Back in Stockholm…..

The townhall in Stockholm at sunset today....

The townhall in Stockholm at sunset today....

….at first, it felt relaxingly cool and extremely silent. No buses, motorbikes or minibuses who tried to run me over, no Yemenis yelling at the top of their voices, no dirt, no potholes, vicious pollution or general disorganization, no harsh voiced muezzins….and coming in for landing at Arlanda airport, the plane had cruised over the stunningly green archipelago, so tidy and beautiful….and I thought, there´s no doubt, Sweden must be one of the most beautiful countries in the world and I just remembered the movie I had watched from Sana`a to Istanbul in the night, about a Turk who had fled to Sweden to get away from persecution during the junta years in the seventies and returned to Turkey 25 years later looking for friends and his old love, somewhere in the film somebody had said that Sweden was the cradle of democracy, and I smiled proudly….but suddenly after just half an hour on the bus from the airport to the Central station, I felt bored….I looked at these good-looking people, the Swedes, and realised they all looked dead and lifeless…and I wished I could have turned around and returned to sana`a with the first flight out!

However, for this reason, I have spent the evening since I came back tidying up my apartment after my relative Leo stayed here, and an upcoming film maker like his dad, and putting together this little slide show, please see it here!

And you readers, there´s so many of you -which makes me very happy- remember that this is the end of this blog and from now on up until the Expedition, read my reports at www.mikaelstrandberg.com

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Jihad!

In a few days I will be leaving Sana`a and return to Sweden. It feels exactly like when the woman you love more than anything has just left you. Your heart aches, you feel empty, you look at pictures of her, you worry what will the future  be like, you miss her profoundly and you ask yourself:

I will miss cruising the Old City passing places like this....a workshop....

I will miss cruising the Old City passing places like this….a workshop….

“Will I ever see her again?”

Well, if the longing and ache is big enough, you will see her again, so YES! I will see Sanaa soon again. In shallah!

The war planes are still leaving Sana`a, it seems like there is no end to the war, it just continuous and people have almost stopped talking about it. It has become part of the daily chores. Global media still writes about it, though, but still seems to lack profound insight and it seems just to be second hand reports. (Read this and a local point of view, this.) Ramadan is moving into its last week and soon the Eid festivities will begin, the same day I return to Sweden. I guess it is the right time to return, before the festivities. Why indeed enjoy life to its fullest….

Well, I have had many questions about my studies….how have they fared?

This is the house where I had my apartment in the Old City, see the lights...that is the mafrag....

This is the house where I had my apartment in the Old City, see the lights…that is the mafrag….

Hmmm, I set out to become a scholar and ended up loving Yemen, but I guess, I have a good base when it will be time to set off on the Big Expedition! Problem is that most of the local Yemenis I have hanged out with have spoken English and that the plans for the big Expedition has taken most of my energy and time, trying to get the right contacts here in this lovely country. Which I believe I have. So, as it is right now, I do know a lot more Arabic than when I came here and the school where I have done my studies have been excellent in every way. Good program, excellent teachers and great staff! One thing is for sure, however, my choice to come to Yemen ahead of Egypt or Syria, was the best of choices!

The reason for this is many. First of all, if one wants to experience the real Arabia, Yemen is the place. If you come here to learn Arabic, the same applies, and this is due to that you learn so much more than just Arabic. Very few Yemenis do speak English. You really dwell into the Moslem world in every way! And you get this really important perspective on Islam and Moslems, which for me has been as important, since my upcoming Expedition has all to do with education and understanding.

How to read the Quran....not at all easy...is kat forbidden, haram, or not?

How to read the Quran….not at all easy…is kat forbidden, haram, or not?

So, I will try to give you readers some of this new perspective I have acquired. Let me first just state though exactly the same as my good friend, the worlds foremost female camel traveller, Aritha Baiijens, who´s spent many years travelling the Arab World, told me when I asked her:

“Are you a Moslem?”

“Are you joking? I am a free spirit!”

The same applies to me. I believe, but do not belong. So, let me continue, when you dive into the Quran you realise after awhile, that this religion in reality is a very just, fair, down to earth and that many of those holy words written in the Suras, Hadiths, well, they can after all be easily misinterpreted to suit people with conservative, non-educated and down right evil minds. Take for example the word Jihad, which in the West is interpreted Holy War and for most Westerners means armed fanatics either blowing themselves up in crowds of innocent people or cutting heads of Western hostages, well, in reality it means effort. Which means that it in the beginning of Islam stood for a spiritual meaning, that the believer withstood all evil which surrounded him and instead fought the nasty thoughts of oneself. A war against oneself.

