Saturday, February 6, 2010


This is a shoutout to the incredibly talented Kate Dixon, of the "Happy Yemen" blog. Her Yemeni photo blog can be found here. It is not called "Happy Yemen" as I incorrectly claimed, but is definitely worth taking a little looksee.
Talent like this makes me regret the ill-advised expenduture of a fancy-pants SLR camera.... indoor/outdoor disposable cameras were good enough for my first 22 years of life! And they darn well would have been for Yemen- as evidenced by the cardboard-encased camera my family used to commemorate our big time adventure in Turkey.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Around town


Typical Businessman

winding Sana'anee alleyway

Old Sana'a garden with gardener

Shopping Spree

Promoting world peace

Watermelon by the slice

A Drive-by Fruiting! Does anyone know that quote?!

What are you selling, Sir?!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some thoughts

There are many reasons why I moved to Yemen, I’m scanning my memory for those very reasons right now...Ummm... oh! Somewhere along the meandering journey of my life, I decided I really liked camels. Camels? I mean come on! How tantalizingly exotic! I like to call them dromedaries, something to do with the number of humps I think(but can never remember to look up). I will use any excuse I can to drop the neat little phrase “recumbent ruminant” in conversation. That combined with my prodigious appetite for hummus and lamb (which as it turns out is Syrian and Lebanese, not Yemeni) – and of course the fact that I still vainly cling to the hope that if I learn Arabic well enough, I can become the next real-life “Alias”- in my mind this life will combine lots of hand to hand combat skills, weaponry know-how, and throwing knives concealed about my person. Someday (whistful sigh..) and so... YEMEN!
Now clearly had I done more than the most cursory of google searches I would have discovered that my little“golden utopia” was merely a figment of my imagination. Had I done some substantive research, not merely “can I wear t-shirts in Yemen + is there hummus” searches, I would have been far better prepared. But in truth there really isn’t a lot of information about Yemen out there. But still, I had my dreams.

