July 21, 2008
A quick peek.
In the cities many people in Yemen live in coverings such as this. All the doors probably lead to separate 'apartments'. Partly due to the use of khat, which requires much time, leaving little left for work there is an air of poverty. Most people seem to do well enough though and don't look hungry. What is poverty in our eyes, does not necessarily mean the same to others.
Yemen produces excellent coffee and ranks 46th in the world's production. The coffee is earthy, complex, pungent and somewhat bitter to the taste. The coastal city of Mokha is where the word mocca comes from.
Yemen has some oil and also exports dried fish, but other than that the land has few resources. Adding to the 22Million Yemeni population are many Somali refugees arriving in small fishing boats on the shores of Aden and Bir Ali, where they are automatically given political asylum.
Nearly half of girls at primary school age do not go to school. Two out three women are illiterate. Women are allowed to drive and vote, and careers in nursing, medicine and business are open to them. It is not the law that women are veiled in Yemen and many younger women cover their head but leave their face unveiled.
Yemeni Arabic is different to Arabic spoken elsewhere, and in addition women have their own dialect to insure more privacy and to avoid being understood by the men!
The country made the news recently regarding child brides, a reprehensible custom from the dark ages.
Cardamom is used to flavor tea (shay) and coffee (qahwa). This makes coffee especially good. I like my tea simple and straight and prefer rooibos.
You will find eggplant, honey, good raisins, beans, onions, carrots and much more in the marketplace (such as a Kaleshnikov or two).
If you want to take a picture ask: Mumkin akhud sura minak? Usually you are rewarded with a big smile. Men should avoid taking pictures of women. Children will approach you saying, 'sura, sura' (picture, picture).
Travel to Yemen is often not recommended because of the very high threat of terrorist attacks, kidnappings, tribal violence and general lawlessness. Travel in the Saada region of northern Yemen is strongly discouraged because of the risk of violent civil unrest.
This was also the case when I visited Yemen (including Saada), but I noticed nothing disturbing however the month after I returned several tourists were kidnapped. Local tribesmen and not Islamic groups kidnap tourists to make demands on their government. The kidnapped tourist are released by the tribesmen after their demands have been met and return unharmed. Most freed hostages said they were well treated and fed by the tribesmen, who kept them in homes and allowed them to write letters and even call their families on cellular telephones.
Everything we do, and in particular travel, requires thought and planning and finally a decision. There are several places in the world that I would not dream of going at the moment.
Yemen is exotic, unique and absolutely stunning. It has lush green valleys between soaring mountains; clean beaches with not an umbrella in sight. It has gorgeous coral reefs and is enclosed by the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea and in the north by Saudi Arabia.
I did not see any fast food places that are truly ubiquitous these days. There is no McDonalds in Yemen! I do not see groups of tourists following their guide's waving arm, from the one interesting sight to the next. Unlike Egypt which has so much to offer, I do not see Yemen being destroyed by the multitude of tourists in a similar way. Yemen is too sparse. Yemen requires too much effort. Yemen is not a pretend travel destination. Nothing is fake or ready-made for the tourists and perhaps the warnings of kidnapping will protect this country a little while longer and leave the magic of travel for future generations.