We made it out of Yemen, and are in Greece now. More to come later, but here is the Picasa Album.
Check out the Picasa Album for all the new pictures.
I apologize for the long blog absence; it’s been a pretty busy few weeks. We’ve done a lot since David last posted, so I’ll try to keep the descriptions of
these places short. We have visited Ibb, Taiz, Jibla and Dar Al-Hajar. I also managed to land my self a job copy editing a new English-language newspaper called “National Yemen.”
In Ibb we visited an old fort at the top of a mountain, whose name translates to “Seed Fort.” I can’t remember who controlled it, but they used it to store seeds that they collected as either tax or zakat (one of the five pillars of Islam) from the people. The fort was sort of run down, but still surprisingly intact. Next to the main building were old storage chambers dug into the rocky mountaintop.
On our way back down to the van we passed an SUV with a Yemeni looking man in the driver’s seat. However, when he rolled down the window, we were greeted with a thick New York accent, asking us “How you doin’?” Apparently most of the Yemeni immigrants to the US come from the Ibb region.
We spent the next day or so in and around Taiz; a city about an hour away from Ibb. Many people in Sana’a say that I look like I’m from here, but when we got there all the Taizies said, “no way, you’re from [fill in the blank].” I guess I haven’t quite found my Yemeni roots.
Anyway, the trip to Taiz was pretty good. The night we got there was spent just wondering around, looking at the town. I had chewed qat during the day, and therefore couldn’t sleep, so I went and checked out the Old City. It is a lot like the one in Sana’a, but much smaller. There were also these dried fish, sardine type things everywhere, which you don’t find in Sana’a.
The second day we visited the “stranger tree” about an hour outside the city. I can’t remember the type of tree (sorry Andi), but it was two to three thousand years old and originates from North Africa (Ethiopia I believe). They call it the stranger tree because it is the only one of its kind in the area. On the way back to Taiz we stopped along a river and had lunch under a patch of trees next to a Banana grove.
My favorite part of that trip was the citadel in Taiz that we visited night. It is called the “Cairo Citadel”; I’m assuming because the Egyptians were the last ones to have control over it. It is situated along the mountainside overlooking the town, and was traditionally the house of whoever ruled the city. Now it is museum of sorts, and appears to be undergoing some serious renovation. I decided that once the renovations are done, I want to live there. I’m sure the Yemeni government would love to sell a landmark to a foreigner, an American nonetheless. I’ll stop my description here because the pictures do this place more justice than I can.
On the way back to Sana’a we stopped in Jibla; a UNESCO world heritage site that was made prominent by Queen Arwa. She was one of two Yemeni Queens and is known as one of the greatest Yemeni rulers. Unfortunately, Jibla was also the site of a gruesome terrorist attack in 2003.
For those who are concerned about the security situation here, you’ll be glad to know that we had a military escort (a jeep with a big machine gun and 5 soldiers) all the way from Jibla back to Sana’a.
One of the most striking things about this trip was lack of tourists. If any of these castles, forts, citadels or trees were located in Europe or another not so “dangerous” country they would be completely overrun. The Yemeni government has some serious work to do in the tourism promotion department. Too bad it’s Ramadan and no one’s really working.
The lack of tourism was made up for on the visit to Dar Al-Hajar, which literally means a “house on a rock.” This is one of the most visited tourists sites in Yemen, and is even featured on the front of one of the popular bottled water brands. Before going to the actual house, we stopped at cliff overlooking the valley. People asking for money immediately swamped us. One guy had a hawk, and was trying to charge us to take a picture with it. Another group of guys had little 22s that they wanted us to shoot at a piece of wood before they took our money. Luckily only one of us (not me) got suckered into the game.
The house itself was, in my opinion, underwhelming. It was built in the 1930s for an Imam. It was cool, but I prefer f the more mountainous regions. The one really interesting section was there old photography exhibit. It was mostly black and white pictures taken by European missionaries in the 1930s and 1940s. It is remarkable how little has changed since then. I swear that I have a couple of identical pictures of the old city in Sana’a.
That’s it for now, and hopefully there won’t be such a long gap before my next update. We have another week and a half in Yemen, then Greece for a week, and then Egypt for who knows how long.
I’m sorry it’s been so long since the last post. I have a four day weekend coming up, so I’ll get a big update done. In the meantime, I just made another Picasa Alum, enjoy: http://picasaweb.google.com/105967111800856420798/YemenPartII#
Manakha is a small town in the mountains northwest of Sana’a, surrounded by several smaller towns. We took a bus there last Friday, accompanied by the head of the college and a very bored military escort. The bus left Sana’a at eight in the morning, and according to the official-looking itinerary, we would be arriving in Manakha at 10:30 with an hour to spare for “walking around.” We were behind schedule almost immediately, first because we were stopped at the checkpoints on the outskirts of Sana’a, then because everyone had to take pictures of something, and finally because in order to get the full cultural experience on this cultural expedition, we had to stop for a “unique Yemeni breakfast” of beans and bread, which tasted a lot like the beans and bread we eat every morning at the college, only more authentic.