I spent hours, whole afternoons, days even, dreaming of Yemen. Dreaming of this unprecedented, unexpected, unbelievable experience I was about to embark on- I was enchanted. Bewitched even. The allure of the unknown has always drawn me, the romance of history, the grandeur of differences, the austere beauty of the desert.
My dreams became my vivid reality, they were my tacit hopes and desires, they imbued my expectations and anticipations. Finally, finally I was moving to the Middle East. I was moving to Yemen- an ethereal, unknown place, my little golden Arabia. I had unsubstantiated visions and expectations of what would happen while I was there. Products of my vivid imagination, of my unspoken yearning for something..something great? More? I’m not even sure.
I pictured an old, rugged wooden cart heavily laden with rolled carpets, copper trade goods, sacks of spices, and large bolts of gilt fabrics, in damask, and the finest Egyptian cotton- an antiquated oil lantern crudely affixed to a pole on the cart- being pulled by a lugubrious, plodding old camel. I pictured a wizened, care worn old man beside the cart- his shuffling gait only mildly slower than the uneven pace of the ancient ruminant in front of him. His thoughts are far, his heart is heavy, his eyes scrunched in thoughtless concentration.
I pictured dark, foggy winding alleys, the aroma exotic but not unpleasing- roast lamb, fine incense, dung, and the intoxicatingly intangible aroma of mystery and intrigue. Eyes watching from darkened windows, heavily curtained doorways leading to shisha dens, and tiny tea shops, the only sound interrupting the cool night air is the occasional braying of a donkey, or the hiss and spat of a lone, stray cat. The wane light coming from the occasional quaint lantern barely augmented by a three quarter moon and the mountains hanging ominously, toweringly, in the far distant haze of a midsummer night. Suddenly a noise rents the silence, the hauntingly beautiful call of the muezzin is heard in the distance- then again, and again as mosque after mosque echo the resounding cadence, an atonal chant allahu akbar, allahu akbar, god is great. The stillness of the predawn morning shattered by the scuffle of sandaled feet- men weary, still bleary eyed and unfocused from their prematurely interrupted sleep- its fajur prayer, and the day has begun. Soon the streets come alive- women and children making their way to school, men adjourning to the shops to drink tea and talk. Shopkeepers and street vendors uncovering their merchandise , preparing for another day in a dusty, whirlwind of activity, hawking their wares, greeting passerby; both old acquaintance, and possible customer. The streets are a jumble, a splendorous mishmash of animals, and refuse, and un-chaperoned children, tired old men, and the unemployed. The woman continue only on their purposeful way- stop at the meat seller for some fresh mutton, on to the spice market for ground cardammon and curry powder. Or they are home doing the washing, cooking, looking after the children, sweeping the floor from the presence of the dust that is forever alighting on every surface- the dust that is disturbed by the sweep, sweep rhythmic motion of the brush, the dust that hangs effervescently in the air, only to settle back on the floor again, another day, another sweeping, always the dust. Some woman are out making house calls- dropping in on a cousin, a sister- in law, an aunt- they remain cloistered in their private enclave- the separate social realm of the woman- in the house, together, rarely seen, never heard, and so they continue on, evermore on their ponderous journey through life.
I imagined reclining on beautiful, embroidered divans- sipping tiny cups of sweet mint tea, eating sugared almonds, dates, and cakes dripping with honey and nuts. I imagine teeming platters of food- rice cooked with cardomman, raisins and spices, plates of roast lamb, mutton and chicken, large flat loaves of bread, meat pies, and cooked vegetables, platters of fresh fruit and honey; an ambrosial array- the lightly perfumed air from the burning charcoal brazier full of incense contributing to the drowsy, contented atmosphere. Everywhere wall hangings, and woven tapestries, and piles of handmade carpets of the richest color, costliest material and most intricate designs.
I see old men, their white hair, trimmed beards and wizened, wistful expression showcasing a certain grandeur achieved from many years spent toiling outdoors under a hot sun. They sit at caf├ęs playing dominoes and backgammon, everywhere little boys sipping cokes from the bottle and squatting beside their fathers- springing up at the slightest glance or command cast their way. Fathers gossiping and boasting, drinking tea, lazily puffing on fragrant water pipes, planning and scheming but content, always content. An itinerant bread seller, hesitating briefly in the shade, just a moments rest, and away again. It’s a simpler life, it’s a picturesque time.

Can’t you see it? Can’t you imagine? It is clear, vivid, vibrant in my head.
This is what I pictured. This is what I see in my mind, this is what I was hoping to find- I’ve caught glimpses- brief windows into a past life, another time. Children trotting three to a donkey, giggling away their youth. Old women huddled by a well, filling buckets, talking, sharing the sameness of their lives, carrying huge bundles of grains and rice on top of their heads, heading towards, heading from, the market. I’ve seen it in the outlying countryside, I’ve seen flashes of it in old Sana’a. I continued to cling to that vision, still tried to find it. Tried to make Aden, my life there charming, tried to morph it into the ancient utopia of my dreams.

I’ve read too many books focused on early 1900’s Cairo, or the old city of Kabul. I had romanticized, and dreamed, and polished, and augmented, and skewed my view- into an otherworldly place. Formed in my mind from years of reading novels and history books, poems and memoirs- romanticizing the land that so intrigued me. My visages were of the ancient, the primordial, the immortal.
I came with a slew of expectations, of goals, an agenda, both realistic, and less than so. A plan to find myself, solidify my career goals, learn a language, become something more, something greater than I had been thus far. And now I find myself, almost a full year later, still searching.

Yemen is a rather lost county. Plagued with problems, perpetually on the cusp of civil war. Aden in particular has taken the worst of the middle east- the stifling social customs, the burka, the oppressive laws, and stingy, corrupt business practices and meshed it with the worst of middle America, communist Russia, and China- shoddy, derelict old buildings, rampant pollution and homelessness, cheap, plastic, mass market consumer goods, cell phones, and facebook.

