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Monday, December 26, 2005

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.


Blogger Sergei said...

Wow, do the “gunman” mind being photographed? Should I send my girlfriend I am traveling with to the other side of the bus? :) I am visiting Yemen in December, I can’t wait. I am sure it will be simply amazing.


8:52 PM  
Blogger Nafeesa said...

wow wow wow

I get a sense of real humbleness from your posts.

May I ask what you are in Yemen for and why Yemen because Im assuming your not a Muslim and a lot of people would rather die then go and live in a third world country full of Muslims!

2:43 PM  

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