Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Friday, 30 December 2005

Sunset in Sana'a

Thus ends the final days in Yemen, though I hope not for good. I'd love to come back to this country, this side of the New Earth, insha'allah. I spent the day looking around the souq (have to stock up on Mountain Dew, Pre-Med Pens, and other items unavailable in Morocco), going to church on Friday, and talking with folks at a language school here. Oh! Also picked up some frankincense, as Yemen was on the old spice trail 2000 years ago. There's actually an interesting article on it's history and biology at Aramco World, written by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, that same guy who wrote that Yemeni travelouge that I've been reading while here in Yemen. Turns out it's a resin from trees. When you burn it, it seems that way too- it turns from solid to liquid, and just kind of drips down. Tomorrow: New Year's Night in Dubai, insha'allah. It tends to be pretty full there. Pray I get a room...

Thursday, 29 December 2005

Banned from Leaving!

I like this country. I love these people. Their just not ready for tourists yet.

After getting the tasireh, the travel permit, to go to Shibam Hadremowt (Hadramawt)- the permit that the police in Sana'a, the capitol, said you don't need but the police in the Eastern half of the country think is still required, I traveled up with a Dutch-Italian couple to Shibam. I came in late, looked around the town, and the next day, went to see some other towns nearby. All this is in the previous posting. Right after my last posting, I went to arrange a taxi for the next day, as the town that the taxis leave from is 20 minutes East of where I was staying, and I wanted to arrange something to pick me up at my hotel.

First I had to find the right taxi stand- which meant going to one, crossing the town to the other, and then coming back to a taxi stand right next to the first. They told me it would be 1000 Riyal (194:$1 exchange rate) to get back- which is what I was expecting. Then they talked a moment, and said they would have to raise the price to 1500. I asked why they were changing suddenly. They said that I needed a tasireh, and therefore it would cost more. I told them I have one. They asked to see it. They said that, No, I needed a tasireh to get back! I tried to explain to them that that didn't really make sense- I had permission to get there (permission I was told in Sana'a I didn't actually need), so it was obvious I had the right to travel, and it wasn't like the Yemeni government could keep me there in Shibam. They disagreed, and said I needed to go to the police to get a tasireh.

So I went to the police station, and was told I needed to go to the tourist police station. A nice police officer from Shibam took me to the tourist police- who were closed. We then searched for the guy who works there, who was living nearby. I went in and talked with him, and he had me talk with someone who spoke English on the phone. I explained to them both that I needed to get the tasireh as the taxi drivers weren't allowing me to negotiate with them until I did so. They talked for a while, and agreed that I could come back tomorrow morning to get it. I explained to them that I actually needed it now, as I wasn't staying in town, and was trying to arrange a taxi for tomorrow. They talked about it, and agreed I could come back tomorrow morning to get it, as they need the taxi number before they can give it to me. I explained to them that that would cost more money and time, and I needed to arrange this beforehand, and the taxi drivers wouldn't talk to me until I had it. About the time that I was banging my head against the wooden door, they finally relented and gave me the tasireh.

Off I marched back to the taxi stand, with tasireh proudly in hand. The taxi drivers said I had done a good job- and it would still cost 1500 riyal. I was tired at this point, so I said fine, and asked how much for the whole taxi- complete. 8000 riyal. I said, "Okay. This is what I want to do. I want you to try to find someone else for this taxi, as many people as possible. But by 830, if you haven't found anyone, come and get me, and I'll pay the whole thing." It is expensive, so I wanted them to find others- but I also had to catch the plane 4 hours to the South. (As you'll recall, I had been put on that plane to Al Mukalla and was told it was actually going to Shibam.)

This morning, the taxi showed up on time, a little early. They hadn't bothered to find anyone else, although I did get the costs defrayed by 600 riyal by picking up someone else along the way. And I did try to get some portion reimbursed from the airport, as they hadn't told me the airport in Sayyun (the city next to Shibam) was closed. They told me to come back in two days when the manager is in.

Wednesday, 28 December 2005

Abu Junia

After a frustrating day- wanting to see some sights, and finding again that arranging travel here takes hours at a time- I had a wonderful evening. I went to Shibam, the walled city right next to the hotel, to wander around. I saw the 13th century palace there on the edge of town, but it was too late at night to see the souk. (I had wanted to see the frankinsence, as this town was right along the route of the old spice trade.) I had also wanted to see the tourist tower house, where they have a traditional home turned into museum, but I was too late for that too. Until a young man there in Shibam heard I wanted to see it. He took me to the house, found it locked, found the person with the key and the maintainer of the home, gave me a personal tour, and afterward, refused any compensation- I paid only the regular amount to enter the home, though it was far past the opening hours! I was so impressed at his kindness and generosity in time and refusing money. It was a total blessing.

Pictured here are a baby's bed, toilet (they are very tall- the entire height of the 6-8 story house!) and a pharmacy room where they store the drugs for the family. By traditional, they mean how people still live in their homes today. Then, as I was leaving, I saw two men talking, and greeted them. They wanted to know where I was from (wandering tribe), and we talked for a bit. I asked the traditional questions- Are you married? Do you have children? How old is the oldest? What is his name? And then greeting them by the honorific Abu Abdullah- the father of Abdullah, that being the oldest son.