Terreced fields outside Thilla....

Terreced fields outside Thilla….

Another discovery when reading the Quran is that is far from as anti-woman is we in the west believe, it is just again, once more, conservative men who has translated the words of the Quran to suit their own means to keep power…but, yes, there are many anti-woman quotations, as in the Bible and I think one has to try to see the Quran, and the Bible, also in its historical perspective and understand that one has to change with time and apply life to what the world looks like right now. To quote the Quran itself, in Sura 13:11 it states that Allah will not change the possibilities of humans, until they change themselves!

Yemeni women rushing through the souk during Ramadan....

Yemeni women rushing through the souk during Ramadan….

So true! Have a changed myself during these ten weeks in San`a?

Indeed, I have regained hope, joy of life, freed myself of a lot of worries and I am set for the Big Expedition!

However, as always, life is just not filled with joy, I am off back to Sweden to sort things out…..in shallah, it will work out will.

From now on, all my blog work will be at www.mikaelstrandberg.com

But, please, do see this little slideshow from my Yemeni visit!

Haraz kuriyat!

Haraz kuriyat!

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Am I a taliban…..

…I guess to a certain extent, since the word is Arabic and means a student, and yes, I am a student of life in Yemen at the present. The following took place yesterday:

Shopping during ramadan in the old city of Sana`a, the ladies souk....

Shopping during ramadan in the old city of Sana`a, the ladies souk....

”What is it that you specifically like with Yemen?” the young American journalist asked me, when making an interview at The Coffee Traders yesterday, “What are the positive aspects?”

Like most other foreigners in Yemen right now, like Westerners, Arabs, Asians, I was warned profoundly not to come here. By old friends, Middle East experts, governments, Arab friends in other Arab countries and global media. Basically they all said:

“You will either be kidnapped, hold to ransom or killed. Yemen is the most dangerous country in the world right now! Al Qaeda is running wild in the country! Worse than Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan!”

The tinmarket.....

The tinmarket.....

Let me just tell you readers, not once have I been scared or felt threatened, and on top of that, please do know this important fact, that most of my time I walk the streets of Old Sana’a in darkness, finding my way through the black, winding and narrow alleys, stepping into a world on the brink of fantasy, meeting armed locals, the odd one with Kalashnikovs, most with the big jambiyya strapped on the belt in front of them. Not once have a felt uncomfortable! With a extremely few exceptions, which I will tell you about at the end of this dispatch, I have come across some of the best people I have ever met. Trust me, I have been to 113 countries, during 25 years of exploring, the Yemenis are amongst the friendliest, most generous and hospitable people I have ever met. On pair with the native Siberians, whom I love as a people more than any. I am probably one of few who’d voluntarily would like to get deported to Siberia! Luckily Yemen is still open to foreigners!

The souk at midnight.....

The souk at midnight.....

I like Yemen, or I should really say Sana’a, since I haven’t seen too much of the rest of the country, because people here always give you a smile, greet you, ask you how you are, care for your well being and often invite you to their homes for either a kat chew or food. They are very courteous, exiting, funny, full of character and extremely helpful. And we are talking Sana’a, the biggest city of Yemen. Imagine than what it will be like outside the cities, in the countryside, where people always are nicer and better. (Yes, I am born, bred and brought up and have lived most of my 47 years in the countryside….).

And I love the Old City of Sana’a, Sana’a Kadiima, which must be the most interesting place on earth right now. It has to be seen and experienced before things develop and it becomes a living museum, which will sooner or later happen, since Yemen will develop like the rest of the Gulf. It is after all a very rich country with great natural resources and an amazing, so far untapped, potential for tourism and development, it is just stuck in a well known limbo at the moment of mismanagement. Hence the continuing war against the north, the troubles with the south and more. War planes continue to leave and return to Sana’a in big numbers, some of them heavier airplanes filled with bodies of the many dead soldiers. Still, life goes on, as it always have in this mesmerizing country!

