July 3, 2008

Not all too different from home.

There is a lot of waiting involved in travel. In Yemen this can be due to a number of things. The driver might be purchasing food and water or khat, or fixing a flat tire. Sometimes it's because there is nothing much else to do but wait. Funnily enough my surroundings were often not so different from those at home. Perhaps the vegetation was a little different but I found myself in a desert once again.

There were some interesting women in the group and boredom really wasn't an issue because there was always something to talk about and even though we were in each others company all day and every day, there was always something to do or discover. Some preferred hiking, while others would walk around in the little villages we encountered along the way learning about how people live in this part of the world. There was time for a extremely sweet cup of tea or to find a pastry shop. Lounging about with a book or soaking your feet when there was a chance were also popular pastimes.

I am sure that I need not explain the role of women in the Muslim world, but normally it is not hard at all to make contact with them if you are a woman too. We didn't see many women in Yemen.

On the other hand I am positive that the men at times did not see us as women at all. How could they when we were unsexily revealed in every way? Nothing left to the imagination, with our short hair, hiking boots, in our pants and shirts and with our independent ways.

One thing bothered me. In the markets, where there were mainly men you would hear a whinny, as if from a stallion. This must be the Yemeni equivalent of a wolf-whistle but knowing you were in a country where the females are kept in seclusion it seemed to be a sign of disrespect rather than admiration to snort and whinny at women.

The Portal.

It could very well be that I read too many adventure books as a child. I was a voracious reader and still am. I had all the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton that would take me on fabulous adventures but there were many other books that offered me a chance to live in another world for a little while. I remember "The Little White Horse" by Elizabeth Goudge so well because I reread it many times and it was magical every time.

As an adult my travel allows me to escape to mysterious worlds that always amaze and fascinate me.

The door in the picture can hardly be called anything but a portal, an entry-way into Yemen.

In our ramshackle Landcruiser we made our way from Sana'a by way of the Temple of the Moon and the Bilqish Palace to the desert. If the names in our itinerary do not transport you and want you to crack your whip like Indiana Jones then a beach resort vacation is your best bet. To each his own.

Of course there is much to be said for comfort, so a beach resort isn't such a bad idea, especially when you are sleeping on the floor of a house that has no shower or bath. There were many nights that we had a communal room and we all just rolled out our sleeping bags on the floor and went to bed unwashed or washed at a tap outside, just cleaning hands, feet and face. These houses are the hotels in the rural areas. It wasn't as if we had much choice and even the hotels in the cities were very basic.

When I left the U.S. I had no idea that I would be going on a rough trip so I hadn't brought anything in the way of gear. Days before my departure for Yemen I bought a thick sleeping bag which served me well. I had a double layer of down under me so that I didn't have to touch the grimy carpets on which we slept. Although we didn't complain (much) we would of course have preferred a clean bed with crisp white linen sheets but then it wouldn't have been quite the same.


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