When Life Gives You Yemens
On Wednesday the 16th of September we left Istanbul and flew to Sana’a via Dubai, arriving the following morning. I have to admit, I was very apprehensive about coming back, not simply because of the current political climate and the war in the north, but because the last time I was in Yemen I left with a very bad taste in my mouth. There are certain aspects of Yemeni society and the Yemeni mindset I find frustrating. That frustration can range from mild confusion that makes me laugh to myself, to full-on apoplectic fury.
However, upon my return and seeing the Old City’s gingerbread skyline come into view, I was filled with a giddiness and sense of elation that I haven’t felt in a long time, and made me reconsider my misplaced anti-Yemenism. I am very much looking forward to re-learning the city and its wonderful and kind people.
We are living in the top floor of an Old City castle that once belonged to the former Prime Minister of Yemen. The walls are three-foot thick solid stone, and from the roof you have a 360-degree view of the valley in which Sana’a sits. It is a gorgeous house set in a perfect neighborhood, an easy walk westward to Tahrir Square and the restaurants there, and eastward to Souq al-Milh and Bab al-Yemen.
We arrived three days before Ramadan ended, and the build-up to Eid was in full swing. It is traditional to give gifts for Eid and buy new clothes, and the streets of Souq al-Milh were absolutely covered in wrappers, bags, and flattened boxes, as stores were going through their stock faster than the garbage could be collected.
Yemen during Ramadan is an amazing place. Stores are closed most of the day but stay open until sunrise. Loudspeakers on minarets broadcast constant supplications and prayers, which reverberate through the valley. Restaurants are absolute madhouses right at sundown, but by the time dark has come they are deserted, and some even have no more food left. The streets at 3 am are mobbed and the city is as bustling as New York at noon. And then, come Eid, the city and its people switch themselves out of this time cycle and back to their normal Qat-addled day.
Our plan is to stay here three and a half months, during which time Rachael will be splitting her time between working and studying Arabic with a private tutor (our apartment has a room for Arabic study, complete with textbooks, dictionaries, a whiteboard, and other accoutrements of a classroom) and I will be working full-time, either teaching English, or copyediting at one of the two English-language newspapers printed here.
All photographs by Rachael Strecher except the last two.