These two boys, of which one is the son of a sheikh, came into the souk in a new car, and wanted to sell a jambiyya to Abdullah for 200 000 rials.....about 1000 dollars

These two boys, of which one is the son of a sheikh, came into the souk in a new car, and wanted to sell a jambiyya to Abdullah for 200 000 rials.....about 1000 dollars

The souks of the Old City are teeming with people from nine in the evening to three in the morning. It is Ramadan time and people are shopping more than ever and many shop owners say that, even though it is a global economic recession right now and a war in the north, people still seem to shop in great amounts. And a lot of them are women which speed in numbers through the narrow, dark and winding alleys, looking at you with smiling eyes and lots of curiosity, heading for a sale somewhere in the darkness. It is a great time to be here. Since electricity is erratic, half of a 5 hour visit, which is a minimum to get some feel of the life in the souk, is in darkness, which makes it much easier to appreciate the sense of being in a movie, which is set in the Middle Ages. Old Sana’a has to be seen! Yemen has to be visited! The other day I saw a movie at a friends place, a film was called The Bucket List and the storyline was about two old men (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) who had cancer and made a list of things they wanted to do before they died. I would put a visit to Old Sana’a and Yemen first on that list!

Never a boring moment in the souk!

Never a boring moment in the souk!

I also love Sana’a and Yemen because there isn’t one boring moment here. It is so full of characters, impressions, noises, smells, movement, and chaos that I, after 5 hours in the souk, am more tired than ever, after having experienced the most amazing impressions, that I only thought belonged to a far bygone era. The best of all, nevertheless, is the Yemenis themselves, educated or non-educated, city or countryside people. Such friendliness! The positive aspects of this great country easily outweigh the negative ones, which are so well-known to the world.

Ladies cruising the souk

Ladies cruising the souk

Nonetheless, I know, I am a trained rational European, so I will have to ask myself, have I, on top of the well-known problems which are always highlighted in the international press, come across any nasty things or people? I have had people who read my blog asking me if all Yemenis are good….since people are my main drive in life, I will tell you this:

Visiting friends in the souk.....

Visiting friends in the souk.....

At times I have met locals who have stared at me with blankness in their eyes, always people with either a reddish beard, a sign of them being hajjis (men who have done the pilgrimage to Mecca) or bearded men with a turban indicating them being imams or religious on the brink of fanatism. No matter if I have been dressed as Ahmed Al-Hamdani or my normal self. They just don’t like or trust foreigners. Or anyone being different to them. Maybe some of them have belonged to this loosely knitted network called Al Qaeda, these fanatics which it is said there are plenty off in Yemen and Sana’a, who interpret the Quran wrongly to justify there own regretful means. But these uneducated and indoctrinated lunatics I can count on the fingers on both my hands, no more. It should be said, however, that the overwhelming number of hajjis and imams I have met in the capital greet me like all other Yemenis and Sanaanis (people from Sana’a), with a smile, a Salaam Aleikum (Peace be Upon You) followed by Kheif Halikum? (How are things with you?), and lots of curiosity. However, going back to these people who are destroying the image of Muslims and Islam not only in the West, but also in the rest of the non-Muslim world, they get far too much attention in the global media, when they’re in reality are very few in number and the worst of representatives for the Moslem world. They and their kindred the Afghani Taliban’s are mostly a bunch of spiteful, bitter, misled, uneducated men who can’t read and write, some might be able to recite a few verses from the Quran, that’s all, but still not understanding what they’re reciting, who want to keep the Moslems on the globe in the Dark Ages, isolated, scared, ignorant and spiteful of the rest of the world. I have met very few in Yemen who have anything good to say about this sad lot of people.

The exiting souk....

The exiting souk....

Another group of war planes just passed over my flat in Old Sana’a, it is almost midnight and kids are playing football on the street below my window. I can hear illegal fire crackers followed by screaming kids and there’s a row between two men regarding which one of them should reverse their car and let the other one pass in a narrow alley. I am sitting in my mafraj, reading Tahar Ben Jelloun, a French-Moroccan Muslim intellectual who wants to modernize Islam, referring to sura 13:11 in the Quran which states that Allah will not change the possibilities of humans, until they change themselves. I can hear Hussein shouting for a taxi and maybe I should go down to the souk al jambiyya, (the knife market) one of the 40 souks in the old city, and sit down at Abdullah’s store, the jambiyya maker and have a cup of tea and chat a bit about nothing really. Yeah, why not?

