July 5, 2008
You get to know your traveling companions well if you are with them day in day out. I usually shared a room with J. She was a little older than I, and loved to mother, which was nice for me because I was still feeling very forlorn at times. I was more or less paired with her because we were both noisy sleepers. Marianne, a light sleeper would wake if J. and I sawed down some trees in unison during the night. J. and I were not very good at setting up our tent either and didn't mind if it sagged a little in the middle.
Marianne on the other hand was always there if I needed her. She had lost her husband a year earlier than I. She knew intuitively when I was having a hard time and would comfort me. Even though she was not my roomie, she was the one I felt most comfortable with. When she laughed she had pixie-eyes.
J. and I got along well. J. often had a queasy stomach or something else bothering her. My health is rather robust, and I don't always have much understanding for little ailments. I now understand J. much better because I am now about the age she was then, and I also have more complaints than I did 10 years ago.
In the Middle East pastries are usually readily available and if we were in a town that had a pastry shop, J. and I would always buy some and make tea in our room and have a little party. That always perked her up.
Sometimes one is entirely oblivious of what one does. Only after several weeks did J., in moment of annoyance and home-sickness, tell me that I never turned off the light in the room when we went to sleep. She was probably right. We would go to our beds, or our portion of the floor, whatever the case may be and I had assumed that she wanted the light on for her frequent bathroom visits. I however, would turn the other way so that the dim light (it usually wasn't much light though in some cases it was a fierce bright bulb dangling from the ceiling - feast or famine) fell on my book. It takes me about 5 minutes before I fall asleep, if that, and after that would have no idea if J. had had her last potty stop. Now knowing she felt I was not holding up my end of the bargain, I would turn off the light if I was last, (which was never) and read by the light of my little torch. That didn't work for J. either, because then she had to turn it on when she needed to make one of her nocturnal visits to the little room. I just let it be.
After eating dust and a variety of peculiar looking dinners and sleeping on the floor or in a tent we arrived at Tarim and a hotel, although basic, offered quite a bit of luxury: beds!
The old colonial hotel of Qasr al-Qubba even had a pool of sorts. We did our laundry (not in the pool) and hung it out to dry on the roof of the hotel and settled in. Marianne, one of my fellow travelers had a whole ritual. In every place we spent the night she placed little candles and sticks of incense that she would burn to remove any foul or musty smells which most places had. If you peered through half-closed eyes it made a rather nasty little room look acceptable. I think we even found a little bottle of something to drink which made a nice change from bottled water.
The hotel, which resembled a frosted cake looked more South East Asian and we discovered that many Yemeni from this area had emigrated to Indonesia and Singapore and had brought the style back home with them. We stayed two nights in preparation of our journey through Wadi Hadramout and made the most of it.