And then, they asked if I was married. This is fairly common. I told them no, and joked that I am meskin, poor thing. Then, as is common, they expressed suprise that I wasn't married, and wanted to know why not. I told them I'm Christian, therefore I have to marry a Christian woman, and there aren't a lot of options for Christian women in my country. This is a conversation I've had many times.

But this time- he asked me, "Well, when you get married, what do you want to name your eldest son?" No Arab has ever asked me that before. I told him I actually hoped to have girls, and wanted to name the first Junia, and the second Narnia, insha'allah. To which he greeted me, Abu Junia.

I was just so touched and honored that he would do that, and it filled me with such joy, that, even though I don't have children, he would care for me that way by looking with hope for the future. In this Muslim man I met Grace, for he gave me a title I in no way can deserve.

Then I went back to the hotel, situated in a beautiful garden, and heard strange sounds of monkeys coming from the trees. But we're in the middle of the desert, just south of the famous Empty Quarter- called that because it's more empty than most deserts- so monkeys would be a little out of place. I looked closely in the trees, and saw the movement of something small enough to be a marmoset. Which then decided to get up and fly.

I sat there for moments and listened to the sounds of the bats talking to each other, as if they had complete language. I went to sleep, listening to the sounds of bats outside my window talking about the night they had planned.

Tuesday, 27 December 2005

The Land of Death

There is a tradition that the name of this land, the Hadremowt (Hadramawt), means "the place of death" in Arabic. While etemologically similar to those Arabic words, the name probably predates Arabic. This is an old area.

Think Grand Canyon. Not so deep. Much longer, with many branches. Very hot and dry, with rare rains. I am typing from an internet cafe in the middle of the longest wadi (seasonal river with accompanying canyon) in the Arabian Peninsula. On another Arabic computer, so everything is "backwards"- if I want to hit the back browser, I have to click the icon pointing to the right.

So it was great fun getting here. I went to the airport 2 days ago, as I mentioned, and told them I wanted to go to Shibam Hadremowt. I know there is no airport there- it's in neighboring Sayyun, 20 minutes away. No problem- a bit expensive, but I got the round-trip ticket.

Then I got on the plane. And as I'm doing so I realize that there is only one ticket there. And as we taxi away, I realize in the announcement- we're going to the wrong airport! So I sat there for the next hour of the flight, figuring out how I would fix this. Well, it turns out they only give you half the ticket for the round-trip ticket when you first board. (At least, I hope they stick to that explanation when I reboard.) And it turns out the airport in Sayyun has been closed for 2 months, and won't open again until May, insha'allah- I don't know why. But the airline office forgot to mention that to me, and instead sent me to a coastal city where you can catch a cab for a 4 hour ride to Shibam.

And then, when you go get the cab, you find out you must first go to the tourist police to get a travel permit. The tourist police are on the top of the mountain, far from the taxi stand, and never mind that the tourist police in Sana'a said 2 months ago permits are no longer needed. The information had not yet reached the police in the largest city in the East. So we are now in a position where some police won't offer a permit as it's not required, and other police won't let you travel to different areas as you have no permit!

After finally getting the permit, I and two European travelers took the 4 hour ride to Shibam by taxi, with some great camel meat along the way. Other travelers have described this journey as mountains in negative, and I must agree. No picture can really show what you see. You drive on the ground for a while, then do some quick switchbacks to come to the top of the mountain. But then, once on top of the mountain, as far as you can see, the land is flat. Except occassionally the road comes close to an edge, and you realize that there are giant canyons everywhere around you, and you are riding around on the lip of a mountain, or a land filled with ancient riverbeds.

I stayed the night in Shibam Hadremowt (a different Shibam than earlier)- and in a real bed, with clean carpets on the floor! I'm near the most famous hotel in Yemen, the only 1st class hotel in the world made entirely of mud. I'm not there (at $79 a night!) but rather staying right next to the old city of Shibam- which looks amazing at sunset. Freya Stark, the famous Western female traveler in the Middle East, nicknamed it the Manhatten of the Desert, and the name has stuck since then. And as you can see, it truly is an ancient forest of skyscrapers, some up to 8 stories tall, and all of mud! The city goes back to the 4th century BC, and was built on the ruins of a more ancient city, and has about 500 houses inside the small area.

I've taken the taxi out to see neighboring Tarim as well, where people left their homeland for decades at a time, centuries ago, to make it rich in other countries, and then came back and built palaces in their hometown with the money that they had made. But they used the conglomeration of styles from the areas they had visited in a wierd architectural mix, recapitulating the styles, all in mud.

I like the small things I see on the way more than the tourist ones. Some kids playing with a softball to see if they could hit a tower. It's similarity to the towers in town made me wonder how often we are influenced in our play by the architecture around us. I joined in with them, and almost was able to hit the tower.

I also discovered that one day, in paradise, the camel shall lay down with the cow.

