Janet's Yemen Blog

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Thursday, March 09, 2006


I want talk about another issue in the Islamic world that some of you have commented upon and that is the violence that has shaken other Islamic countries over the Danish cartoons. Yemen has not suffered any violence because of this. All the stores across the street have stopped selling Danish products—most of the cheese and all of the butter was Danish. There is a sign in the window of my primary shop that announces, in Arabic and English, that they are boycotting Danish products. I do not anticipate any trouble. Aden has a very, very small foreign population and the Yemenis here are very kind and gracious. The only troubles foreigners have here are getting kidnapped and those are usually a few people who are part of a large tour group visiting some of the archaeological sites in central Yemen.

I have not had a single moment here when I felt in any danger—except in
the taxi ride from Sana’a to Aden last month. That was a harrowing experience—the driver and his friend were chewing qat, smoking, drinking water (necessary when one chews qat), changing the cassettes and talking…and driving very fast. I sincerely had to give my life up to God because it was not safe in the hands of those guys.

Qat Again

Recently, Leah’s dad came for a visit. Seeing Aden through the eyes of
a visitor—as though for the first time—was interesting. Why, he wanted
to know, don’t they finish the buildings? Well, it is true that there are a lot of buildings that are unfinished. Previous regimes began and did not finish, or the civil war or the revolution got in the way, or the money ran out or…who knows. Other building were finished but were damaged in the civil war or the revolution or…who knows…and they sit in their concrete majesty with gaping windows and doors while the ever present crows chatter on window sills and rooftops. One problem is that everything is concrete and stone. If a building is demolished, there remains a mountain of concrete to haul away. Once you notice how many chunks of concrete, from small to gigantic, decorate the city, you see that it is everywhere. It would take a lot of cleaning to clean it all up. So, there is an air of abandonment that permeates the city.

The second feature that disturbed her father was the men who lie around
chewing qat, or lie around doing nothing. I don’t know if I have commented on this before. Qat is a leaf that is a mild stimulant and many Yemeni men chew it every afternoon. Most men meet inside homes or inside odd makeshift spaces that have been constructed from abandoned metal containers. I think I can attach a picture of such a place though it isn’t clear because I was trying to surreptitiously take the photo from inside the taxi. I was waiting on the driver and his friend to come back from buying qat. These ‘containers’ are at the qat markets and the men buy the qat and, I suppose, rent a space…I don’t know. But those men who do not go to homes or containers just lie around on the sidewalks, propped up on a concrete block or a bedroll or cast off trash that is the right size for leaning against. To me the absolute strangest place that they congregate is on the median between the lanes of the highways. The median is about 4 feet wide and five or six men are propped up on whatever, chewing qat.


Being away from my kids sometimes makes me melancholy, and when I am
feeling melancholy, I torment myself by looking at the large world map
on my living room wall and imagine that I see myself standing on the desert coast of Yemen. I am looking westward across the Red Sea and Central Africa, across the Atlantic Ocean and the East Coast of America, and finally I see Kansas—my children and my green home. At some point in this vain imagining, I must tilt my eyes northward because here in Aden, I am at 13 degrees north latitude. That is why when many of you are digging out the wool sweaters, I am still sweating in the almost 90 degree heat…and sunbathing and swimming in the Indian Ocean. Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea are just a few millimeters away on the map.

Each time I sit down to write, I think of the athan—the eerie call to
prayer that I hear five times a day here in Yemen. In Azerbaijan I often wrote about the call to prayer, azan as it is called there, and the other worldliness of the recorded voice echoing through the alleyways of Lenkoran. There were two mosques there; here, there are at least four mosques in my neighborhood alone—probably twenty or more in Aden. The muezzin here are real people and four loud speakers on the corners of the minarets magnify their call. Again I am in a city where the buildings are low, and the calls to prayer drift and collide and slowly rebound from the stone and concrete of the shops and houses. The athan sounds five times each day. On Fridays, the Sabbath day in Islam, the evening athan is followed by about a half hour of prayer, exhortation and praise—all over the loud speakers of the mosques. I irreverently call them dueling mosques.

The truth is I love the call to prayer. I love the sound of the throaty Al….lah—the word that begins the call and winds in and out of the prayers. I wish I could recreate the sounds of four muezzins calling the faithful. The locations are not synchronized. Each has its own muezzin and I suppose the prayers are varied. I don’t know. I just know that the words move slowly through the humid air and they bound from the rocky landscape. They rumble, and roll and blend. One fades, another takes prominence. Al……lah……..

