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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.