assertive young man offered to fill out my exit paperwork. After needing a moment to understand what he was saying, I admired his initiative, handed him my passport, accepted his service, and tipped him generously. Yet another reminder of what a privileged bubble I live in.

Djibouti Disembarkation Card.

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