Tomorrow, insha'allah, it's a taxi ride in the morning, and a plane flight in the afternoon, back to Sana'a, to visit a language school the next day, and then to fly out the morning after for New Year's Night in Dubai.

I continue to reflect on the differences between here and Morocco. One is, they have Mountain Dew here! No Pepsi, but I'm taking every chance to drink Dew and Red Canada Dry so that I'll get so sick of it I won't miss it when I get back to Morocco. Of course, I'm taking home a Mountain Dew bottle in Arabic...

Another difference, it's completely okay to hold hands with a woman here. Yes, she must be veiled all in black so you only see her eyes, but after that, you can hold hands with your wife! I'd die to get a picture of that. But of course, having taken a picture of that, death would be a likely result, picture.

Monday, 26 December 2005

Cleanlines, Insanity, and other forms of Travel

My first full day here I also got a chance to go to the Yemeni hammam. I wanted the experience, so I'm glad I went- but I forgot the cardinal rule of not going to a hammam that is older than my grandfather. Yeah, it sounds interesting and romantic, to be in a hammam that is 500 years old in the old medina. But then remember that, except for hot water washed down, most traditional hammams are never cleaned. This was true to form. I forgot my hammam glove, so I got scraped with a used one. Unlike Morocco, you sit on a stone tablet here to get scraped, instead of lying down. You don't strip down to the underwear, but instead take off all the clothes and wear a used sarong to cover the lower portions. (No idea what happens during the women's time.) It's much more crowded as well than in Morocco, with smaller rooms and many men all in one place. And then the crowning moment is when they dump all your clothes out for you in the middle of the carpeted floor- and not as an uncharitable act either, but just part of the normal course. I went back to the hotel afterward, took a long shower, and put all those clothes in the dirty clothes. Not good when you have to take a shower after going to the public bathhouse.

Got to see the palace of Imam Ahmed down in Ta'izz as well. A previous visitor, Eric Hanson, describes it as reminding him of his time growing up in the 40's America, and I can totally see that. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed, but this was a guy who enjoyed clutter to the extent that it would put my grandma to shame. (And she was impressive. 2 houses packed ceiling to wall with stuff, so only a narrow alleyway was available to walk through. I inherited her bus from her, and kept some stuff inside, and then threw out 1/2 a dumpster's worth of junk, just inside the bus!) Ahmed had one room devoted to guns and swords, another filled with watches, and my favorite, a room devoted to cologne. I mean, 6 large jars of the same kind, or one bottle of another, amounting to probably a thousand bottles in there. Reminded me of the parable of the rich man. Who could possibly use that much cologne in one lifetime? Or if so, have any friends?

But the trip back up to Sana'a was interesting. They use camels as beasts of burden here- in Morocco their just rides for tourists, and afterwards excellent meat. I didn't take a camel, but rather a bus of the national line. That was an unfortunate choice- it probably would have been better with the camel. (Which is saying something for those of you who've ridden camels.) Normally it's a 5 hour bus ride, but the bus broke down. So we all got into taxis instead. These are shared taxis, but with three in each row, three rows, and very cramped. I was in the back row, in the middle, on the hump, and so had no room for my legs either- for 7 hours. And every time we stopped and I needed to get out to stretch, I had to get 3 guys to move, as we had to push the seat in front of us forward. One time we stopped for gas. Another because we got a flat. Of course, it would have been far better if the guy next to me hadn't been every minute, for one minute, the entire 7 hours (I timed him- I had nothing else to do once it got dark), pulling on his hair and cleaning it. I think it was for lice. I'm not sure.

I'm back in Sana'a now, trying to find a way to get to the North. Shibam Hadremowt (Hadramawt), no problem, though I need a travel permit. Marib, the ancient dam, a problem. I need a travel agency, as I am an American. (All Westerners need this; Japanse have no problem :-( ) But to go by myself cost $300. And I can't afford that. I've been trying to find someone else, at least one other person, as the price is fixed, and then cost can be split, but no luck. So I went back to the tourist police to get the permit to go to Shibam Hadremowt, which I had been told was no problem, as long as I didn't get off the bus in Marib, which is on the way. (Mild civil war going on there right now.) Well, the police told me that I couldn't go to Shibam Hadremowt by land without a tour agency either. I pointed out to them that the guy 3 days ago had said it was no problem, but this was an uninspiring argument to them. I established a relationship with them, talked with them and joked around, spent two hours drinking tea and chewing qat- and was told there was no way to do this. If I was Japanese or Moroccan, no problem. But they're not allowing Westerners, particularly Americans, to go through, because of kidnappings. Not without a tour agency.

So it was off to the airport to get a cheap ticket- well, somewhat- $170- to go to Shibam on the old frankinsence trail in the Hadremowt. It's either that, or stay in Sana'a for 5 days- I can't travel to the East or the North much with this nationality. I thought briefly of changing that, but it seemed like too much trouble at the moment.

Friday, 23 December 2005

Qattal- Unmet Expectations in Yemen

Qattal are the small bits of qat leaves that are much cheaper, and so are not eaten by qat snobs, but they are supposedly still good if you have nothing else available. I thought it a good metaphor for the small bits of travel I have to share.

