SANA’A, YEMEN – Listen to the words of a cargo handler at London’s airport, spoken while he cleared freight I shipped to Yemen last year: “Those people are backwards and they don’t want to change. As far as I’m concerned, I couldn’t care less what happens to them.”

Such compassion from someone who’s living, I suggest through no doing of his own, in one of the richest countries on Earth.

Of course, others share similar crusty thoughts. But they’re wrong. And on the eve of war with Iraq, it’s good to remember that.

Consider Dr. Marty Robinson, a retired professor of obstetrics who was at the University of Western Ontario for 40 years. An amiable, bow-tied member of life’s old-school, he was just here, leading a team of other London doctors. Having visited here annually since 1988, Robinson was the second North American doctor to set foot on Yemeni soil.

Since then, his teams have advised on health policy. They’ve trained surgeons. They’ve brought equipment and books. Recently they helped begin work on what will be this country’s first cancer centre.

“We’ve all benefited from a good education in Canada,” he said. “The Yemeni are very appreciative.”

My wife, Jean, also an obstetrician, helped get tens of thousands of dollars of medical equipment here, courtesy of Sisters of St. Joseph in Hamilton. “God bless you,” was the grateful response.

Then there’s Geoff Chambers, a communications student from Australia. “I went hiking and met a boy who insisted I go to his home. It was just a cave. He gave me all he had, tea and dates. . . Later, a total stranger on the street invited me to dinner.”

Yes, Yemen is backwards. And charming. So much so, Geoff wants to live here.

Some foreigners, including Jean and myself and hundreds of other expatriates, already do.

That’s great, you say. Yes it is.

Ever consider such a wild experience? Neither did I.

Of course, good reasons will anchor some folks in Canada. But, honestly, is huffing and puffing down the road to so-called success, always looking to the dollar-sign for direction, one of them?

You’re not qualified to work in the developing world? You are if you speak English. Millions want to learn it.

Too old? Marty is over 70.

Too young? Geoff is 20.

You have kids? Nice. Jean and I return to Canada soon to deliver our first. Then we’ll bring the bambino back here.

Broke? People with money love to support worthy causes. And, unlike most, Canadians have free health care to fall back on.

So visit. Or check out another needy place. It’s not as difficult as it seems. Historically, millions left Europe for North America during times that were much harder. And with no return ticket.

Marty and Jean. Two people. Much good. Compare two with 200,000. That’s about the number of American and British troops now in the Gulf region. Do the math. Imagine the potential of coming to the Arab world in such a big way with something other than a spiked fist. Yes, armies of aid workers.

Unrealistic? You’re right. I guess it’s better to watch unwieldy governments paint themselves into horrible corners.

Rather than spending tens of billions of dollars blowing up Iraq, what if, for example, some of that change helped Arabs gain decent higher education? Then youth won’t be driven to Islamic extremism under the guise of cheap schooling. Isn’t that a better way to make allies?

People need to see how things tick outside their own neighbourhood. Maybe a few more Canadians, lucky as we are, will slow down sometime and think about that.

If, later, you want cargo moved, show the fellow at London airport a map. Point out your destination. And remind him any journey starts with one step.