Waugh in Djibouti

The Daily Beast, an internet newspaper that it owes its title to Waugh, has run a background article on the small east African nation of Djibouti. Their correspondent Tim Mak made a trip to the country which is now host to armies from seven countries with sometimes competing interests in the area. This includes the U.S., Japan and China, as well as France which was the colonial power at the time of Waugh’s 1930s visit when it was called French Somaliland.

Mak reports, inter alia,  on the desolation of the city of Djibouti whose spookily empty streets, even at midday, remind him of Waugh’s description:

It’s 2:30 p.m. in downtown Djibouti, and it is a ghost town. The streets are deserted, even along the main roads leading to the city center. In the 1930s, when novelist Evelyn Waugh toured what was then known as French Somaliland, he bemoaned the area’s “intolerable desolation,” calling it a “country of dust and boulders, utterly devoid of any sign of life.” … Eighty-five years after Waugh’s remarks, the streets of the capital clear almost every afternoon. The heat is so incredibly intense that the workday starts and ends early, and then much of the population heads home to chew khat, a leafy plant that is engrained in local culture but banned in most of the West.

The quote from Waugh appears in his book Remote People (1931, p. 23, in the U.S. entitled They Still Were Dancing). Waugh passed through the country on his way to Abyssinia via the railroad that extended from the port at Djibouti to Addis Ababa.

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