The day after I last posted, I got to experience long-held dreams, and they didn't meet my expectations. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Saltah is kind of like tagine in Morocco- the national dish of Yemen. Having read about it in books like Mackintosh's Travels in Dictionary Land, I had long wanted to try it. It was not at all hot-spicy like I had been told. It was however, with it's mixture of potatoes and stew, very good.
I ran into a poor man while eating, who ended up taking advantage of me monetarily later on, but he helped me buy some qat, which we then went out to eat at a restaurant. We sat there with a bunch of other guys (women chew qat, though not as much, at women's-only gatherings), plugging these leaves into our cheeks. You peel off some, and stuff it in there. Slowly, this bolus grows larger and larger. It's supposed to induce this relaxed state where you enjoy each other's company. Nothing happened. Since then I've tried it again, with the same result. Now both times, I wasn't in the top floor of someone's home, with all the windows closed, listening to poetry and having discussions with friends. Which I think might be a big part of it. I think it's a cultural enjoyment of company, much like Englishmen around their tea, more than a drug. Even if the US Government lists it at the same level as cocaine! (However, if you look closely, I did notice that even Ben Franklin chews qat when in Yemen.)

As I eat it, I keep on thinking of panda bears. That's what I feel like, eating these leaves. And everywhere you go in this country, you see men (not women, who are all dressed completely in black except for their eyes- unless their the few tourists, or pre-pubescent), from 12 noon on, chewing on these leaves and even stems. At a hotel in Shibam last night I got to try out the red variety- which is a little tastier. Because it's not that tasty. Imagine eating tea leaves. But they're hard. And there's no sugar. That's about the same thing.

Just as I was beginning to feel lonely and wish for someone to talk to, God had me run into a guy from Michigan studying Arabic in Syria. I met him in the souq, and then later at my hotel. It was relaxing to be able to talk to someone about political and education issues. We saw some men dancing with knives to drums as we were walking. And then the horse got in on the act as well.

I've been able to see some interesting cultural distinctives while wandering through the medina. Camels inside houses, grinding grain. Stores with tons of different kinds of juicy figs. And it's been good to see some Christmas decorations here, such as at the old medina gate in Sana'a :-) More seriously, I was able to find a site mentioned in the above book- there was a great church built by the previous Christian Ethiopian ruler of Yemen, called the great Ekklesia, from the Greek word for church. This ruler was also vying with Mecca to get pilgrim traffic to Yemen, back when Mecca was still a pagan city. In protest, a Meccan merchant defecated in the church. In anger at this, the ruler of Yemen launched a great attack on Mecca, with elephants no less. No one knows quite why it didn't work, but the Qur'an says it was because pigeons dropped a rain of pebbles on the elephants. It is listed as a miracle in the Qur'an, and is the Year of the Elephant, the year Mohammed (pbuh) was born. Had the Yemenis won the day, he might have been born in at least a nominal Christian city. Such are the tides of history. Yet it is interesting how the Qur'an makes it a miracle of God that a pagan city (Mecca) survives the attack of a supposed Christian ruler - after the members of the city did such a thing as desecrating a holy site. Nonetheless, Ekklesia became al Qalis, and al Qalis became pronounced as el Gelis, now the district in Old Sana'a where no one remembers there was once a great church- but rather a flattened square remains, with a great hole in the ground in ruins.

True to form, I've been able to pick up an outfit that I've been wearing around. The outfit is what is worn by most men here, and the dagger symbolized being part of a tribe- which most people are here, but increasingly those who aren't have been wearing them to take on the honor of being with a tribe. (That dagger by the way, is real, and very sharp, and is still used in tribal disagreements. When the Kalashnikov, now outlawed in cities unless you have a permit, or the pistol are not being used.)

Interestingly, when people ask me where I'm from in Morocco, I usually say I'm part of a tribe- Qabili- as that seems the easiest way to describe a commune like what I grew up in. But here, tribes are so much more important, I'm getting much different responses. Real interest! They want to know all about my tribe. I translate our group as "People of the Highway" or "Highway Messengers". I had one asking me about what the confederation it was in was (Jesus People). And then I found myself answering his question saying, yes, I guess my dad was the sheik!

People are responding very positively to the garb and my connection with them, being tribal as well- though I say "Qabili jawal- fi Canada, America, u Europe"- a wandering tribe in those three places, to differentiate me from the tribes here. This is truly a land like the Old West, with 3 guns for every Yemeni, and the central government having only weak control over the tribes, who regularly get Western hostages to get concessions from the government. (And then treat the hostages like honored guests.)

I've really enjoyed reading these books that I've linked to as I travel. It makes the traveling come more alive- even the places I won't be able to visit due to time and money, like Suqutra and the Hadremowt. The last two days I found myself near Sana'a in Shibam and Kowkaban, after finding the travel restrictions for tourists to most places have been lifted of late, as of two months ago. But no one has posted this on the internet yet. Shibam and Kowkaban are traditional villages with tower houses, some perched on cliff tops, in the middle of the desert. One village nearby there had an interesting street - sharia 'iissa- Jesus Street. Standing in front is a Catholic brother I met and traveled with for a couple days. The one on the left. The one on the right is a bovine brother- their humped here!

