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Published: August 16th 2007
Bab Al Yemen
Theancient gato to the Old Sana'a
Happy to be in an Arab country again. Not just because now we can relax about taking care of our belongings or to be ripped off at everyday purchasing, but is nice to feel in a familiar culture - I'm surprised to notice how I missed the call to pray at 4:30 in the morning.
After so long changing places every two or three days we needed some rest. Stop for a while in the same place, have a bed, a kitchen (is amazing how much we missed a kitchen!!)
. But stay without doing something can be really boring. So if we want to stay in one place, we have to do something. Well we are in the Middle East, we have been in 6 Arab countries so far, and we loved many things about it, so why not learn some of their language? Speak Arabic can be cool, is a very exotic language and written with other characters and from right to left!! Sana'a has lots of language schools, the cost of living is one of the lowest in the Arab countries and very few people speak English. It's Perfect!
From the first day we had a good
Sana'a at Night
Old Sana'a architeture.
impression about Yemen. Over all, Yemen impressed me for the hospitality. We have heard about Islamic hospitality, but only here we understood what this really means. We just sat at a table on the street in front of a small food stall. - Let's order something to eat, I said to Claudio- and as soon we started to try to communicate to the guy mostly with hand signs (English speakers are rare in Yemen)
a big Toyota Land Cruiser stop behind us, the driver left the car, came to us and said with a perfect English - How can I help you? Do you want my help to order something? - Orders taken, the guy told some welcoming sentences, jump in the car and drove away.
I have never seen such a thing (not without asking some money afterwards)
, and this wasn't a unique experience, I've seen similar things every day. Everywhere someone is eating you will be invited to eat, if there is a wedding going on and you are just passing by, you will be invited, if you ask for some directions to someone in a car, he will take you there. It's incredible! The
My first sand storm. Comes all the was from saudi Arabia over the red sea.
last person to be kidnapped told the following in his statement - You stay in the beautiful mountains in the north, well feed with traditional food, go for shooting practice in the morning, and spend the afternoons chewing Qat and chatting with the tribe members. Great hospitality! - After hearing about the statement of this kidnap hostage, we all wanted to be kidnapped. They never killed a single hostage, they treat you with the best they have (all for free)
and in the end you get to practice lots of Arabic.
Our first Yemeni city was Aden. Told to be the city where Noah builds the arc, this city has existed for thousands of years; nobody knows for sure when its creation was. They found inscriptions from before the 6th century BC. The city is inside a crater of a volcano right on the shore. One of the most intriguing attractions of Aden is the water tanks. Used for storing water coming from the mountains could also be used to wash the city with a flushing system. It's 2000 years old and hasn't been used for many centuries because the English engineers after the restoration couldn't find
sunset over UNESCO Heritage Site
out how it works (hehehe... not very bright this colonizers)
After Aden we went direct to Sana'a. There we choose one of the Arabic institutes (SIAL) and started our lessons. At the beginning we were staying in a hotel. But soon we talked to Tim (Hong Kong, we knew him from Uganda) and he introduced us to Alex (UK), who invited us to share his apartment in the center of the old Sana'a for the first month. It was a gorgeous building overlooking a square where we could watch locals walking around in their traditional clothing coming and going into the narrow streets of this 2500 years old city and UNESCO world heritage.
Sharing the apartment was also Miriam (Switzerland). She plays the biggest role in our stay in Sana'a. She was the one that arranged to house-sitting Ursula's house after we (Fernando, Claudio and Miriam) had to move out from the first one. In this new house we could group all the other friends for nice dinner parties (the mafrage
from Ursula's house was great), and enjoy rare "haram" (sin)
bottles of wine and pork salami. Alcohol and pork meat is forbidden in the
view from out roof
Islamic countries, especially Yemen that still very Islamic. We could only buy it illegal in a hidden part of a Chinese restaurant for a fortune, so we used to ask for anyone coming from abroad to bring a few bottles. Single man and single women cannot stay in the same room, even more live together, so for all the matters, Fernando was married to Miriam... hehehe.
The Arabic classes always getting harder and harder. Arabic is much worse than we could imagine. Reading and writing is not the major problem, you just have to get used to the different sounds. Like the 4 different "A"
sounds or the 5 different "R"
. How can someone invent 4 different ways to say "A"
? We sounded like 4 years old boys learning to read: myyyyyy nnnnaaammeeeee iiiiiiiiiiiiissss Feeeeeerrrrrrnnnnaaaaando!!!
The problem really is the vocabulary, impossible to remember so many words with different sounds that have no parallel in our languages. There are word with only consonants, where you have to guess the vowels, there is words with 4 "A"
in sequence, each one supposed to be with a different intensity.
