Yemenity2010's Blog

Why Visit Yemen? The Gospel According to some Yemenites.

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Tema: Vatten by yemenity2010 on 25/07/2011

Ancient history, spectacular nature and friendly people. Those are some of the main attractions in Yemen, according to young Yemeni people I consulted when I was about to leave the country last winter. Right now the situation might not be the most welcoming or secure for visitors, but as people there like to point out – this civilization have been around a long time, and this is not the first time it has experienced dramatic events. 

– Every place in Yemen is attractive.

It’s december 2010 and I am about to finish one of the very last writing courses I have been teaching in Taiz. As a final exercise the participants get to promote their own country, ”selling it” and emphasizing all the good things they themselves see, and which could also benefit the tourist business. It hasn’t been easy attracting tourists during the last decade, mainly due to security, or rather lack thereof. A shame, considering all the historical landmarks and memorable views the area has to offer. At this time, when we’re discussing the issue, the so called ”Arab Spring” hasn’t really initiated. Actually it seemed to take off a week or so after I left Yemen in early January 2011.

During the year I spent there I gathered quite a lot of information that I still haven’t explored fully. This is one example that I think might be worth sharing, sooner or later, even if the current situation in that nation at present seems even more volatile and less tourist-friendly. One way or the other things will keep changing. Exactly how and in what direction is another matter. Any predictions about what will come out of the changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen are bound to be uncertain, so for now I am going back to what these young people, most of them between 20 and 30 years of age, thought could show their country in a more positive light.

Different environments like seas, deserts and islands as well as historical places are what Donia, Sarah and Samah want to point out to begin with. For practical purposes I have divided the class into smaller groups and given them ten minutes or so, to come up with their priorities. I might add that many of them are students or in some cases teachers themselves. Concrete examples this trio of young women like to mention are Saber Mountain, which rises above the city of Taiz. Also Bab al-Yemen (the entrance to the Old City in the capital Sana’a, where 1000-year-old houses constitute one of UNESCO:s world heritage sites), Socotra Island (home to a fauna sometimes compared to Galápagos Islands for its uniqueness). This also reminds me of the somewhat embarrassing fact that I have managed to work both in Ecuador and Yemen without paying a visit to either of these very special islands. Well, it is a little expensive (especially Galápagos) so that will be my excuse for now, at least…

– To see the essence of the Yemeni people. We are the most good-hearted people in the peninsula, says Adel, one of the few men in the group, when motivating presumtive visitors.

The amiable nature of the Yemeni is supposedly stated already by the prophet Muhammad (whose name seldom is mentioned in this country without adding ”peace be upon him”).  Yemen is an old civilization, that’s something Adel (and one or two other guys, whose names now escape me) emphasizes. Older than Saudiarabia, Oman and Bahrein and comparable to Egypt and Iraq, I’m told by my students. The most important places? Provinces like Marib, Hadramaout and the northernmost parts of the country come up. Unfortunately Marib, supposedly home to the legendary Queen of Sheba (mostly known as Bilquis) and home to some ancient monuments, is more or less off limits for foreigners nowadays. There has been a number of kidnappings there, and also attacks on power stations which has a debilitating effect on the country as a whole. The northern parts close to the border of Saudi Arabia have also been increasingly dangerous, including a civil war between the government and rebels from the Houthi tribe.

– The people in Yemen are friendly, generous and hospitable.

There it is again. This time proudly presented by Fayrouz, Shaima, Nuria and Amani; four women who also choose to bring up the climate as an argument:

– If you want to see the world, come to Yemen. We have all seasons.

But not snow?

– If you go to Sana’a and north to Saada, it’s frozen. If you sleep in the night you can get your bottle of water icy in the morning. In the north you can get winter, if you want heat you go to Aden. If you want normal you can stay in Taiz.

Mountains, islands and wadis (valleys or occasionally dried-up riverbeds)  are others of nature’s gifts to inhabitants and visitors.

– I think Ibb is enough for foreigners to visit. It’s a wonderful city, claims one of the women who says she grew up in a village near Ibb, roughly an hour an a half north of Taiz on the road to Sana’a if you’re travelling by car or bus.

It’s not the first time I hear someone praising that city, one of the more populated in the country but not as crowded as Taiz. It’s generally greener than most other places in a region where arid, brownish landscapes and long dry spells without any rain are common. On other occasions I’ve also heard Ibb being described as home to the richest people in Yemen, the ones with the best connections to government and ruling classes, but that’s another story. Water is normally scarce in the country and the problem is increasing (something I’ve brought up earlier), but the group likes to remind me that once upon a time there were magnificent dams in Marib and a well-functioning system for supplying water.

– Yemen is the source of all Arab countries, Fayrouz & co would like to point out.

History again. The awareness of their descendance is a source of pride for many Yemeni people, that much I’ve learned.

– There would be no country in the world without Yemen, they add, and even if it seems slightly exaggerated and not entirely meant to be taken seriously, it is true that people from this area have been moving around and emigrating a lot through history.

Someone spontaneously mentions the Libyan leader Muammar Khadaffi (who’s been a lot in the news since then as you probably know, and whose name apparently can be spelled approximately 749, 5 different ways) and suggests, with a wry smile, that I should ask Mr Khadaffi.

Ask him what?

– About Lockerbie… No, about his origins.


4 svar

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  1. mirabaz said, on 26/07/2011 at 03:01

    Nice post, Johan. I agree, there are lots and lots of reasons to visit this amazing country, when the situation improves. And wow, Taiz must have been nice. Yemenis are truly good-hearted, and the country’s pristine beaches, historic places and many sights are under-explored. Hope Yemen sees better days.

    What was it like being Swedish in Yemen?

    Twitter: @mirabaz

    • yemenity2010 said, on 26/07/2011 at 08:40

      Thanks for the input! I only spent one year in Yemen, so any observations on my part are bound to have limitations. But I think I learnt a lot from especially the young people I met through the job I had. Being Swedish was generally an advantage, in my experience. We are a smaller nation, not so much political ‘baggage’ to deal with. Luckily it seemed people associated Swedes with contributions to education and healthcare in Yemen more than anything else. I do regret not having seen more of the country as a whole, but travelling usually takes some dealing with bureaucracy, as you probably know. Didn’t you write for Yemen Today, by the way? Or do I get it mixed up?

  2. mirabaz said, on 26/07/2011 at 11:40

    That’s interesting about your experience as a Swedish resident in Yemen. And yes, I remember dealing with the tourist police. It’s a shame you didn’t go to Socotra and the Galapagos islands in Latin America. I didn’t go to Socotra until my last year in Yemen, and I regretted not having visited it every year. It’s an enchanting island.

    Yes, I did write for Yemen Today. Does any article stand out in your memory? All my articles are on my blog.

    I look forward to reading more of your English articles on Yemen.

    Twitter: @mirabaz

    • yemenity2010 said, on 27/07/2011 at 08:57

      Socotra…yeah, hopefully some other time in the future! As well as Galápagos. I used Yemen Today and Yemen Times quite a lot in my classes, as examples of journalism of different genres, how they are structured and common themes, topics etc. I checked your blog to see which articles seemed most familiar, and the one about Ofra Haza I definitively remember having read, and probably mentioned in my blog. The one about soap operas in the Arab world is interesting, it’s a topic that i discussed a couple of times or more with people there. Personally I find the contradictions on TV in Yemen (including the available cable channels) fascinating with its combination of strict religious teaching, American crime, and Egyptian musicals etc… I don’t speak as much Arabic as I should, which is a handicap, but anyway…


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