Friday, December 3, 2010

On the way to Yemen....

I arrived safely in Sana'a, Yemen around 3 a.m. this time and made it to sleep around 4 to be awakened by the call to prayer which quickly brought back fond memories of Iraq...went back to sleep, thankfully. The trip over was gruesome but filled, as always with many stories.

Our flight was full from Chicago to Istanbul so no chance to get any rest. Had to smile...saw an Arab woman completely covered and veiled lift her dress, flop her boob out and breast feed her baby. Now the irony of the situation made me just part of her body was visible but she showed her whole breast to me and everyone else. NO covering that!

Two seats down from the breast feeding lady was a young Arab looking woman in the tightest, shortest mini-dress I have ever seen. She told me she was going to Saudi Arabia and I thought...not in that dress. An hour before we landed, she lugged a huge suitcase into the bathroom and came out transformed...all in black and covered head to foot. When in Rome....

Turkish Airlines food from Chicago to Istanbul was inedible so ate at a restaurant in the airport where they had free wifi. My drink was delivered and so was the bill...I was told, "you pay now." I suggested that I would pay later, AFTER my food had been delivered and eaten. Turk man, said, "You pay now" and some man near me let him have it in Turkish and my food arrived moments later. I thanked my helper and come to find out..he owned the restaurant and was very apologetic. Good help is hard to find everywhere, I guess.

Our flight to Sana'a was the opposite of the Chicago to Istanbul one. There were about 30 people on the whole plane, food delicious and when I went to be seated, there was a man sitting in my seat. He jumped up and moved to the window and when we noted the emptyness of the plane, he said he would move after take off to another aisle seat. Khaled and I began chatting and he is a Yemeni/Brit and was coming back from London where his wife and two kids live. They have a commuter marriage...sounded normal to me.

Khaled stayed sitting with me and we chatted about all things Yemeni. He shared the safety of his country, saying I could walk and explore in Sana'a freely. Corruption, he says, is nil; crime a rare thing, poverty huge, access to water, horrid. He had much to say about people's generosity, helpfulness and consideration and he later rode with me with the guy the hotel sent to pick me up. We were stopped by some cops standing in the road, one of whom saluted me and we were passed on. I was reminded of this happening in Tegucigalpa, when the cop demanded money so I could pass on. Khaled says this doesn't happen in his country.

We talked about terrorism and Khaled became very excited about what is printed and said about Yemenis in the media. He vehemently indicated that Yemenis are not terrorists and they dislike the upheaval and chaos perpetrated by extremist groups. He, himself is a Muslim, doesn't drink but says many Muslims are drunks. He dislikes the Qat chewing that goes on here and like in Africa, says it causes early death, a lack of productivity and because it is such a huge cash crop, food is not being grown on rural farms. They make more growing Qat. Interestingly, he mentioned he had been in London, getting ready for Christmas with his wife. Gift buying...apparently many practicing Muslims also celebrate the giving of gifts and the feasting found on Christmas...not a religious celebration but a time for celebrating family and friends. Liked that.

So, during dinner and for a couple of hours, we discussed the Yemen situation vis a vis the government, social issues, education, relationships with countries outside of the Arab region and more. He helped me remember my Arabic words and phrases I "learned" in Iraq so that I can greet my workshop participants and he shared his opinions of Yemeni media and the government's control of these. Oh, and he is the one that told me the government shut down skype here.

After our visit and after dinner, I moved across the aisle so we could both sleep. I asked for pillows, because there were none in the compartments above...flight attendant came back after rechecking the ones I had looked in and opened a bunch. NO pillows. He sweetly brought me two blankets so I tried those as pillows but just couldn't rest. Two young mothers with their children were a few rows behind me and grandma was sleeping in her own row. After one potty stop, one of the mom's asked me to tickle grandma's feet and they were giggling. I did so, grandma kept snoring. Young moms were hysterical...and later, they told her what they had had me do. She hadn't felt anything. A man picked the family up at the airport and the young mothers were pointing and laughing at me and grandma was smiling and bowing her head.

Went to breakfast at 9:30 and found that this hotel is owned by Indians. Reminded me of the Speke Hotel in Kampala. Very efficient and great food. Had some "Foul Medammes" which I decided needed to be used with bread and dipped, very tasty and no clue what is in it. Another dish, dijaz zukhar, was a spicy minced meat and sauce which I also scooped up into my bread and ate. It is some sort of Indian dish, I think, but very yummy. Khaled told me that there are no eggplant dishes like in Iraq, and in fact, told me that almost anything I experienced there would not be my experience here.

Second call to prayer happening now. Going to try to see if I can go take a few photos and walk nearby.

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