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Published: August 6th 2011
A typical Yemeni man with his dagger
I fell in love with Yemen the moment I stepped out of the airport.
I was tired. I had to wait for the visa at the airport for two hours after landing. That too after a long sleepless night in Dubai. The good thing about the whole ordeal was the experience of going through it.
Surprisingly, it was.
Under normal circumstances one will be worried at the airport without a visa especially when your passport has also been taken away by the authorities, you don’t know anyone in the country you are visiting and your phone is not working.
The guy at the immigration counter told me that the visa was not there and I would have to wait. I was offered water to drink while I waited for the visa to arrive. The guy kept coming back to me telling me that the visa was still not there. After an hour or so, he asked me the name of the company that issued the visa. He then searched for their phone number, called them from his own cell phone and told them to send the visa on priority since I was waiting there. After the visa
arrived and my paper work was complete, he apologized to me for having kept me waiting.
This is a whole new Arab face for you, contrasting from the arrogant unbearably ugly Saudi immigration officers. This is a treatment I would never expect even in Pakistan.
Welcome to Yemen. Sana’a International Airport.
My experience in Sana’a has been enthralling. Yemeni food is the best I have had in the region and probably one of the best cuisines in the world. Fat free, light and delicious. Mandi (chicken and rice) was something I had already tried in Fujairah a couple of months back courtesy Hamza and I had liked it but getting acquainted with Huneet (grilled chicken with rice), Aqda Laham (Meat Chunks) and Smak Mashvi (Grilled Fish) was a new experience altogether. The dessert Fadda Tamar was something like our local ‘choori’, however, it had honey and date pieces in it. Something you cannot stop eating. Finding a Yemeni restaurant in Riyadh is now one of my top priorities.
And then there was Qaat. Qaat is a local herbal drug the whole country is addicted to. The most interesting thing is its effect. It increases your sex
An old fort in the down town
drive and decreases your sexual performance. I totally do not understand the point of having such a drug unless you want to use it on your partner. However, the whole nation chews Qaat all the time. Imagine.
Chewing Qaat was not an option for me specially after having dates and fish.
Despite that I had been wanting to see Socotra Island for years now, I was told that Somali pirates can kidnap me when I am there. Socotra Island is a mystery which I have to solve for myself but this time I was unable to visit it because of shortage of time. What a shame. If life permits, I will visit in on my next trip to Yemen somewhere in a couple of months
I was apprehensive before coming to Yemen based on the stories I heard from the people in Saudi about how dangerous it was being there.
“It’s all propaganda. “Raydan did not like it one bit. “Saudis are sissy. They don’t want our economy to grow and become a threat for them therefore they always have party-line.”
A typical Muslim world problem.
Raydan is a twenty-eight year old good looking
Masjid Salah Another View
Yemeni guy who studied in India for three years and knows Hindi. He is a big fan of Shahrukh Khan and knows the dialogues of Hera Pheri. It is hilarious when he delivers the dialogues in his Arabic accent. ‘Meray to Kunwein Main Plastic Paint Maangta Hai!”
“Tum ne India mein kaafi harami pan kiya hoga?” I had teased him.
“Thora Thora Kiya Tha!” he had laughed. “Pitai Bhi Hua Tha. Larki Ke Bhai Se.”
“We can relate to you.” Mr. Akil Shihab smiled and said. “We have the same problems like Pakistan. We want to do well but we are facing terrorism and war. We are hardliners and we don’t compromise on principles. That is why we are not as rich as Saudis. We are not willing to change. There is a funny story about an alien who visited earth after hundred years, hugged a Yemeni and said you are the only one who is still the same as hundred years back.”
Mr. Shihab owns one of the largest businesses in Yemen. He is in his late seventies but has energy of a teenager. A thoroughly impressive man with a vision. The first billboard that you see when you come out of the airport says ‘Shihab Everywhere’. The tagline explains it all.
The places I saw are not to be missed. Movenpick Sana'a is one of the best hotels I have every stayed in if not the best. The only disappointment was Horse Shoe Night Club of Movenpick which is dead on week days. Weekend was too far for me to wait.
Masjid Salah is very much like Badshahi Masjid Lahore and is a beautiful piece of Islamic architecture. I missed Bab-ul-Yemen too, unfortunately because of work but I did get to see Al-Asr. It’s a high point of Sana’a and a place from where you can see the entire city. Driving around the city was also fun. Their music is exciting. I specially loved the song Afreet (small genie) with a very distinct club sound. If a Pakistani or Indian artist copies that tune with Urdu lyrics, the song will be an instant hit. Annu Malik, anyone?
I felt home. It was just like walking in one of the smaller cities of Pakistan like Multan or Jehlum. The weather was beautiful. Imagine when you come from 55 degrees of Riyadh to a place where you feel so cold that you have to change from half sleeves to full sleeves shirts. The people are welcoming and amiable. They cannot speak English, it is a fact but that does not mean that they don’t understand you. Even though they look dangerous with their Jambiyah (the dagger they always keep attached to their clothes) but they are much easier to get along with as compared to Saudis. Their girls are prettier although slightly darker in skin tone that Saudis.
I had a great time in Yemen on my first trip. I had great company to show me around, sumptuous food, comfortable stay and rewarding work. There was one funny incident as well about which I will write separately. For now, I am leaving Yemen tomorrow morning but I cannot wait to come back again.
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