Yemenity2010's Blog

Swedish explorer presently crossing Yemen by camel

Posted in Blog Entry in English by yemenity2010 on 30/07/2012

Yemen at the present time is not considered a safe place for foreigners. The city where I spent 2010 (Taiz) seems to have changed a lot in that respect, for example, and few foreigners remain. I remember reading about explorer and fellow Swede Mikael Strandberg some time ago, maybe when I was actually in the country. He was planning to cross Yemen by camel, but preparations seemed to take longer than expected. Now he is on his way through the struggling nation and recently he was interviewed by the Yemen Times. According to the Yemeni newspaper he now prefers to be called Ibn Battuta, referencing a famous Arabian explorer from the 14th century. He has also supposedly named his daughter after the likewise famous, mythical Yemeni queen Bilquis, a k a the Queen of Sheba.

For Mikael Strandberg (I will continue calling him that) the biggest challenge so far seems to be the heat and the need to consume copious amounts of water along the way. He describes the Yemeni people as being friendly, helpful and generous and claims that one of his goals is to spread a more positive image, provide a different perspective from the conflict-ridden country.
– Yemen is not only war, Al-Qaeda, poverty or starvation. There are many nice things in this country, he is quoted by Yemen Times as saying.
So far he hasn’t been bothered by anyone and he continues to feel safe. However, he comments on some of the problems that preoccupies him.
– The unnecessary poverty and unnecessary inequality and injustice; there is enough money and resources in Yemen to be exploited for all Yemenis.
Strandberg is accompanied riding through the desert by Swedish friend, free lance writer Tanya Holm, who’s spent a couple of years in this country. More of his observations can be found on his own website.

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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.

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