It was hard for me to abide in this halfway house between tradition and modernity. Eschew it all and embrace the coming times, the technology, the social relations, the freedom and democracy- or return to a simpler, traditional time. By refusing to choose, Aden is failing them both. Internet but not consistent running water? Cell phones and SMS but no country-wide policy standardization, corrupt government, inadequate electricity, high unemployment, unreliable postal service, and no stipulation on pollution and waste material. But we do have a pizza hut and escalators in the mall.

My time in Yemen was not wonderful, my time in Yemen was not terrible. Somewhat like Yemen’s precarious balance between tradition and modernity, so too was my experience a tenuous equidistant existence- exciting and enriching and unique but oh so lonely, beneficial but plagued with boredom and anxious uncertainty.

At times it was very easy to fall into crippling self-doubt. Why the hell am I in Yemen? I often felt like I was vainly clinging to belief that I was doing, experiencing something worthwhile. That I was accomplishing something, not merely surviving, expending an extended expanse of my life in one place- that this whole thing was somehow meaningful. Because what was the point? I’ve never suffered delusions of wanting to be a career teacher. I felt like I wasn’t changing anything, I wasn’t helping anyone, I wasn’t accomplishing the goals I embarked on, what was the purpose? I’m not someone who intrinsically needs a purpose for every action, but I do need a direction, a plan- however farfetched, absurd, improbable- I need a goal in order to enjoy the journey.
I can say that I did it. That I made a choice, that I stuck with it, that I honored my commitment, did my best, left with my integrity. But for me, that wasn’t enough, not nearly enough, and thus at times, sparked a general unhappiness, a malaise, a lingering, pesky, persistent doubt about my rational not for coming, but for staying.

Now of course, that damnable hindsight, I’m back in the states... And I miss it. Not Yemen per se, but the experience, the people. I really was doing something different, something more. It was just hard to see it sometimes. Hard to appreciate it through the sweltering heat, and rolling blackouts, and dirtiness. And really, I did some amazing things. And I’ll never be the same person I was when I left so many long months ago, and, I think, that’s okay too. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Now that I'm back anxiety consumes me. Life has no clear path, no easy answer- and for no one is that more blatantly true, than for the faltering first steps of a recent graduate with a social sciences major(damn you anthropology!) Once again sleep, that evanescent temptress, remains elusive. The nighttime hours are the longest- my mind a whirlwind of cogitations, ruminations, speculations, contemplations. I ponder, I reflect, I remember. Sleep comes slowly- a thousand and one thoughts filter through my mind. The clock emits a faint glow as it slowly, inexorably counts down the minutes, hours until dawn and another day. It’s the future that scares me the most. It’s on the future that I dwell- it gapes before me, a dark abyss of the unknown. So many possibilities- or worse yet, so few possibilities. Its so unclear, the uncertainty is at times paralyzing. I need a plan. What’s next? I just don't know. One thing's for sure though, I sure hope it will involve throwing knives!

Monday, January 11, 2010

1001 Things

I have about 1.2 billion thoughts, musings, anecdotes, quotes, stories, factoids, etc. about Yemen that I never got around to blogging about. As I will soon have an absolute ABUNDANCE of time on my hands, I shall continue to blog faithfully. Plus I plan on have many more glorious(althought perhaps not as absurd) adventures in the near future.
And eventually I'll add more pictures! I took a couple thousand of them...

*IMPORTANT* I expected to have another month to pick up souveniers- so those of you who(rightly) expect souveniers- don't hold your breath. SORRY! I simply ran out of time. Leaving Yemen happened... quickly. It's a lot of work dispersing a years worth of clothing, appliances, furniture, dishes, books, toys, equipment, supplies... closing out bank accounts, prematurely canceling rental agreements, discontinuing various memberships, stopping teaching.. blah blah. Hopefully my triumphal return and sunny disposition is souvenier enough!

Did I forget to mention that I'm coming home?

