22.06.2007 25 °C
Well, Yemen sure isn't Oman. I've been in country for three days now, and it's definitely taking a little bit to get over the shock of coming from a country like Oman, and winding up here in Yemen. The flight over was decent, although we got stuck on the tarmac in DC for two hours with a mechanical problem. On the DC to Frankfurt leg, I was sitting next to an Army captain on his way to Afghanistan, and we compared notes on where we were heading. When an Army captain who has done two tours in Iraq and is heading to a third in Afghanistan tells you to watch out in Yemen, it makes you sit up and take notice. Of course, now that I'm on the ground here in Sana'a, all the hype and worry about Yemen seems really overwrought. We are living at a hotel about a five minute walk from the school. We've been walking all over the neighborhood, and yesterday we went to the Old City for the first time. Throughout all of this, we have yet to have a problem with anyone. But, walking around Sana'a, the differences between here and Muscat are pretty striking. It reminds me more of my time in China then my time in Oman. Yemen is definitely pretty poor. After being in Oman, it seems very odd to see idle people just sitting around on the street, using what little money they have on qat. Also, after the cleanliness, and well-designed city planning of Muscat, which Omanis take a justifiable pride in, Sana'a seems downright anarchic. There are no decent maps of the city, aside from a small one in my Lonely Planet book, and the streets shoot off in every direction, and they often aren't labeled. Consequently, Sana'a is much more disorienting. I had a handle on Muscat within the first four days of being there, due to its easy layout and being able to sit down with a map and memorize all the landmarks. Here in Sana'a, I'm still just trying to get a hold on the area around my neighborhood. As to the local culture and people, that is all pretty much falling into what I expected. While it is a bit surprising to see the level of poverty, that has more to do with the time I spent in Oman rather than any expectation of anything different. Many of the stereotypes of the country that I had read about certainly seem true enough. There are plenty of heavily armed guards running around the city. Our hotel is near the parliament, so we see a lot of AK-47's. And of course, the qat is ever-present. Qat is a plant grown heavily in Yemen, and chemically it is two parts amphetamine and one part narcotic. Chewing qat is a national addicition, and they estimate that up to 30% of the Yemeni GDP revolves around it. Of course, it is wrecking the traditional agriculture base, since it takes up a lot of water and depletes the nutrients in the soil in a country that already has very poor soil and is almost running out of water. Anyways, I'm off to my first day of classes, I'll have more thoughts of Yemen soon.