“It is all Inshallah.” God willing—a familiar and comfortable rejoinder from my past but an expression seldom heard in our modern world. Not here. It is all Inshallah. I say to someone, “I will phone you tomorrow.” She says, “Inshallah.” I say, “See you next week.” And she says, “Inshallah.” I want to say, “What do you mean!? Do you know something I don’t know?! What’s going to happen??” Then I remember again, it is all just “Inshallah.” I was visiting my friend Lynne and telling her how much I love Yemen and she said, “I can imagine that you do because it is so openly spiritual.” And it is true, that is one of the reasons I love Yemen.

It is also true that Muslims and Christians are alike in that only a few are devout and regularly answer the call to prayer—at least here in Yemen. All are supposed to answer the call to prayer and to reach my 4 o’clock class, I have to tiptoe around the back of the group of students who pray in a small space in the school. Our school also has prayers rooms outside for both the men and the women.

Monday, December 26, 2005

More about 'Qat'

Yemen is said to be the most traditional country in the Middle East. It is not the most conservative although it may come close. The culture is very, very interesting. I can not describe it simply. The visible culture is for men. In the bazaar, there are lots of women shopping, but there are more men shopping. There are men everywhere; hanging out in the tea houses, on the street, lounging here and there. The strangest sight is to see men lounging on the median on the major roads. Many, many men chew qat - a leaf that is a mild stimulant. Every afternoon there are hundreds, thousands of men chewing qat. They make themselves comfortable on the sidewalks, at the bus stops anywhere and everywhere. It is just plain strange. They stuff the leaves into one side of their mouths and by the end of the afternoon, their cheeks are huge. Some men look as though they have a tennis ball in their mouths. There are men who have a more moderate approach - like the men in the small grocery store where I shop. Leah and I always tease them about the qat. Qat chewing is a Yemen phenomenon; it is not a habit in the rest of the Middle East.

Buses and AK47s

At first glance, a visitor may not perceive Aden as a safe place because there are men walking around with AK47s. Try to imagine that you are on a bus whizzing through town, the bus stops and a man with an AK47 gets on. It means nothing. He is a soldier or a policeman going to work. This has happened several times. I can walk four blocks from my apartment and see probably six or eight men with these guns. I am not exaggerating. The first sign you see at the Sheraton when you walk in is: NO GUNS OR JAMBIYAS ALLOWED. AK47s aren’t the only guns around either. Leah and I were at a Yemeni restaurant in the bazaar one day when a man and his wife walked in. The man had a cell phone, a jambiya (the curved knife) AND a pistol in his belt. I laughed and told Leah I hoped he didn’t confuse the cell phone and the pistol and accidentally shoot himself in the ear while we were eating our chicken and rice.

Some of you may recall my bus adventures from last year. To think that was just a taste of what was to come. Mini busses are everywhere here. During the week, I never have to wait more than a minute for a bus. On Friday, the holy day, I might have to wait several minutes or even take a taxi but otherwise, there are hundred of busses. The busses aren’t marked with their destinations. There are no signs posted that display bus routes. What you do is, you go to the roadside and point to the district where you want to go. Clever, really. The bus is barreling down the road, you point to Crater, or Maala, or Tawahi, or Seera, the bus jerks to the side, brakes screeching, you hop on and off you go. The longest bus ride costs 30 riyals, about 17 cents. If you can avoid it, a woman does not sit beside a man and vice versa. Sometimes a driver will make a man move so the woman can sit alone. When the bus is almost full, the rules no longer hold.Those are the local busses.

I have ridden the large bus twice to the capital, Sana’a, and that bus trip is quite a different experience. Sana’a is about 6 or 7 hours away and the bus is inadequately air conditioned and jam packed. The road winds through hills and over bad roads and through inconvenient villages. There are hairpin curves and the descent from the plateau down onto the plains of Aden is very long and twisting. Men smoke and chew qat, throwing the stems and bad leaves onto the floor. I took this bus about a month ago from Sana’a to Aden.

The attendant came down the aisle passing out small black plastic bags. Ah, I thought, litter bags - good, because so much trash accumulates fruit peel, gum wrappers, Kleenex. Wrong! Very wrong. These were barf bags. I figured that out after I noticed the woman across the aisle using hers for that purpose. THAT almost made me sick but I focused on positive thoughts and averted the disaster. The boy in front of me needed his black bag. The woman across from me used about four but she had extra because when the daughter got sick, she didn’t get to the black bag in time.