This morning was off to the stone palace of the 2nd to last Imam- religious/political leader- of Yemen, John, who had a palace on top of a pillar of rock in the middle of a fertile region a few km outside Sana'a. He was ... eccentric, to be polite. He didn't want his country getting involved with the modern world, and never allowed his picture to be taken. His son, Imam Ahmed, was more ... evil. Both of them seemed to be immune to bullets, until their death, and both talked to evil spirits to gain power. But Ahmed was shot point-blank by three soldiers, who checked to make sure he was dead. And then he got up. He delighted in killing people and putting their heads on the city gates- and this was in the 1960s! On the way to the palace, I ran into an old Avian sister, and we had a long talk.

I'll go visit his palace tomorrow for Christmas Eve. I'm here in Ta'izz, the old capitol, to see the language school here, before heading back up, North and East of Sana'a, to see Shibam Hadremowt (Hadramawt), the Manhattan of the Desert, and Ma'rib, the ancient dam built around the time of the Queen of Sheba, or Yemen.

Tuesday, 20 December 2005

It's a different world

It's been 24 hours here, and it's quite different from Morocco- certainly from the US. It's wonderful! The people here, this is what I've studied! Full-on Arabic. English helps from time to time, and the second language is English, but not near to the extent as French, so I have to rely on my Arabic mostly to get by. The streets are a bit less organized than Morocco, perhaps because there is fewer police, and cars don't stop for you when you're crossing the street, unlike Morocco.

Some, particularly the young, are dressed in Western clothing, but most are dressed in a long dress and a Western overcoat- they still wear their traditional dress! With a head covering, either red and white like Hezballah, or solid. I'm told head coverings are very distinctive in the Middle East, establishing exactly where you're from. Oh of course, they all have a curved dagger hanging in front of their waist, wrapped in a cloth belt. I'll try to get the outfit later today. And the women are mostly wrapped in black burkas- it's actually surprising how less women are present in life here compared to Morocco. I see them, but they're all in black, and have very little interaction with them. It's much more of a man's world here.

It truly looks like a gingerbread city here in the old medina where I'm staying. Even outside the old city there are houses covered with icing, no window looks normal square, and most of them aren't even level. There are slats for women to see out of and not be seen, and round coverings over all the windows.

In the book Motoring with Mohammed he describes how children will use any piece of trash to play. I saw the first day children playing with small windmills made of cups, or streamers- the same exact toys that Hansen saw 15 years earlier! Yemen is little changed over 15 years, or over 200 years, or over 1000 years. Men seem more relaxed, ready to laugh, and sing even, as they walk and work, more then they do in Morocco. I can't wait to hear some of the famous Yemeni poetry. This seems to be everything I studied about Arabic culture.

Where I went to change my money the men were chewing qat, the ubiquitous national drug of Yemen, with a big bolus in their mouth and green in their teeth. I wished God's blessing on the qat, which they laughingly appreciated. It's a mild narcotic, with perhaps some negative long-term effects, but less so than cigarettes- at about the same level of effect for most as cigarettes, more than caffeine, less than marijuana. The most negative effect is economically, as they spend so much money on it. But then, they evidently think it fairly wasteful for Westerners to spend all this money on travel when they could experience the fellowship and meditation of qat. You can't fully interact with men here and have relationship with them without it. There are daily qat chews for 3 hours at a time, where men joke, discuss politics, meditate, listen to music, recite poetry, and generally talk. I'll try to get some later today.

I also got rebuked for taking a picture of a large mosque under construction, and showed the police how that picture was being erased. Yemen has a large category for secure sites that you can't get a picture of. But then later I got the same mosque, the largest ever in Yemen, from my 6th floor window. Which, by the way: great view, but there is no elevator, so I'm switching later today to one on the 3rd floor. I've had enough exercise now.

The plan is, visit the international school outside Sana'a, the language school in Ta'izz, Shaharah and some of the mountain villages built like skyscrapers on the cliff edges, the Manhatten of the Desert- Shibam, ancient mud skyscrapers going up 6 stories in the middle of the desert, and the ancient dam of Ma'rib, from the time of the Queen of Sheba (Yemen). The latter might be more of a problem, as it's near the war zone. And I need a travel permit for everywhere I go in this country outside the capitol.

Monday, 19 December 2005

Kicked Out of Yemen

Some of those reading this know that it has for many years, over a decade now, been a dream of mine to go to Yemen. I had the opportunity to do this during our Christmas vacation, and felt that a country with only 200 Christians in it out of 30 million people is probably a good place to visit for Christmas time, so I went. But to get here is not easy. There is conflicting information on what is required for a Visa, and it keeps on changing. The Yemeni embassy in Rabat, the capitol of Morocco, is first off not easy to find, having moved but not bothered to update their addresses. However, they tell you you need an invitation officially from someone in the country. However, friends of my roommate who live here said that American citizens can now get a Visa at the airport, no problem. So I decided to risk it and come- despite a large economic loss if I couldn't because of the cost of the ticket and preparation.

