Dear Family and Friends,
I arrived Tuesday morning, the 6th, in Sana'a, Yemen. The Embassy car picked us up and took us to the Sheraton and for the first two days our time was divided between the Embassy, AMIDEAST (the organization we will be working for in part) and the hotel. We saw nothing of the city on foot.
From the car though we could enjoy the beautiful architecture and the fascinating clothing of the men. These Yemeni men wear either the full length thobes
, usually white, with or without a 'sports jacket' or those from Hadramat
wear decorative 'skirts' with a button down shirt and the sports jacket. Most all men wear intricately woven belts with the jambiya
stuck in front. The jambiya is a vicious looking knife with a nasty curve.
I would say that 95 percent of the women wear the black burka, most veil except for an eye slit; a few veil completely and a few wear a red and blue print cotton burka but I don't know why.
Finally, L. and I checked out of our Sheraton rooms and moved to a Yemeni hotel nearer the center of town. Yesterday we went to the old city and strolled though the area that serves tourists. Today we wanted to go to the public bath but the guide book was wrong about women attending the bath on Friday so we missed the bath. We did find some markets where the locals shop and saw lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
The old city is indeed old and really lovely. Miles and miles of curving streets and alleyways, old limestone block houses with their peculiar decorative plaster work. I have taken lots of pictures, and Leah is talented with the computer so I hope to have some pictures up soon. The guide book indicated that taking pictures would be a problem, but we found the only problem was having to take too many photos because everyone wanted their picture taken! We have NOT taken pictures of women yet but I hope to work that in soon.
We have eaten twice in the same restaurant . The food is very good but not as seasoned as the Azeri food. Kabobs are standard, and today I had chicken kabob and a delicious vegetable soup.
The most interesting event today was the taxi ride home from the old city. 54 percent of the population here is illiterate but we weren't thinking of that when we showed the driver the card of the hotel. He just shook his head and motioned for us to get in. We knew we were only about 10 minutes by car from our hotel, so after about 30 minutes had passed, I was getting irritable. As Leah said--drat all optimists--We are seeing parts of the city we haven't seen before. The young driver passed through zones that resembled bombed roads and at one point a woman and baby had to cross the "road" so we could squeeze closerto a building instead of falling off into the trench on the right. The traffic here is just as viscious and unpredictable as Baku. Fortunately, the roads are more dense with traffic so there is less driving in reverse. Many of the cars on the road look like the cars we are used to seeing sitting up on blocks in the neighborhoods.
Today when our lost driver took off, my door swung open. Ay!! It swung open three more times so I grabbed a protrusion and hung on. The cost of this adventure was about $ 1.20--cheap but we couldn't bring ourselves to give him a tip.
Tomorrow we leave for Aden where we will be working during the coming school year. Aden is a port city and is considered more liberal than Sana'a, but Aden is the port where the U.S. Navy ship, Cole, was attacked. The Embassy says that the attack was the work of outsiders, and indeed, we have experienced nothing but thumbs up when we say we are from the United States.
If I had to give a one sentence description of my experience so far I would say it is as though I am walking through the pages of National Geographic. We have all seen so much of Arab countries on the news in recent years but to be here among the black clad women and the men in their thobes and head dresses is a deeply intense feeling. I hope to learn a little Arabic--enough to negotiate prices and directions--learn to cook some of the food, develop friendships and let people learn about America and Americans.
As for now, ma'asalaam
...I think.(Pictures from CharlesFred's Flickr photostream and CNN)