Maybe I should describe that experience more fully but I really don’t want to. I was miserable, but I was saved from abject self pity by that same poor woman across the aisle. She was totally veiled, in black polyester of course. I could see the heat radiating through her window. She and her THREE children shared two seats. One child was perhaps not quite a year old and the woman had to hold that baby the entire trip. Not only hold the baby, but nurse her as well. I looked over once and the baby was nursing and the poor woman was leaning over the baby being sick again. Oh, golly. What a trip.

Teaching in Yemen

Tonight I felt goose bumps for the first time this fall and that made me happy. I have to say though that it is almost midnight and I was in the shower with cool water. From what I have been told, I will not have to worry about goose bumps outdoors, ever, though according to the director, I may want a jacket in January but maybe not.I like my work, but I can not be enthusiastic right now because it is our "Friday" - Wednesday, actually, because our work week is Saturday to Wednesday.

I work for two schools: AMIDEAST a non governmental organization that has been in the Middle East for over 50 years, and Aden University. At Aden University, I am teaching writing to second year students who are in the English language degree program. I have students who are relatively fluent and students who really struggle, all in the same class. I have 4 classes, each with about 30 students and I am teaching writing, so don’t think I am having an easy time. Teaching English as a second language (ESL) is complex, and teaching writing to ESL students is even more complex. Fortunately, I love it. Actually, the work gives me terrible headaches and produces an inner tension that is quite overwhelming, but I like the work because when class is over, it feels sooooo good.

Most of the young women in my classes are veiled all I see is their eyes. I like to know my students by name but the classes are large and I don’t think I will be able to learn to identify the women. I do recognize some of my veiled students here at AMIDEAST but there are only a few in each class.

I also like my neighborhood. Khormaksar is one of the more stable districts in the city. A few blocks away is one of the president’s houses that he may, or may not, use when he is in town. That makes the district even safer because there is a large police presence all the time. Not that I ever feel in danger. I feel quite safe here and have never felt even a little nervous or fearful, except when I am in a vehicle. The people in the neighborhood are very gracious to us.

We have a strip of shops nearby where we buy most of our groceries. The clerks are still trying to teach us Arabic numbers. Tonight my bill was 465 and the clerk wouldn’t give me my change until I pronounced the amount correctly. I was having a little trouble (make that a LOT of trouble) and he handed me a piece of paper and a pen and made me write the words. Four or five people were standing line and it made not the least difference to him. I got the words out for the amount due then had to say the amount of my change. Ahhh. This is the kindness we deal with wherever we go. There are two neighborhood restaurants where we usually eat and the waiters are similarly kind.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Cooking and Ghat

Life here is interesting. People are interesting. Food is good. I have actually gained back a little weight because I eat a lot of carbohydrates. I am just not cooking because the kitchen is so hot. Just don't want to stew a chicken for two hours! Just making scrambled eggs and heating coffee water warms the kitchen so...I am eating a lot of fruit, pita bread with peanut butter. If I were outside more, I would eat less but going from airconditioned apartment to airconditioned classroom to airconditioned restaurant doesn't make a big dent in appetite. And sometimes I just get so tired of being in my little airconditioned environments, I get bored and eat too much. I think that when the weather moderates a bit, I will be out more. I am running about every other night but I am eating several times a day!

A habit that many men have here is chewing ghat--a leaf that contains a mild stimulant. Some people liken it to caffeine. Though it is supposedly a stimulant, the result of the habit seems to be a dulling of the senses---in the afternoon and evening you see groups of men leaning against buildings or settled into small rooms that open onto the street, and one of their cheeks is stuffed full of the green ghat leaves. Ghat is greet and when the men open their mouths to say something, bits of chewed leaves mottle their teeth. We have seen men with a cheek full of ghat, smoking a cigarette AND drinking a soda! Talk about multi-tasking! Men here in the south also chew betel nut leaves. We have seen a vendor with the betel leaves carefull lined up on his counter with a pile of other flavoring in the center because men like to flavor the betel with coconut or other seasonings. The cheeks of some of the men are huge...like a trumpet player...though only on one side. Not a pretty sight. There is a grocery store that Leah and I frequent and twice we saw one of the clerks with a cheek full of ghat. We clicked our tongues and shook our head and made fun of him!! For the last two nights, he has not had ghat in his mouth. We are modern Carrie Nations but with nothing to smash.

