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.