Posted by: sean | January 31, 2008

Some brief reflections on Yemen

Now that I’ve spent two nights in Sana’a, I’m disappointed that I don’t have more time in this wonderful country. It’s somehow now what I expected, although it’s really hard to say exactly what I expeceted.

A few months ago, the major cities of Yemen were made gun free. Apparently, before that, the city was full of gun toting Yemenis. In the space of two months or so though, the government set up checkpoints at the entrance of cities people can leave their guns and then pick them back up again on the way out. I’m not really sure what the policy is inside the cities, whether people’s guns were confiscated or just have to be left at home, but I haven’t seen a single person in the street carrying a firearm.

Those in Lebanon will be unhappy to hear that there are no electricity cuts in Yemen’s capital and DSL internet is already available in Sana’a for much less than one pays for a much slower connection in Beirut. The taxis are also much newer, and many of them even have meters. So while there are men walking around in dishdashas carrying curved daggers on their belt, some things in Sana’a are closer to western standards than they are in Lebanon.

I went to a couple of parties last night, and the first had one of the strangest mixtures of people I’ve ever seen in my life. It was the birthday party of an American girl studying Arabic here, and I went with another American living here, an American-Yemeni basketball player and a Norwegian researcher. Before getting to the party, we went to a Chinese restaurant where an Ethiopian guy sold contraband alcohol, so we picket up a bottle of vodka for the occassion, which cost us about $25. When we arrived, I met a guy from Madagascar who spoke with me in French. But then when he heard that the Yemeni basketball player was from Brooklyn, he shouted, “Fo real!? Nigga, I’m from Jersey City!” in a New York accent. Then there was James/Mohamad, the former white Crip from Florida who converted to Islam in jail when he was a teenager and told me a story about having almost shot a Black Muslim in Atlanta, because he had called him a “devil” when James refused to respond to his as-salam aleikum. He moved to Sada to study Islam seven years ago but is now living in Sana’a, doing what I was afraid to ask.

After that, we went to a dance party at the US embassy, where our Yemeni-American friend was amazingly allowed to enter without any identification. It was some sort of semi-regular dance party that was frequented by westerners who were working in NGOs, UN gigs, private companies and probably other embassies. There were also a fair amount of western expats, some girls from Djibouti and ethiopia who may or may not have been prostitutes, and some young hip Yemenis. After that, we went to a Russian club and then a Lebanese one, where we were accosted by a young woman who looked like she was out in Monot dancing with her cleavage open and her midrift showing. It turned out that she wasn’t Lebanese at all, but rather totally Yemeni. It wasn’t until after a bit of naively receiving her very forward attention that I realized she was a prostitute. After she asked me for $200, I told her that in Beirut where I live, all the women were as pretty as she was, but you didn’t have to pay them to go out with you. She, of course, lost interest in me almost immediately. The place seemed to be full of foreigners studying Arabic and prostitues from Yemen, Djibouti, Ethiopia and the Philippines.

I’ll have to post later about chewing qat. But so far, I’ll just say that I don’t really like it. It’s more or less bitter, depending on the type of leaf, and honestly just feels like chewing a mouthful of leaves. I left it in for a couple of hours but didn’t feel anything, which is apparently common the first few times you try it. I’m sure I’ll have the occasion to try some more in Ethiopia, and I suppose I will, but so far, keeping such a big wad of cud in my mouth seems more like a chore than anything else.



  1. I’m jealous. The Yemen-Ethiopia trip is one that has been on my to do list for almost a decade. Enjoy it!

  2. I’ve also wanted to do it for a long time, and I think that this is just going to be a little taste of a larger, longer trip, because if I like Ethiopia anywhere near as much as I like Yemen, I’ll be back as soon as I can…

  3. Cleavage? in Yemen!

    I’ll need a couple of shots of Grey Goose to get over that one..

  4. I know, right? I was as surprised as you are. Shou, what’s the story on leaving Québec (libre)?

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