Home Again, Home Again
We are now back in the United States, after spending the past two and a half months in Yemen. The past week has been an absolute roller-coaster of emotions, stress, and insanity. I had been abroad for almost a year and a half, and I was more than ready to be home. Being abroad, especially in Yemen, makes you miss silly things: the ability to purchase Neosporin, knowing where to find packing peanuts, Vietnamese food, not having to bribe some crooked shmuck to get anything done, being able to write emails without worrying about whether the Ministry of Information is reading them, and so on. Some of those are sillier than others.
We arrived in Yemen the day before Eid al-Fitr, and left the day after Eid al-Adha. Our time there was bound on each side by the two most important holidays of the Islamic calendar.
In Yemen we spent the vast majority of our time with the last community of Yemenite Jews. I was working on a project of recording folklore, the stories of the last Jews of the oldest diaspora in the world. Over the coming months I will be translating those stories and slowly putting them online. However, I could not post anything on this blog about our experiences and the friendships we made, because the government keeps a very close watch on those who have contacts with the Jews, and we promised and swore that we were not journalists. Things could have been bad had I posted pictures and stories before we had actually left the country.
I would like, therefore, to publish the stories I would have published in Yemen, but could not. The following posts are all back-dated.
I would like to thank Mori Yahya Yusuf Marhabi, rabbi of the Sana’a community, who helped us countless times, and whose friendship I will not forget. Saying goodbye to him and his family was among the most emotionally difficult things I have done in recent memory.
These posts reflect not only my first experience doing fieldwork in folklore and linguistics, but also months spent in a community of people who became our close friends. Yemenite Jewry is a unique and ancient minority, and its survival in a war-torn and poverty-stricken corner of the map is of great importance to me. I feel that a piece of Jewish life dies whenever a community such as this is destroyed by emigration, and therefore the preservation of life there is crucial for the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Jewish people.
All photographs by Rachael Strecher