SANA’A, YEMEN – It’s daybreak and we’re again travelling the dusty roads of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital. After two days of travel, Jean and I are nearing home, a ground-level apartment on a street with no name. Thank you U-2.
Faithful reader will recall Jean is a McMaster University ob- gyn.
Stay tuned for more on her work and vision to reduce the terrible rate of mothers dying during childbirth in the Third World. I also have forged work in this ancient and poor country, editing an English newspaper.
After a five-month stint in Yemen, this marks our return.
Our ride from the airport is in what’s standard here, a 4×4, with newlywed friends. Joseph, who plays the violin like Izthak Perlman, is Iraqi. Julie’s American. Interesting match. “We don’t even think about it,” she says.
“Welcome back to Yemen,” Joseph said as we reached our place. “Ahlan wasahlan,” he added, with a hug, before leaving.
“Ahlan wasahlan,” is an old Bedouin phrase, meaning “have an easy welcome to our home.”
So, please do come in. Things seem as we left them.
On the front hall wall, there’s our big Canadian flag. The photo of the shepherd girl holding a lamb is from Yemen’s countryside. Above her, that Arab script is of the Lord’s Prayer.
Our office has my posters: Martin Luther King and his thoughts on freedom and liberty for all people; Einstein and his thoughts on imagination being more important than knowledge. There’s the wall- to-wall world map.
There’s the television in the living room. Earlier this year, I cried when I couldn’t get the Canada-U.S gold medal hockey game. Still, some ex-pat Canucks came over to celebrate it, months later, via video sent from home. I’m slowly teaching Arabs here our game.
There’s the washroom with a flush toilet, no small deal. There’s the kitchen with the gas stove, minus its glass top. I accidentally blew it into thousands of pieces. Such is developing world technology. Good thing I wasn’t nearby.
Upstairs is the landlord “Dr.” Ali, no relation to Mohammed the prizefighter. He’s a pharmacist, among Yemen’s 40 per cent unemployed. The Mrs. is a gem. She hides when I, a Western man, am close. They have four kids. Arab culture values who, not what, you know, so they think it’s Jean’s job to get the oldest boy into medical school in Canada.
Why live in Yemen, a hangout for terrorists? Indeed, as I write, hundreds of U.S. special forces are across the Gulf of Aden in Djibouti, with a nearby assault ship for support, possibly to hunt al-Qaeda in rural Yemen. More on that soon.
Keep in mind that flashy news in the West can be hollow. Terrorism coverage is sexy, but how much do you really know about the Middle East? Can you, for example, even find Yemen on the map? Read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death for more on disinformation caused, in particular, by the boob tube.
Also remember, people are people here, too. Right now folks are marching in the streets, not with anti-Americanism, which they do at times, but in celebration. By some miracle, Yemen’s Under-17 soccer club just qualified for the 2003 Junior World Cup.
Of course, evil does exist in this world, through terrorism and otherwise. But Yemen has 20 million souls. Sanaa has one million. Would you forgo business in Toronto because a few gun-totting yahoos in Calgary are raising hell? My bigger fear is the stove.
At the end of the day then, it’s my hope to share slices of Middle East life you normally would never see. Together we can explore the politics, religion and culture of this region, and what makes life work, or not work, through the lens of a first-hand experience, from this strange place, on a street with no name.
That’s important, because despite great distances and differences, the world is becoming more of a neighbourhood. It’s the folks who keep their doors locked and curtains drawn who, I’m afraid, are truly menacing. So, Ahlan wasahlan. Enjoy your easy stay. I’ll be back.