By James Jeffrey, for CNN
Hargeisa(ANN/CNN)You may well not have heard of Hargeisa.
This could have something to do with it being the capital city of a country that in the eyes of the rest of the world doesn’t exist: Somaliland.
The international community hasn’t recognized this would-be nation-state since it claimed independence from Somalia to its south in 1991.
But Hargeisa’s boisterous, welcoming inhabitants don’t let global politics get them down.
Their sun-blasted city is reinventing itself with or without international recognition.
Hence the colorful contrasts among its 800,000 residents.
Donkey carts jostle for road space with smart 4x4s.
Noisy telecommunication stores burst with activity one moment then empty in response to the call to prayer from mosques the next.
Goats and sheep share streets with Somaliland woman in bright kaftan dresses, clan elders, businessmen and trendy teenagers from the diaspora.
“There’s a buzz about Hargeisa that’s unencumbered by the stigma of being ‘Somalia’ and ‘an unsafe place to visit’ as preconceived by many people,” said Mark Rowlatt, a 56-year-old traveler passing through Somaliland during a world tour.
City in flux
It’s a city in flux, where formal Islamic culture — many women are veiled, and alcohol is prohibited — exists alongside a mishmash of chaotic street market commerce and more modern glass-fronted office buildings, trendy cafes and air-conditioned gyms.
And what this young city lacks in striking historical architecture it makes up for in ambiance and a sense of exploration.
The central market below the main thoroughfare of Independence Road contains a warren of tight lanes hiding everything from perfume, clothes and electronic goods to tinned foods, fruits, vegetables and pyramids of dazzlingly colored spices.
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