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Somaliland: A Land In Limbo

Photojournalist Narayan Mahon has been working on an ongoing project called Lands In Limbo to document the state of what he calls "unrecognized countries." According to Mahon, these de facto states have broken away from their parent countries, but are still waiting for international recognition as independent lands.

Over the years, his self-funded journeys have taken him to Abkhazia, Northern Cyprus, Transdniestra, Nagorno Karabakh and Somaliland.

Mahon traveled to Somaliland in 2008 and 2009 to document its political, cultural and social landscape. His second trip was on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and he teamed up with a writer and fixer to navigate the country. Ironically, Mahon says, it was when he was traveling alone in 2008 that he was able to make the most meaningful images. He said he felt more free to move about the country, and had better, intimate access into people's lives.

"I wanted to show daily life as best I could as an outsider," he said. "I wanted to show the functionality of the place."

Mahon believes that Somaliland is succeeding as an independent state in ways that the other "lands in limbo" haven't. Although not formally recognized by the international community, Somaliland claims its own money and its own passports, and has developed its own system of rule independent of Somalia.

Men change money in central Hargeisa. Somaliland has its own currency — the Somaliland shilling. It takes stacks of shillings to equal one U.S. dollar, and piles of shillings are seen throughout the city, often transported by wheelbarrow. Theft in Somaliland is rare, and there are few reservations about having so much money out in the open. Narayan Mahon hide caption

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Narayan Mahon

Men change money in central Hargeisa. Somaliland has its own currency — the Somaliland shilling. It takes stacks of shillings to equal one U.S. dollar, and piles of shillings are seen throughout the city, often transported by wheelbarrow. Theft in Somaliland is rare, and there are few reservations about having so much money out in the open.

Narayan Mahon

"It's so pragmatic, it's just about wanting to have their own country and their own form of government," Mahon says. "To me that feels genuine; it feels almost wholesome."

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