Just to illustrate some reading, our favorite example is the Pepsi
Or in Arabic Language: BIBSI!
one (see picture of the can somewhere in this page... hehehe)
, let's spell: P
- Don't exist "P" in Arabic Language. So let's use the "B" that's looks like an "i" with the dot under it. E
- In Arabic there are only "A, I and U" vows. Let's use the "i" that is written with two dot's under instead of a dot over. P
- Same recipe as before S
- Well they have the "S" but it looks like a "W" I
- here have the "i" as mentioned before, but in the end of the word you write it differently more like an "S" (just to make it easier)
Now to complete, you write in the opposite direction, from right to left. And you thought English was difficult! ;-)
After visiting so many Arab countries we realized that Yemen is the last one (maybe Saudi Arabia too)
that really follows a conservative Islamic conduct. Here, they really go to pray 5 times a day, everything has to mention "in the name of Allah" (first thing my teacher put in the black board before starting
Learning everything again
the class) , marriages take 3 days, you have to pay a dowry for the women father, and you are not allowed to see the woman ever before the marriage. You literally marry with someone you never saw the face, only after the marriage party is over you discover how she looks like (Can you imagine that? Marrying someone for live that you never saw the face?)
Are Yemen woman pretty? I don't know! I've never seen them! They dress up totally in black, covering everything including their eyes. Nikita (UK) and Hetty (Nikita's daughter) used to call them MOB's - Moving black Objects - and is true! Poor Alessia and Paola (Italy) were told off by their teacher for kissing us good morning in the school. And of course for that we where know as the haram
boys. The pervert ones that say "hi" to women. Margarita (Italy) and Aitzi (Spain) where brave for not having acquired a Balto (the black dress worn buy the women to go out to the streets)
during their long stay in Yemen. Most of the girls’ students buy one to avoid annoyance from the people in the streets.
Mosque by bab Al Sabah
helped us discovering most of the hidden world of women in Yemen. She spend most of her Arabic class time making interesting questions to her teacher about everything from sex to religious beliefs.
Some of the Islamic laws are great. The country has no robbery (if you forget your wallet in a taxi be sure you will receive it back complete, even with the money inside it)
. You can be safe walking on the street at any time of the day and night. Hospitality goes to all situations, even kidnappers. I'm not saying that I agree with everything specially the laws related to woman they are horrible, but in Yemen they really follow the Islamic laws and are proud of it. Many other countries, say they are Muslims but are just half true. They have since long lost the traditions and culture to the western influence.
Traveling in Yemen is great (not considering the travel permit bureaucracy, which is very annoying)
. It's a not big tourist destination, so locals are not used to foreigners tourists, their traditions are not ruined from western influence yet. It doesn't exit the tourist world and the locals’ world like in
Claudio in his traditional clothes
Egypt; prices are the same for everyone local or tourist. You can find a great amount of locals traveling with their families and the foreigner tourists are the Arabs themselves (Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Oman)
Yemen host many of well know ancient sites. Places where biblical figures like Noah or Queen Sheba lived. While in Sana'a we visited some the cities around, Including Shibam and Kawkaban. Where one of the stories of the book "1001 Nights" happens. Haraz Mountains with its lost in time stone villages (Al-Hajjara) still with dwellers. The Kamaran Island isolated with only one small hotel, desert beaches and unspoiled coral reefs. Great for a snorkel hands given with someone special. Our first experience with a sand storm was in Kamaran; day become night, and strong winds full of sand erase anything in the way. The weird part is that Kamaran is an island, so you see this massive cloud of sand blowing from the sea, coming all the way from Saudi Arabia. The cities of Ibb and Jibla, green mountains in a country dominated with deserts.
With the end of Claudio's Arabic course and Fernando return from his month trip in Brazil. We
Mirian buyng new clothes
departure to explore the country east. With the company of Lili (Spain), we headed for a week until we reached the border with Oman. East from Sana'a, Wadi Hadramount was once of the country’s most important region. Producing dates, honey, henna and frankincense that served as main export products in ancient world. In Wadi Hadramout the city of Shiban rises into the sky with its 8 floor buildings made out of mud in an area where space was not a problem (Who understands?)
. And the sultan palace in Sayun. As Lili said - This really looks like a sultan palace, I wanted to be the sultan’s daughter, just to be able to leave here.
Our exit from Yemen was though the Empty Quarter. A place where by the name you can guess what is there... hehehe... nothing. It’s flat and rocky, not even sand to look nice.
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