Outside the classroom and the grocery store, life is rather simple. Hiking, snorkeling and diving are big hobbies here and snorkeling attracts the few tourists who come. I mentioned the geology of Aden in my longer letter. It is really fascinating. There is lava (I can't remember the various names for lava after it is no longer running), sand and clear blue waters. I wish I had brought my Rocks and Minerals book but I didn't anticipate such interesting geology. Next time.

On Aden's buses

All is well here I just miss my kids terribly, but I hear from them and know they are fine. My students are very sweet, ready to laugh and learn. My apartment is on the grounds behind the walls of one of the schools I work for so I need only about sixty seconds to get to work. Soon my classes at the Law School will begin. You may pray for me then.

Yemen is also a very safe country. The Security Officer at the embassy said the only worry we would have is pickpockets. Aden is the city where the U.S. ship, The Cole, was attacked in 2000. This was done by outside extremists and apparently the government and the people were so enraged by the act that security forces clamped down on the ‘bad guys’ and the country is quite safe as a result. I have not been to other countries in the Middle East but those who have say that Yemen is the best place to learn about traditional Islamic culture. It IS interesting here.

You will all be happy to hear that once again busses are a big part of my life. Mini bus routes are flexible here. The destination of the first person who gets on the bus determines the route handy! I was taking a bus to the Sheraton Hotel the other day to use the gym there and I was told I would have to take two busses, changing to a second route. The first bus stopped and I was the last passenger to get off. I indicated to the driver that I wanted the bus to the Sheraton Sheraton I am shrugging my shoulders dabab (bus)??? He shrugged HIS shoulders then motioned for me to get back on and he took me to the hotel. Customized bus route not bad. More later. Hope you all have a lovely autumn. Enjoy the changing temperature and falling leaves and think of me.

First Impressions at Aden

Aden, too, is a poor city with many, many immigrants from Africa. The fantastic feature of Aden is that it is surrounded with ancient lava flows. The mountains are lava beautiful reds, tans, blacks and greys. The beaches are also beautiful and there are some remote ones where few people go. Scuba diving is popular here because the sea is so clear. I walked out probably 100 yards and I could still see the bottom.

The capital city, Sana’a is located in the highlands and has a very temperate climate. Aden is at sea level, and it is hot here. Sweat is a constant. I’ve never lived anyplace before where I thought I should put on deodorant to go to sleep. I have two room air conditioners in my 4 room apartment and I am sweating now. Really it is hard to describe.

There are moments of grace too. The people here are lovely and kind. I had a moment of peace the other night and it didn’t even include chocolate. I left my classroom at 6 o’clock and pushed through the chaos of registration crowds talking, talking, talking, and I left the building. When I rounded the corner I was struck by the glowing pink sky above the palm trees. There was a conference of crows in a leafless tree, only the top of which was visible over the school walls. Then I noticed the green palm leaves and the silhouette of crows and stark branches against the pink. It was the hour of evening prayer, and echoing across the compound walls was the azan. I rounded the next corner, and saw the men, about two dozen, lined up, facing Mecca. One was singing lightly, or chanting. They stood straight and tall, in a straight line. Their red patterned prayer carpets were unrolled from their usual position against the wall of the compound, and the pink of the sunset and the red of the carpets merged and glowed in the corner where men spoke with God. I tiptoed past...the pink, the clouds, the crows...the hollow echoes of the azan, the earnest men and I knew God was listening and looking.


The first night there, there was a wedding in a nearby building and we were treated to traditional wedding music for several hours. The music was beautiful. As far as I could tell, there was only one man singing and playing a stringed instrument with a deep rounded body. It sounds a bit like a guitar with lose strings. I was able to find a cassette with that instrument and it is playing now. Sana’a is an interesting city.

In the center is the Old City which is a United Nations’ World Heritage Site. Leah and I walked through the alleys of the Old City twice, taking pictures and buying scarves. You can see from the attached pictures that the traditional clothing is intriguing. The fabric of the men’s skirts is really beautiful. The women wear black. Sort of like birds the males of which are usually more brightly colored! Four days later we were leaving the city.