The last few days I've been feeling sick, and the plane ride over was no exception- chills and fever, alternating with requests for dolopraine from the plane crew, as I had foolishly put my flue medications in my check-in luggage. The flight from Dubai was enjoyable as I had a seatmate from Yemen, and I found that a lot of my Morrocan Arabic was usuable when talking with a Yemeni, though not all of it. It looks like a mixture of Moroccan and the bits of Fousha, Lebanese, and Egyptian I know could help a lot.

I kept on praying there would be no problems upon entering Yemen. It seemed like that. I lined up with the other Westerners to get my visa, and paid $55 and obtained it, and went to the next desk. They asked me a couple questions, and then they sent me to the head of security. I figured that this was unusual, but because I as a tourist and not coming with a tour group, as is normative here, that I had to go through a few extra hoops.

The head of security, and many others, looked through my papers, and asked me many questions. Actually, a lot of people asked me questions, and there was a lot of Yemeni Arabic going on, and I wasn't able to follow it all, and I was being questioned in Arabic and English mix about my reasons for coming here, where I was going, how much money I had with me, what my religion was, how long I was staying, etc.. It was hard to know what they wanted. Did they want to know I had brought a lot of money in to help with the economy and so I wouldn't be a drain on the government, or was too much money a red flag? I tried to answer truthfully- responding that I was a tourist, that I had long wanted to see the country; I wanted to see Ta'izz, Sana'a, and maybe Ma'rib; I was a Christian; that I had $450 with me, but also credit cards. When requested, I showed them the letter of invitation to visit the language school in Ta'izz. Finally he said, "Ghalas"- "Enough", and told me to go with another security officer after getting my bags. I thanked him, and went with to get my bags, figuring that I was now leaving the airport. Then the security officer took me to the airport screener, which I thought was unusual, as the airport screeners are there for getting on a plane. I told the officer I was not planning to leave, and he said yes, this is the way to see the city, through this portal. He lied.

I got scanned, and the officer took me up to the ticket counter. I reminded him that I was not planning to leave, that I wanted to see the city. He continued to lie, saying, "Yes, Yes, this is the way to the city..." I am not used to people lying. In Morocco, you might not get the truth, but it won't be an outright lie either- it will be, "Yes, I'll do it, insha'allah", and they will never do it. But by the time they are giving my passport to the ticket counter, I realized they are trying to get me out of the country without talking to me about it.

I began to protest, asking to speak with someone about this first. I was told, "Sorry, there is nothing to be done. You must leave. It has been decided." I went round and round with this, while someone was saying the plane is being delayed just for me. The lady at the ticket counter, speaking English, pulled me aside. She said that I had been put on a black list, banned from entering the country! I told her, and then the others, there was no way I could be on such a list- I had never done anything remotely dangerous or been involved with Yemen before. I asked again to speak to someone at least about it. She said that they understood that I am a Muslim, and that was part of the reason why I was on the blacklist. I told her and the others that, no, I had said I am Christian. I told them I was a Quaker- part of a group of Christians always committed to peace, not violence. Then they checked my bags in for the flight back.

I began to beg, in the Arabic style, hand fluttering to mouth, to be allowed entry. At least could someone explain to me why I was being barred entry, why I was on a blacklist? No, no one could. I continued to pray for God to open a way. They lead me through the gate to be screened the second time for entry. And I saw there was no way they would relent, or even give me an explanation, and I began to cry as I continued to pray. For 10 years I had studied and dreamed of going to Yemen. And it was not to be.

I don't think I'll ever know why I was barred entry or put on a blacklist. No more than I'll ever know why they changed their minds. Because at that moment the original guard came up to me, saying, "Ghalas", and pulled me back up to the ticket counter. I didn't know what was happening, as I had learned not to trust him. He arranged to pull my bag off the plane, and said, "Welcome to Yemen. You can stay."

They asked me a few more questions about my travel plans and warned me not to go to Sa'da, which I already knew was banned because of a minor war there at the moment. Then they showed me how to get a taxi into town.

I am so glad this happened. If I had been forced to leave, I would have lost a lot of money on the ticket, and a dream. If I had entered, it would have been too easy. But in this manner, God showed me He is with me on this journey, as I look at Yemen. He set it up so that only He could change things, and soften their hearts to allow me entry. He is truly Immanuel. Now I know His hand is with me as I travel here.

After these events, I went to look for a hotel to stay in, changed money, and did the only sensible thing after such physical and emotional exhaustion. I slept.

Sunday, 18 December 2005

And you didn't even kill a goat for me...

I had an interesting opportunity this past week. During our last break while coming back from a trip to Esswara I met a Berber professor of linguistics and English on the train ride up, who invited me to come to a conference on women's rights where he would be sharing a paper on how the Berber language inherently discriminates against women. Bonus, one of my personal heros, Fatima Mernissi, would be speaking there at the conference- she's one of the top living feminists, and the most famous Moroccan feminist.