By the way, lately I have been thinking about my life, always breaking up, always travelling, good or bad? I just read this passage from a guy called Muhammed Asad, very much a traveller himslef, upon meeting a Beduin who said:

“If water stands motionless in pools, it becomes stale, muddy and foul, only when it moves and flows does it remain clear.”

by the way, have you seen my old blog at http://preparingforthenextexpedition.blogspot.com/

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I am right now Ahmed Al-Hamdani

”My father and his father and so on, they all travelled to Mecca by camel” , the old man explained whilst touching the top of his jambiyya , “It took my father four months to get there and the same amount of time back. In those days you only made the pilgrimage once. It was too difficult and to expensive.”

The old hajji....

The old hajji....

“Isn’t it still expensive to do a pilgrimage to Mecca? My teacher told me yesterday it is still very expensive and for most people, if it is possible at all, that once in a life time is an achievement, a dream.” I said, remembering Rashad telling me that he hoped to do a pilgrimage, but that it would take him many years to save the money needed, “He said it would cost him at least half a million rials (approximately 2500 dollars) to do a proper pilgrimage, since he had to go through a travel agent here in Sana’a specialising in pilgrimage tours to Mecca. About 25 days including hotels, transport, air tickets, a visit to the prophet’s grave in Medina and so on. And he said that the Saudis only allowed a certain amount of pilgrims per country a year.”

The giant mosque built by the president Abdullah Saleh

The giant mosque built by the president Abdullah Saleh

“The Saudis….” , the old hajji said with a grim face, “…charge you for everything including breathing.”

A very good friend of mine, one of few Muslim explorers on earth, a true Ibn Batutta of today, said that he flew from Afghanistan to Mecca to do his first pilgrimage and was treated like shit until he showed his American passport. He wasn’t too fond of the Saudis in Mecca either. I have to say, they don’t seem to have the best reputation in the world, neither among ex pats or other gulf Arabs. Than again I have heard a lot of opposing views. That the Saudis are amongst the friendliest and best people on earth. The idea seems to be to avoid Jeddah, Riyadh and Mecca/Medina. The reason I bring Saudi Arabia up is that it is a country everyone continuously talks about in these parts of the world. In Yemen every day. The Saudis are in many ways very influential and powerful players in the global economy of not only the Gulf, but in the rest of the world as well. I look forward to travelling through Saudi-Arabia a lot!

Inside the mosque which seats 20000 devotees....

Inside the mosque which seats 20000 devotees....

“So you are contemplating to travel by camel?” the old man said more as a statement than a question and than added: “It is the best way to travel! Just treat them well and they will be your best friends forever!”

It was Mohammed, Hussein’s employee and best friend, who had set me up meeting this old man, who’s first name was Abdullah and came from the same village as Mohammed. They had the same second name, Al Mawari. Many people’s second names in the Arab World also tell a visitor the geographical background of a person. And ever since I was given a great gift from my great best friend Pamela, see last report, a zannah (ankle long white robe), a silver belt with an expensive jambiyyah with a Bedu background and a turban or head cloth, sharh,  with a colour and pattern which makes locals sometimes call me Palestinian, I have honorary been given the name Ahmed Al-Hamdani. Basically due to the way Hussein made up my turban, just like a Bedu from the Hamdani region. Even Abdullah called me a Hamdani, even though Mohammed had to translate. I have to say I still somewhat surprised how honoured and happy the locals are when you are dressed like them. This I have never seen anywhere else, well, maybe Oman.

Hussein, Ahmed Al-Hamdani and Mohammed outside the presidents mosque...

Hussein, Ahmed Al-Hamdani and Mohammed outside the presidents mosque...

“So you stopped using and working with camels as long back as 30 years ago, what do you miss the most regarding these fantastic animals and do you have any advice to me to bring on my journey?” I asked him, because I had earlier asked Hussein if he could find a Yemeni who had travelled to Mecca by camel and could tell me which route they had taken, since I would like to stick to the traditional pilgrimage route from Sana’a to Mecca.

“I used to travel from Sana’a to Al Hudaydah (link to Yemeni map) on the west coast, and back, bringing food for people and animal, it used to take eight days and we travelled 16 hours per day”, he recounted with passion, “And what do I miss? I miss the freedom and the evenings in front of the fire. And I miss the camels. If you treat them with love, you will always have a loyal friend.”

Praying at the mosque....

Praying at the mosque....

“Which route did your dad take to Mecca?” I asked again, because our conversation was on and off disturbed by other locals in the room teasing and laughing at the old man, just because he used to work camels and right now was a quite hard line Muslim belonging to the Shia arm of Islam. All others Yemenis in the room were Sunni. The war in the north, between the government and the Al Houthi could in some ways be called a religious one. A war between Sunni (government) and Shia (al Houthi).

