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On the ground again

sunny 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.

Posted by mc327503 21:08 Archived in Yemen Arab Republic

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Hi, Glad to hear you are there safe. No matter how normal you feel walking through the city always bear in mind what the Army Captain said. Try to notice faces of people around you and make sure you aren't being followed from day to day. I'm sure the program gave you hints. Glad to hear you met with Aunt Joan and Smokey. Make sure you write Thank yous. My training program in Detroit went well and I am eager to start doing business again. I alread have some good leads to start with. This job will require a lot of network contacts to be successful. I see that there are Yemeni postings on this site who will give tours and be guides. You can contact them by email. Might be interesting. . . Tell me about your classes. If you can get a hold of a copy of Salmon Fishing in Yemen, you should read it. It reveals the absurdity of govt bodies and personal politics within agencies but also illustrates a type of spiritual belief system of Yemeni leadership that we are not accustomed to. Also has so beautiful descriptions of Sana'a.

by cunningmom

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