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.

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.

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