We stopped in Manakha for a minute, but there was no time left for “walking around,” so we drove straight to the second stop: Jebal Sabri. Sabri is the head of the college, “jebal” means mountain, and “Jebal Sabri” means Sabri’s mountain. Sabri is originally from Manakha and has grand plans to develop a conference center on his land, but so far the plans remain in the planning stage. The mountain was very nice and green though, a fine place to hold a conference if you ask me. We hiked up the mountain a little ways until we reached a little reservoir and a baby goat, but we were still running behind schedule so we didn’t make it any further.
The next stop was al-Hajrah, an old Jewish village hanging onto the side of a cliff. The Jews have a long and not-so-happy history in Yemen, subject as they were to the various whims of Islamic kings and caliphs from Muhammad’s lifetime on. They specialized in lots of things that Muslims wouldn’t touch, like silver, so they were allowed to stay on as (what seems to me) second-class citizens. Large Jewish communities could be found in the North, South, and Northeast of the country, living alongside Muslims. They endured some ridiculous laws and customs (especially considering that the Qur’an singles out Jews and Christians as “People of the Book” worthy of equitable treatment), but the trickle of Yemeni Jews into Palestine after WWI finally turned into a total desertion after the Israeli state was established and an unofficial war was declared on Jews in Yemen. There are actually a few hundred Jews left in Yemen today, a fact that many people here seem strangely proud of.
The entire Jewish population of al-Hejrah emigrated in 1949, leaving their buildings and shops empty and their town almost deserted. Al-Hejrah is the rare Yemeni town that depends almost entirely on tourism dollars, which wasn’t a bad idea for such a beautiful village until all the tourists left the country a few years ago. The town was completely boarded up before we arrived, and doors constantly flew open as we walked around. People ran ahead of me with tables on their heads and had their wares laid out by the time I walked by. I would politely refuse the giant earrings for sale, they would gather their stuff up and sprint ahead of me, and everything would be nicely prepared when I walked by them again a minute later.
We left al-Hejrah with a few trinkets in hand, headed back to Manakha for lunch. We were treated to some traditional Yemeni dance after lunch, which was fine as far as these things go. I’m not normally a big fan of dance unless (a) there is someone pretty to look at or (b) there is someone I know to look at (of course Paul Rosenfeld twirling his way to an A in Modern Dance class fulfills both of these criteria). That being said, the addition of weapons, as well as some strange moves that might have been labeled “homoerotic” had the plague of homosexuality not been eradicated in Yemen, kept things interesting. Then there was the requisite part where they ordered us to dance, and most of us obliged for some sort of endless Ring Around the Rosie thing (Tik used his weasely ways to weasel his way out of it).
That lasted a long time. In the afternoon we drove to another nearby village, this one a clean and important Ismaili shrine. I’m done with the Wikipedia-esque history lessons, but if you’d like to learn more, feel free to Google Al-Hotayb. The point is that it was very clean with a little shrine at the top of a tall mountain where we met a well-spoken kid from Illinois. Then it was back on the road for an even more terrifying journey home than usual, thanks to fog so thick we couldn’t see the police car’s lights leading the way, and also it was pitch-black.
Okay, enough with that. Tik keeps this blog pretty well updated on our experiences, but I have noticed that there are scarcely any updates on my beard. I wish I had better news to report on the facial hair front, but unfortunately, like the rest of my body, my fledgling beard is having a hard time in Yemen. It doesn’t help that there is a kid from Dartmouth here with an awesome Dartbeard all over his Dartface, which he is always waving around at everyone who walks by.
Apparently the Qat video was pretty popular. It made it’s way onto the a local Yemeni news website, and people in the restaurants have been congratulating the “stars” for trying Qat. Due to the success, I decided to post a few more. The first two are from a Indonesian Cultural Show that we attended in Sana’a.
Guy Piercing Himself and “Eating” Fire:
Palestinian Youth Dance Troupe:
The show turned out to be roughly half as advertised, and half a Palestinian youth dance troupe. This kind of made sense because both the Indonesian
and Palestinian ambassadors to Yemen for in attendance. The Indonesian ambassador was sitting in front of us and can be seen coming in and out of the frame every once in a while.
The show opened (and closed) with a teenage Indonesian band that did covers of American and Arabic songs. These guys were followed by the Palestinian group, who danced for about an hour so. As you can can see this group got pretty political, but the crowd loved it. Then came a pair of Indonesian dancers in what I assume were traditional costumes. After these two made their way off stage a group I Iike to call the “seven dwarfs” appeared. This was actually a group of bedouin Indonesian Dancers. Last came the guy who pierced himself and put the burning hot metal to his tongue. This is the first time I had seen something like this and the video pretty much speaks for itself.