The "birthday" cake from my friends....the inscription reads Mikael - the sheikh of the Bedu

The "birthday" cake from my friends....the inscription reads Mikael - the sheikh of the Bedu

“Quiet!” he hissed at his teasers, who laughed back and teased him a bit more, but he continued: “Well, the pilgrims and hajjis to be, always set out from Saada and from there travelled to Mecca via Baqim, Zahran, Haraja, Khamis Mushayt, Abha and down to the Saudi coast and from there on to Jeddah and Mecca.”

Amazingly enough exactly the route I had planned just by looking at the map geographically 3 months back and searching for the existence of valleys, plains, paths and roads. However, my Expedition is still far off in time, in shallah, if all goes well, we will set off in January next year, but, this fact apart, yesterday I was also given an especially made cake by Pamela, Hussein and Mohammed, thick and tasty and its chocolate decorated with a white camel and the words:

“Mikael – the sheikh of the Bedu”.

After the party we went to the souk after midnight to eat some kebabs at this place....

After the party we went to the souk after midnight to eat some kebabs at this place....

People here in Yemen, my friends, are the best of the best. Warm, generous, funny, smart and they all love life. I still don’t know what we were celebrating, but it filled me with great joy! On top of that I was given a full Sanaani outfit including the most macho of all male symbols in Sanaa, a jambiyya, and together with Pamela, Hussein and Mohammed we took a taxi –this was another “birthday” surprise organised by Pamela for me- and we ended up at the spectacular Presidents Mosque. Its main hall is so big so that it can seat 20 000 devotees facing Mecca in prayer! We weren’t the only foreigners there, me, Ahmed Al Hamdani, and Pam dressed as a Sanaani woman, then named Pamela Al-Sanaani to make it easier to get in during prayer. There were many Indonesians and Malaysians amongst the devotees. Security was hard, but Hussein got us through everywhere with his kindness, humour, baton and peculiar ideas. It beats the Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Muscat. It is grander.

“The cost to build this mosque equalled ten hospitals”, Mohammed commented with his down-to-earth wisdom:” I think most people wanted hospitals, but the president wanted to be remembered.”

I have also realised that most local people don’t really appreciate the war against the Houthis, which many see as their brethren and fellow Moslems. The war planes are still leaving Sana’a in great numbers. It is still a very unnerving feeling. Thank God for friends like Mohammed, Hussein and Pamela!

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Me a Yemeni from Sanaa?

“Taxi, Taxi, taxi, we have to help this guy!”

Hussein - the perfect sanaani!

Hussein - the perfect sanaani!

The old man shouting was, as always, Hussein, my landlord in Old Sanaa, where I am renting an apartment so I can work in peace, feel the atmosphere of the old town plus invite people to my mafrag. I take the expedition and Yemen seriously and to be able to show people how much I love Yemen, I want to offer them the same hospitality. So, with the help of my friend Kyle, I ended up renting this three roomed apartment. And got two good new friends, Hussein and Mohammed. Hussein is, if I am to believe other friends, a typical sanaani, a Yemeni from the Old Town of Sanaa. Warm, generous (every day one gets invited to break iftar and eat with him), always shouting and doing pretty much everything needed just by sticking his head out of the door and shouting for assistance. People always turn up. The mobile still have a distance to go before it is accepted here. I asked him yesterday if he got unnerved by all fighter planes continously leaving and returning to Sanaa over our heads and his answer was typical:

Every step in the souk is amazingly exiting...this must be the most exiting place on earth!

Every step in the souk is amazingly exiting...this must be the most exiting place on earth!

“We can´t worry all the time, what good does that do? We just have to leave it to the government to sort things out.”

Hussein has tried to get me to go to the Turkish bath (hammam) with him many times, but I just haven´t had the time, but two days ago I joined him for a tour of the great souk and ended up at his sons story selling the traditional belts and jambiyyas. The making of the local and traditional jambiyyas has been in his family for generations and suddenly I realised they were making me a belt and a jambiyya. And before I could think, one hour later I was dressed up as a local sanaani!

Me trying on a thub....

Me trying on a thub....