So I went up there this past Saturday to the conference, and didn't get to hear Mernissi, as it turns out she wasn't speaking there. But I had some interesting experiences along the way.

I met my friend there at a bar, where he was drinking with some other professors. They kept on asking me why I wasn't drinking with them. I told them out of respect for the beliefs of those in this country. They said, "But we are Muslims, and we're drinking." I was however feeling sick from something flue-like, and so begged off early, and went to the hotel.

The next morning I found out he had been drinking until 230 that morning, and had about 12 beers. He had also already been sick, but now had a chronic hangover. This is relatively unusual among the intelligencia in this country, and drinking is still considered something shameful. As we arrived for the conference at 9 in the morning, 3 of his students came up to him, very eager to see him. He appeared suprised that they were there, although they had been waiting since 8, since that's when the class with him begins! He at that point told them that he wouldn't be able to meet with them (as the rest of the class of 20 students came up), as he was sick, and he had a conference that day, and was very tired.

Here's the thing. They weren't put out at all! They expressed sympathy for him, though he they had been waiting for class for an hour, and his breath still smelled of alcohol. Then, they said they had tried to come to the conference to hear his paper the day before, but couldn't find it. He said dismissively that it was full anyway. The students said they understood, and profusely thanked him.

Then...they showed up for the 2nd day of the conference! And there was room in the hall. And during the break they gathered around him to pester him with questions. They totally love their professor, and the subject, and it was just amazing to see how it seemed he could do no wrong in their eyes! I was amazed at what a beautiful relationship he had with his students, despite doing a number of things in his first year teaching that would easily have had me losing my job.

I learned a couple interesting things at the conference- but only a couple, as most of the papers were in French, or in classical Arabic. One was a new way to say someone is insane- he cut the rope- qta' Hddr. Second was a discussion on "wooli, wooli", a phrase I've heard female students used before. Turns out that it can only be used by women (men saying it sound gay), and is the diminutive form of the river of hell, used to mean that this situation is as bad as being in that river! It is part of the way the Moroccan language infantizes women, by allowing them alone to use many different words in the diminutive form, as in baby talk, so that they sound like young children.

Saturday, 10 December 2005

The 1st Christmas Tree

I just got my first Christmas tree ever! I went down to the local flower shop and ordered it, asking for one about chest-high, for 150 dirhams. (9:1 $ exchange rate) They told me it would take a couple days, so I came back. They took me to the back, and said they needed to increase the rate to 200 dirhams, as they had brought back a 10' high tree! It's considered very bad form to go back on an agreed price here, and I told them truly, I didn't know where I was going to put such a large tree; I didn't want a big tree; I had wanted a small version. So I got the 10 footer for the previous price. And then tipped a guy to carry it to my house a few block away, to figure out where to put it. We could put it in the middle of the foyer, the middle of the salon- or off in the corner, where we finally decided to put it- pictured here with the scrorpion lantern I picked up in Essouara.

Then I realized I had nothing to trim it with. So I put on it some necklaces, a Chinese good wishes sign, a Chinese folded paper crane, one real ornament, and 3 sebias- Muslim prayer beads. Oh, no angel, so if you look close, at the top is a Farengi smiling down on us. My rendition of the nativity story is really messed up...

Tuesday, 6 December 2005

Gatherin Anemones in Dar Bu'azza

Today we went off to the beach on a mini-field trip for my Marine Biology class- 4 students only- to observe and gather anemones. Took time off from the Honors Marine Bio class and the subsequent lunch to go to the beach which is now 10 minutes from school. We searched all over a very well scoured area- many men go there to gather invertebrates to sell in a country with 30% unemployment- and finally found one. I had them do a transection- observing all species around the anemone to get an idea of the habitat, as well as looking at vertical zonation of different species. For most of them, it was their first time even touching an anemone. Not a lot of specimens found- there was a large bulbous object that the students had no idea what it was, and were asking me about it. I picked it up and discovered it was a large conglomeration of...waste. From a horse ... I hope. :-(

They really enjoyed eating lunch out there as they took data. It was quiet and relaxing, and a welcome break from normal school. And then, at the last moment, with only 5 minutes to spare, we became late for class, when one student discovered a treasure trove of specimens- about 15 in all. I'll post a picture tomorrow of what they look like in the specimen jars. We brought them back, very excitedly, to dissect tomorrow, and observe how their poisoness stinger cells in the tentacles (the fastest known biological action) release in response to salt and vinegar, and what they look like in prepared slides. It was really sweet how excited Zouheir was as he found each one. "Ustad!" (Teacher) "There's one!" "Ustad- there's another one! There's two!" "Ustad, there's three!" "Ustad, there's four! Four anemones!" He continued so long we nicknamed him the Count...

Christmas is coming up, and I hope all is well with those reading this blog. I stopped by the embassy yesterday, and it looks like all is on target to renew my passport, which expires in 5 months. I need to renew it as the country I'm going to, hopefully, requires a valid passport, I believe, over 6 months from the end date. Insha'allah, I'm going to Yemen over Christmas. I hear it's a nice place for Christmas...I've long wanted to go, and I want to check out the lay of the land. I am told as an American I can get a passport at the airport, along with money and a notification of where I'm staying. Hopefully, that will work out well- please pray that it does.

