An escarpment of sandstone and limestone mountains rises above the gulf in the north, reaching as high as 3937 feet; parts of the mountains receive rainfall sufficient to support forests of cedar trees and farming, while other areas are dry. On the eastern coast lies the granite Ogaden plateau, covered with thorny grass that grows up to 51 inches tall. The rest of the country is mostly savannah. Farming occurs mostly in the land between the country’s two permanent rivers, the Juba and the Shebelle. Here farmers grow sorghum, millet and maize, as well as fruit such as bananas. Aromatic frankincense and myrrh trees have also grown in Somalia since Biblical times, especially in the northern parts.

The rest of the country is very arid. Acacia trees, whose roots plunge down deeply for water, provide welcome shade on the otherwise barren plains. Animals and people alike wait for evening to travel and hunt. Despite the severe climate, periods of rain bring relief, and the savannah is able to support much wildlife: lions, giraffes, rhinoceroses, leopards, zebras, antelope, warthogs and wild asses live here, as well as many species of birds, such as eagles, storks and bustards. Varieties of snakes and scorpions live in the dry plains, and crocodiles in the coastal waters.

Rain and drought dominate much of Somali life and all the four seasons: gu, hagaa’, dayr and jilaal. The rainy gu season, from April to June, is the most pleasant time of year in most of the country, though floods can ruin crops. The dry hagaa’ season (July to September) is the hottest time of year; the red, dusty soil can be bare of all vegetation, and temperatures average 80.6°, but can reach 149°. Hagaa’ is broken by the dayr rains in October and November. In general, northern Africa is becoming more desert-like every year; droughts have been increasing in frequency and severity.

The harshest, longest season is jilaal, the hot windy season, which lasts from December to March. Jilaal is the most dangerous time of year for nomads and their herds because temporary water holes dry up. Life becomes a constant search for water.

  Did you know?

Traditionally, age in Somalia is calculated by the number of gu’s a person has lived. Gu is also normally the peak season for marriages, contests and dispute settlements.


Above the Volker Hills

Warthogs [above]

The rare Spekes gazelle [above]