Walking through the souk dressed as a local sanaani drew attention, but I liked it! And most of all, out of nowhere people would show up and without me asking for it, correct details in my dress or the position of my knife! I did realise that locals actually felt honoured by me dressing like them, which surprised me, since I have found out through many years of travelling, to 113 countries, that most of the time, local people think it looks ridiculous when foreigners go native. But not in Yemen! A country different in many ways. Like for example, if I am not in my flat the same time every day, Hussein calls me to see if everything is ok and I am getting to know pretty much everything in Husseins neighbourhood. The baker of kuddams for example. the young bakers care as much as Hussein and tells me they have worried when I don´t show up in time. Not that anything would happen in Sanaa, I feel safer here than any other place on earth.

Me together with friends in the souk.....

Me together with friends in the souk.....

And Hussein seems to know everybody. Another thing I have noticed in Sanaa is that everybody knows everybody, like in a village, and if you need to meet somebody of importance, Hussein will fix it! So today he has arranged for me to meet the sheikh of sheiks! Don´t miss the next report from Sanaa!

I get many emails from people regarding the situation and war planes are still going back and fort to Sadaa.

My friend the kuddam baker.....

My friend the kuddam baker.....

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Finally I get out of Sanaa!

The village of Bukur

The village of Bukur

War planes continue to fly north, tens of thousands of people get displaced, far too many killed on both sides, worry amongst sanaanis (local people of the capital) is growing fast, the heavy rains have taken a break for awhile after wrecking havoc with Sanaa and other parts of the country, crops are destroyed, farmers are loosing millions of rial, a national treasure of a building in Old Sanaa collapsed and killed an old woman and Ramadan is moving into its second week. Tempers are still under control, but there is no doubt that kat chewers are suffering the most. A guard here at school is sweating heavily.

Young inabitants of Thulla.....

Young inabitants of Thulla.....

For the last three days I have walked four kilometres from the Coffee Traders (I need a espresso every day, if available) on Hadda Street and home to the flat in the Old Town just before iftar, the daily break for the fast. It is one of the best times of the day, because the streets are deserted and the feeling of walking through the movie Terminator part 5 is prevailing. The same applies in the morning. The normally extremely busy, noisy, colorful and packed streets are silent and peaceful like as a desert. However, yesterday I left Sanaa for the second time since I came here, first one to Oman, but this was my first trip within the country, up to the Haraz Mountains. A day trip which makes Yemen even more fantastic!

The old town of Thulla

The old town of Thulla

My first surprise was how clean and tidy everything was outside Sanaa, basically as quick as we had climbed up to this terrific desert plateau offering spectacular views over the Haraz Mountains, leaving Sanaa behind in a cloud of pollution. Road checks where plenty, but it was such a refreshing experience! Not only because the air is so much cleaner, the views more encouraging, but people seems much more at ease, freer, the women are not as veiled and colourless, and life moves along here at another pace. Our first stop was the old town of Tulla, which was a smaller, but tidier variety of the Old City of Sanaa and offered some spectacular views of the mountains, set as it is by itself, clustered to a giant rock which shoots up from the plateau. There were plenty of signs that the Ottoman Turks past through here hundreds of years ago. It was a peaceful visit and the self proclaimed local guides were easy to handle.

View over the castle of Zakatein and the gorge below....

View over the castle of Zakatein and the gorge below....

However the views from the legendary Kawkaban, was with the best I have ever seen. Kawkaban is of particular historical importance for the Zaidi Moslems having been a stronghold for Yemenis kings due to its advantageous position. It is situated atop a plateau at 2750m above sea level. Kawkaban is the only Yemeni place mentioned in the legendary folk tale of A Thousand and A Night.

After Kawkaban, the spectacular views continued whilst visiting the fort in Zakatein and the village of Bukur, set on the ridge of a mountain and which is probably one of the most spectacular settings I have seen. A must visit for anyone wanting to experience the impressive locations of our world. I have to say, Yemen is such an experience in every way and it is by far, trust me who have visited 113 countries, one of the most interesting places on earth, where one has one foot in an age going back to birth of the Prophet Mohammed up until the modern era of today.

View over the legendary town of Kawkaban

View over the legendary town of Kawkaban

Local tribal people impressed me with their energy, self confidence and kindness. However, when we returned, wet and tired to Sanaa, it was good to get back to the Old City again and our friends Hussein and Mohammed, who were very worried as always for me. If they don´t see me in time, they call me on my mobile, to check that everything is ok. I will tell the story about these two fellows next report!