Sunday, 4 December 2005

Off to the Football Game

Just got back from the football game. It's the third time I've been to a game here- and I was supporting the local colours- Green, for my team, Raja. By football, I of course mean the European form, or cora, as it's pronounced here. And my team is translated as Hope. The other main team in Casablanca is Widad. That means something like love. I'm not kidding. It gets even better. I understand the team in Rabat is called Faith. These three are the best teams in the country, these three that remain- Hope, Faith, and Love- and the greatest of these is Hope. At least, from my perspective :-)

Football is a bit more exciting here than it is in the States. I don't mean the actual game. I only took one picture of the game. No, it's the fans that make it interesting. The rivalry between Hope and Love is so strong in this city, the only city with two teams in the country, that fans have to sit on different sides of the stadium, and enter in different gates. So you look out, and see a giant sea of red. And on my side, a sea of green. After every game, there is a mini-riot of around 200 people throwing bottles, as Hope and Love fight it out. That's why it's usually helpful that they seem to always tie. It could be worse.

Oh- why I'm Rajowi- for Raja. They have a bit more of a following with the poor. Green goes well with my (blue) eyes. But mostly, the first time I went to a game, it was with Rajowi Moroccans, and so that kind of clinched it for me. On the way to the stadium I got into a taxi cab, wearing a green Raja jersey and cap, and the taxi driver ask me if I was Rajowi. "No," I replied, "Widadi." He laughed.

I find it an interesting cultural experience. I am interested in the football mainly for the cultural exchange, more than the sport, as those of you who know me would know. Yes, Mom, I even brought a book with me on the formation of the Biblical canon, just in case I needed to make use of my time. But I didn't end up reading it. :-)

There are two levels of seating, 20 Dirham and 50 Dirham (9:1 exchange rate with the dollar). We sit in the 50 Dh area- the 20 Dh area, under the clock, is more rowdy, with lots more marijuana, I'm told. Men crowd around, without lines, to get in, and there is heavy police presence to beat people back into the non-line. Usually there's about 10% women, but today, more like 3%- and a very crowded day too. Good weather, and I think it's been a long time since a Raja-Widad game.

The game was at 1430, so at about 10 I started to hear people walking down the street chanting for their team. And I live a good ways away from the stadium. This is the true religion in this country- at least for men. We got there an hour before game time, when there wasn't a lot of seating. But everyone is warming up. No cheerleaders. There's a guy bouncing a ball on his knees, feet, etc. for about 1/2 an hour, as the entertainment. In the meantime, the crowd entertains themselves by chanting and doing the wave. Everyone has flags- Widad has any flag with red in it- Moroccan, Swiss, British, Vatican- even American in the past. Raja with green. And it's really kind of beautiful to see the sea of green around you.

Then some guys come out with a stuffed eagle to take pictures with. (The eagle is the mascot for Raja.) Another guy runs down the track with a very large green flag, wearing a green sombrero. (He's the other mascot for Raja.) Widad has a guy running down the track with a red flag, and it's actually kind of neat when the two of them get together, because they will join hands, and run together. To the whistles (the equivalent of the hiss) of the crowd who really doesn't get sportsmanship. After a mock attack on each goal by the mascots, the game begins.

As for that sportsmanship bit- chants here are a little different than in America. I have never heard in the US one side yell at the other, "Shame on you." Or question the parentage of the other side, or make other sexual comments. In chant form no less. Happily, I can't understand all of the Arabic in this case. It's interesting to see how each side gets totally riled up if there's a perceived offense on their team; but doesn't see it so if their team does the same offense. But I think that's true of football the world over.

For the rest of the game, there's the requisite TPing of the field, as soldiers, gendarms, and police officers look on. A chearleader guy comes along with a large drum to lead the fans, flags get passed around, smoke bombs are released, and at one point men raise their hands,

fluttering them in the air, looking for all the world like they are in a charismatic prayer meeting, as they chant for their team. There are hawkers, but for coffee, tea, and lollipops. Sodas and sandwhiches are available during 1/2-time- when you also can perform your prayers.

And though our 50 Dh seats are about the same as the 20 Dh ones (both never cleaned, very hard, very cold) constantly men try to jump the gate into the 50 Dh area. Which would be fairly easy, if it weren't for the soldiers and police officers waiting to beat people as they try to jump. And they actually do beat them. Which doesn't stop people from trying anyway, for the sake of the questionnably better seats. Or from spending a long time arguing with the

police officer to be allowed over the gate. Which I don't quite get- they know they'll never be allowed over. For the second an officer allowed one over, there would be a flood of other would-be refugees. And yet they continue.

They actually played some football too. Nothing in the 1st half, and then Love scored early on in the 2nd. Then Hope (wearing blue today, not green) got one goal after another, for a final score that wasn't actually a tie for the first time when I've watched a match- 2:1 for Hope over Love. We left a few minutes early, before the riot started.