After checking in at the airport, we asked the guide who had driven us which gate we needed to go to. He just laughed. There is only one gate! He was right, and he laughed again. The people here are very friendly. The guide book emphasized the conservative nature of the country the most conservative Islamic nation next to Saudi Arabia, but we have found everyone to be very kind and helpful. In the Old City we were looking for one of the public baths and a group of people dispatched an old man with us on a ten minute walk to the Saba Bathhouse. A man who owned a tea house the tea urn and three tables at the corner of a building with a blue tarp for a roof motioned for us to come have tea. We went to an internet café one evening and when we were leaving the manager asked where we were from then he said, in rough English, "New Orleans we are sorry."

Then we were off to Aden.

Arriving at Yemen

Today is my twenty first day in Yemen. At the teachers' meeting recently, one of the American teachers reported that at 5 a.m. when he awoke, it was 87 degrees with 98 percent humidity. This is a hot place. 100 plus degrees is standard today was 104. What makes the weather barely bearable is the breeze from the Gulf of Aden, just off the Indian Ocean. I am looking forward to the other season, winter, when the average temperature 'drops' to 95. But 95 isn't105 and that is good. As one person described the climate, We have eight months of summer and four months of not summer. I left Lawrence on August 24 so I feel I have been gone a long time. I was in Azerbaijan for a few days staying with K’s family, then I flew to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the huge regional hub. The evening air in Baku was pleasant and when I stepped off the plane in Dubai getting onto a bus on the runway it was a different world.

The heat and humidity was overpowering and slightly scary. The Dubai airport is fantastically large with reportedly the best duty free shops in the world. Every time I asked an airport employee for help they said, "Oh, do some shopping then think about..." Because my baggage had been checked only to Dubai, I had to collect it before the next flight. That meant going outside the airport then coming back inside to check in for the flight to Sana'a, Yemen. As I was wheeling my overloaded cart out one door, I came upon an unexpected decline. Three men were standing a couple feet outside the doorway. I was squawking, Oi! Oi! (I’d been reading P.G. Wodehouse) when I lost control of the cart. I ran into a stainless steel post and two of my suitcases flew off the cart. One man helped me pick up the bags. That was funny, but when it happened a second time, it was not quite so funny.

Outside the arrival zone, I passed along a row of 'greeters' waiting to pick up guests. There were twenty or thirty men lined up, and on the wall across from the men, about a dozen fans were blowing misted air across the greeters. At midnight it was too hot for men to just hang out for thirty minutes waiting for their passengers. The airport is very interesting. For people with long layovers, there is a room where they can stretch out in lounge chairs. I couldn’t use this room because of my baggage situation (I won’t do that again), but I heard about it. Others didn’t use the room either. There were people sleeping everywhere in the walkways, under ranks of seats, on the seats, against the walls. Even I stretched out in a quiet zone and slept until I almost missed my flight. And there were people in every kind of dress that you can imagine. Dubai is a crossroads for people coming from Africa, the Middle East, Europe, America, Asia everywhere and the mix of people is reflected in the clothing.

I met the other English Language Fellow, L., at the airport. She and I flew to Sana’a together. Arriving at the Sana’a airport from Dubai was a bit like the Jetsons arriving at Bedrock City. Yemen is poor though I think the government is really trying to improve the infrastructure. We stayed for two days at the Sheraton Hotel and enjoyed the pool and gym.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Pizza Hut

Last night my director and nine of the other teachers took me out for my birthday. If I tell you we went to Pizza Hut it may give you false impressions of the city, but we did indeed go to Pizza Hut. I have no idea why there is a Pizza Hut here. It is the only restaurant within hundreds of miles that has to do with 'the West.' Maybe that is why! The director said that in the past, the helicopter from Hunt Oil used to be sent to pick up pizza here.So, I guess it is oil that brought Pizza Hut here and the pizza was very good.

As for another birthday---it feels strange to be older than the hills, but it also feels very good. I am grateful to be alive, well, healthy and at the beginning of another adventure. Last night I went for my first jogging session since leaving Kansas. I felt wonderful. We sweat here without stopping. Sweat Is. My apartment has four rooms all in a row and there are room airconditioners in the front and second rooms. I am in the third room, my office, and I am sweating. Last night Edward, the director, was telling us how nice the weather is here. "It rarely breaks 100 degrees." The truth is -- maybe that is true--but it also rarely drops below 99 degrees. Combined with a constant 98 percent humidity...you get the picture.

More later...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Boat Trip

E. planned a boat trip for entertainment for the visitors. We made a half hour trip around the harbor. I can't quite figure out the geography here but there are bays and harbors and extinct volcanos...an isthmus, a peninsula and a mainland. I am still not sure where I am in relation to all these features.