Yep. I'm leaving Yemen. Soon. Today actually, in a matter of hours.
Do I want to leave Yemen? No.
Do I feel unsafe here? No.
Am I happy about this? No.
Am I being a good sport about this? Yes.

Clearly I am a self-sufficient adult and quite capable of evaluating risk factors, and making informed, independent decisions. I do however have a very good relationship with my family and friends and respect their opinions and wishes greatly- I have never seen anyone react so strongly- The recent (and hugely exaggerated)Western media frenzy has absolutely destroyed whatever tenuous hold on reputubility Yemen had. I did my best to assure them of my safety, but little I, or others said seemed to make any difference.
Risk aside, the direct requests and appeals to leave Yemen was enough to make me acquiesce to their wishes. Although I feel their alarm is largely unwarranted, in order to honor their wishes, and assuage their concern, I feel it would be in my best interest to leave Yemen early. No one would ever force me to do anything I don't think is in my best interest, but I have recieved empassioned appeals on multiple fronts, and as my friends and family have been an endless source of support and comfort for me throughout my time here, I cannot deny or begrudge them this. And so! I shall be home tomorrow.
I guess I need to find a job. Damn.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Rearview Mirror Burka

Taking pictures of women is ultra haram, you gotta be subtle. I'm turning it into an art form.

Happy Yemen

Got this grass

Brandishing the sword... of friendship!

Beans anyone?

This is a series of pics I took earlier today whilst adventuring around the outskirts of Sana'a. I went with Matt and Kate (fellow American teacher I recently met living in Sana'a) Kate is taking a online photography class and starting a blog- Then she started talking about blog themes- I was all "theme? bahh... I just blog about whatever piques my interest at that particular moment." Hence I spend an inordinante amount of time blogging about rooster attacks and dead animal parts because dead animal parts always pique my interest. Duh.
So clearly we started talking about how the West believes Yemen is scary hell-hole and there are land mines and car bombs on every corner, and lurking, scheming suicide bombers and everyone hates Americans and we could all die at any given moment. Which is simply absurd. And it is completely the fault of Western media. I shall not delve much further into this subject because I get all sorts of heated about it and will likely devolve into an empassioned diatribe castigating western media and I shall pepper my discursive harangue with many an illustrative anecdote.

I plan to get years and years of small talk, chit chat, raised eyebrows, awkward encounters, free drinks at pubs, etc out of Yemen. Now it's this otherworldly place, people have a vague notion of its location as “somewhere over there..” gesturing offhandedly. Yemen is known as the place that blew up the USS Cole, and achieved unprecedented infamy from a casual reference from the hit sitcom “friends”
Until the recent media frenzy, the world has not cared about Yemen. America, the UN, other powerful nations throughout the world are too caught up in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting other nation’s proxy wars. Resources cannot be further spread to another small, undistinguished third-world country, but Yemen’s time on the world’s main stage is coming- soon. The attention of the world will focus on Yemen, and finally see how desperate and floundering this country is. Yemen is seen as a veritable breeding ground for governmental corruption, fomenting zealotry and overall lawlessness. Yet all of this is juxtaposed in a place of rugged natural beauty, with good, simple people whose lives are complicated by the daily conflict of social and religious conservatism fighting against modernity. I wanted to be one of the people who knew the real Yemen; who knew what it was like before the civil wars that seem preordained to come(or in fact, continue to happen), before the impending resource crisis, and meddling of foreign interests that will likely rip this nation apart. Before Yemen utterly, completely, irrevocably implodes. But know this- it isn't there yet. I haven't felt scared or threatend for single moment that I've been here. People are invariably warm and welcoming, with such an aura of simple goodness.
I hate it when people castgate an entire nation, race, culture based off a few overzealous acts by extremists, based on fear and misunderstanding....Okay I'll stop... I could go on an on about this...
Anyway, Kate was talking about how the theme of her blog should be "Happy Yemen" endeavoring to showcase the real Yemen- I like that. So here's a few pics of today- interacting with local people going about there everyday lives. That is until three photo-happy Americans busted into their sleepy village!

getting water