The village of Bukur

The village of Bukur

Don´t forget to visit earlier reports before the Yemeni trip here!

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Warplanes and Ibn Battuta

Life at the souk just outside my flat in Old Sanaa at 3.30 a.m....

Life at the souk just outside my flat in Old Sanaa at 3.30 a.m....

A few hours ago I woke when the muezzin called for another day of fasting, accompanied by warplanes heading for the Saada Province and realizing that the Yemeni government under Abdullah Ali Saleh was stepping up their attempt to stamp out the Al Houthi-rebellion in the north. At least 10 of them passed over the legendary Old City of Saana, the city which according to legend was placed here by Sem. After that experience, it is always frightening to hear the sounds of war just outside your own comfort zone, I couldn´t sleep even though I went to bed at 4 a.m, so I read an article about the 100 Yemenis (50% of all) detainees still locked up at Guatanamo Bay accused of terrorism. The rain was pounding down hard on the streets below and I remembered what my new friend A said just a few hours earlier:

A road most of the time, until heavy rains hit the city.......

A road most of the time, until heavy rains hit the city.......

“I think this is vital for the future of the country” , he said whilst sipping at the hubble-bubble (the water pipe which is called shisha here in Yemen) , “If we can´t destroy them now, in this the 6th war against the Houthis, we will not get any further and the country will probably fall apart. But I think this time we will win.”

A is one of the Yemen’s young brains and the future brain trust, a great fellow, who have been called back from abroad to use his know how to save the country. Ours was a business meeting, the first I have ever had at 1.30 a.m, but than again this is after all Yemen, this amazing country!

Ibn Battuta, the great Moroccan-Persian traveller......

Ibn Battuta, the great Moroccan-Persian traveller......

“It is a fantastic feeling being back in Yemen after so many years abroad” , he said sucking the pipe, enjoying his taste of apple, “but it is not easy. I don´t know if you read this article published in Time Magazine just recently? About the Yemenis chewing kat and in that way killing the country? Well, it is true. They start thinking about chewing kat at 1 p.m, and loose their concentration. This is a problem.”

I have noticed this. It is everywhere, the kat chewing. People guarding the school, guarding government buildings, well, everywhere in San’a, but than again, it is part of life here and I guess, when there´s very little hope, a commodity many Yemenis lack right now, one just wants to forget about the negative aspects of life and think about the good ones! Which I did after waking up. I thought about one of the greatest travellers of all time, Ibn Battuta who describes his visit to Yemen in the year of 1329:

“We went on from there to the town of Ta’izz, the capital of the king of Yemen, and one of the finest and largest towns in that country. Its people are overbearing, insolent, and rude, as is generally the case in towns where kings reside.”

Unfriendly? Just chewing kat.....

Unfriendly? Just chewing kat.....

Ibn Battuta is known amongst pretty much everyone here in Yemen. The same applies to Oman. It is sad that he isn´t better known in the West,where we highlight the travels of Marco Polo, who in comparison to Ibn Battuta is a mere tourist. In short, Ibn Battuta traveled for nearly 30 years, from Morocco to China and back and much more. I have written about him earlier, read more here and no matter to whom I talk about my journey, Ibn Battutas travels always comes up. Amazingly enough, the best scholar on Ibn Battuta is living here in San’a and I have met him once at a kat chew of course, Tim MacKintosh-Smith. He has lived here for as long as Ibn Battuta traveled and is more Yemeni than European. A great and very humble guy who have written two books on Ibn Battuta. And one on Yemen, which is a superb read. In this book he highlights a lot of the positive aspects of the Arab World and its Golden Era, about which I will write more next time!

By the way, Tim Mackintosh-Smith told me a joke, which is probably the oldest joke alive, especially in the Arab world. It is from the 12th Century and goes like this:

“A Christian decides to convert to Islam and is told that to be able to do this he has to say Allah Akbar and Mohamed is his prophet plus he has to get circumcised. Which he does. But after awhile he regrets his conversion and wants to leave the new religion, but is told he will get his head cut off if he does. Very upset he exclaims: What kind off a religion is this where you get your dick cut off when joining and your head  when leaving it!”

Anyway, time for me to go to class and hear Rashads stories from daily life in Yemen. As interesting as Ibn Battutas passage through Yemen! By the way, interesting analysis in the Yemen Times about the situation here!

Sanaa hiding from the heavy rains.

Sanaa hiding from the heavy rains.

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