As for the fish...that was quite a meal. After the boat trip we went to the fish market. E. picked out the live fish and some shrimp and carried them across the way to a restaurant where they were cooked for us. We used pieces of very thin flat bread to scoop up the spicy shrimp, and we used our fingers to pick out the fish. Very, very good.We sat on the second floor balcony of the restaurant--the family section. All restaurants have family sections where women may sit...rarely alone,
usually with their husband and children. Usually these sections are on the second floor. Anyway, we were on the open second floor where we overlooked the fishing boats and a large volcanic formation with an old fort at the top. Bats swooped in the late twilight, fishermen told fishing stories on the beach and about a dozen cats circled our table waiting for tidbits.

The cats here look tough--long wide noses, squinty eyes, long, lean legs and bodies. These cats probably have life better than other city cats. In fact, they didn't eat all the fish we tossed down.


All the pictures were taken in Sana'a, the capital city of Yemen. The Old City of Sana'a is a World Heritage Site.

ALL the women here are covered. Most wear full black but a few wear an old Yemeni print cloth. I'd say that about 75 percent of the women veil their face except for eyes, about 5 percent veil their eyes and the remainder show their face. Most of the black abiyas are polyester and these women are dressed 'underneath' and then cover with the black abiya. I can not imagine how hot they are.

Most all men, and many young boys, wear traditional clothing and the jambiya--knife. The guys here in front of the scarf shop may appear to be in a movie but they are in their everyday clothes. Another traditional dress here is the sarong type 'skirt' with a western style shirt. I will send a picture of that sometime.

Finally, I was waiting for the elevator at the Sheraton Hotel in Sana'a (the embassy makes all related personnel stay at the Sheraton) and out stepped this man with his falcon. I was amazed--mouth gaping, almost speechless. He spoke some English and I finally asked if I could take a picture. He readily agreed. The man is from Bahrain and runs a falconry school. He was bringing this bird to a friend in Yemen. At home he has seven falcons and conducts classes in the Middle East and at his home. It was his idea for me to hold the falcon so I put on the glove and there you have it.

I am settled in Aden now. The city seems incredibly poor. Across the street from my apartment are three sets of shops and refugees from Africa have made the parking lots their homes. They make their children beg so it is depressing but I cope. I just have to say no. At first I resisted the idea of living in a compound, but most of the houses here are behind walls and heavy gates. My job is to familiarize Yemenis with the American legal system--a thing I know almost nothing about BUT the English level of the students is very low so I will actually just be teaching English and trying to place some of the language in a legal setting.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

In Aden

I am finally in Aden, my teaching site. It is indeed HOT HOT HOT and HUMID HUMID HUMID. I just constantly am sweating. The city, except for the western hotel section, appears to be extremely poor. There are many African immigrants here along with people from other countries. There are a lot of women and children begging.

The food has been very good although not as good as the Azeri food. They use more peppers and hot spices here and I do like it. L. and I went out last night with two teachers to the suq--the market. I bought some hand towels and a jar of the famous Yemeni honey. The # 1 honey costs $35 for two pounds!!!. I bought one pound of the # 2.

In the capital city of Sana'a, many of the men chew a leaf called 'khat' which is a mild narcotic or stimulant--depending on the habit. It is really ugly to see because the men stuff it into one side of their cheeks and it is baseball size. Here in Aden, chewing betel leaves is more common. Khat is green and betel is bright red. My boss made a reference to Christmas but I prefer not to make that association.

Last night L. and I also went to the grocery store across the road. We bought mostly cleaning supplies but also a few groceries: milk, juice, oats, sugar and some disgusting yogurt. We had several bags and two of the grocery employees carried it back to the gate for us--about 2 blocks.

L. and I are both in the school compound. I am in the second floor apartment. There is a guard on duty 24 hours a day. And, last night there was a small black cat on duty, too.

I feel very safe. In fact, in the Embassy security briefing, the officer said you may get your pocket picked in the market but you are not going to be mugged. He said we just did not have to worry at all. There used to be occasional kidnappings but the government cracked down and there have not been any for two years. The victims were never hurt...the security officer said the victims were treated as guests for three or four days then released when the kidnapers received the money or their friends were released from jail. So, don't worry about me.

(Picture from CharlesFred's Flickr photostream)

In Yemen

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)

Saturday, August 20, 2005


Testing the new blog spot. Off to Yemen on September 5, 2005.