One last video: this was taken by Mac, who will be working at YCMES for the next couple years. It is of a wedding that happened across the street from where we live. To read more about it you can go to the college’s official blog:
On Thursday the school organized a Qat chewing session for students, teachers, etc. The session was fairly well attended, with about 6 or 7 employees and 10 students showing up. I briefly considered titling this post “Qat Orgy” because at the end of it there was Qat strewn all over the Mafraj and non-native english speaker said “it looks like there was an orgy in here”. That’s a sign of a successful Qat chew, right? Maybe something got lost in translation, but regardless I decided to go with a less suggestive title.
Below is a video of the Qat Chew and the sunset afterwards. I had to take out the audio from the sunset when I edited the clips:
The pre-Qat activities included a trip to a well-known Salta joint (traditional Yemeni food) for lunch followed by a trip to the Qat market. The Salta was delicious as always, and the trip to the Qat market was predictably hectic. The Yemenis were particularly intrigued by a new student named Betsy. She is from Atlanta, and has red hair, so you can imagine the attention that attracts. Luckily I go relatively unnoticed because they all think that I am a Yemenni from Taiz (another city in Yemen). There are tons of pictures of both lunch and the market floating around and I’ll be sure to post them when I find them. In the meantime check the Picasa Web for a few pictures.
We got back to the Markez (name of the dorm) and started chewing at around three or four in the afternoon. It was my third time chewing Qat and my longest session by far (I didn’t spit out my Qat until around 9 pm). It is amazing how Qat gave me tons of energy, and yet I still felt like doing nothing. This was the first time I had really felt any effect from chewing. Unfortunately this energy lasted well into the night, and I didn’t get to sleep until early morning. The next day our professor told us that this is common, and that he actually stayed up until four in the morning walking the street of Sana’a. Of course that didn’t stop him for participating in the Friday afternoon Qat session.
Sorry for the long hiatus between posts, this last week has been a bit busy. We got back from Kamaran late Saturday night, and had a busy day running around the Old City on Sunday. However, I have managed to update the Picasa album with pictures from Kamaran.
The journey to Kamaran wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, but we made it. We were supposed to take the public bus from Sana’a to Hudaydah at 7 am, but we arrived just in time to see the bus pull away. Later we found out that even if we weren’t late, they had already resold our tickets. Luckily we had a teacher from the college with us (Abul Kafi) and he arranged for a private bus to pick us up.
The trip to Port Saleef, were the boat to Kamaran leaves from, took about 6 hours. The cramped got progressively more miserable as we got closer: the temperature in Sana’a was in the high 70s with very little humidity, and in Kamaran it was around 100 with high humidity. It didn’t help that Connor (see pic in David’s post), who sat next to me, was on the verge of getting sick the whole time. Port Saleef itself was pretty run down , and the policeman at the checkpoint, likely because of boredom, gave us a hard time. He ended up confiscating all of our ID cards, and I have yet to get mine back.
After a 15km boat ride to the island the trip became exponentially more enjoyable. We were greeted by the best lunch that I have had in Yemen. They had fresh fish, great rice, and a sort of chicken noodle soup. People spent the afternoon settling in, playing chess, doing a little swimming, and trying to plan for the next day. By the time night fell, everyone was thoroughly exhausted. Unfortunately, the straw huts we stayed in had no fans or AC, so sleeping was very sticky.
Everyone got up to a “crepe” breakfast on Friday, after which we got on boats and visited the island’s mangroves. Abul Kafi decided that it would be a good idea to wander through these mangroves, which turned out to be an adventure. People came out with cuts, hurt thumbs, and broken footwear. On the way back to the “hotel”, our boat stopped so that we could snorkel. The water in the Red Sea is very warm and pretty salty, so it’s a great place to see some wildlife. At the beach by our hotel we only saw sea urchins and sting rays, but off the coast we caught a glimpse of more brightly colored fish. After we were done, we once again returned to a great meal. In the afternoon most of us took motor cycles to visit the city of Kamaran and a small village whose name I can’t remember; both were strikingly poor. I will try to find pictures of this side trip from other people.
Earlier in the day we had been told about a wedding in Kamaran (it is wedding season in Yemen right now), so we decided to go. We got there at about nine, and everyone (men only, of course) was sitting around chewing qat and listening to what I assume was Yemeni music. Abul Kafi got up and started dancing. and he even managed to drag Connor in eventually. We didn’t stay at the wedding long because there honestly wasn’t much going on. Abdul Kafi said that it was just getting started, and that in this part of Yemen the men will actually stay up until 11 or 12 the next day. The most exhilarating part of the night was the fact that our guard decided to use his AK-47 as a foot rest, and if he had slipped one of us would have certainly been in trouble.
On Saturday, Connor, Abdul Kafi and I got up around five and went fishing with one of the employees at the hotel. The fishing rods they use consist of fishing line and a hook tied to a plastic soda bottle. Needless to say, I was terrible at using it: I didn’t catch a single fish and managed to loose two hooks in the process. I felt a little bit better that Connor was nearly as inept. The man from the hotel caught four fish to our zero. We took the fish right to the kitchen, and I assume they were the ones we ate for lunch. After lunch we headed back to Sana’a, but this time the weather got more pleasant over the 7 hour trek.