Janet's Yemen Blog

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Location: Kansas, United States

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)