Yemen really is beginning to resemble the American Wild West in my mind. Just as the Wild West was not nearly as violent as people think, so too is Yemen. This probably has a good deal to do with the fact that Yemen is the perfect example of how an armed society is a polite society. Guns are everywhere, espcially with the armed forces and police, which seems to make up about 20% of the working population. Most store owners have one also. We went to Dar al Hajar yesterday, which is in Wadi al-Dur, and there is a place over looking the wadi where you can take pictures with Yemeni falcons and shoot off guns. Unfortunately, we arrived during lunchtime, and only the falcon people and beggars were there, which made me sorely disappointed.
The other overwhelming difference between Yemen and the other Gulf countries I've been to is the prevalence of qat. With the Yemeni accent, the qaf in qat becames a 'g' sound, like the way the Egyptians pronounce the jeem. Thus, qat becomes gat in the local dialect. The reason for this local adaptation of modern standard arabic is because it is almost impossible to pronounce the qaf properly with a tennis ball sized wad of gat in your mouth. Gat leaves litter the streets, and some Yemeni men have wads so large that the cheek is stretched to the point that you can practically see through it. Of course, a lifetime of chewing gat has destroyed the dental hygiene of most Yemenis, and it's pretty nasty to see bits of leaves stuck in teeth and dribbling down the beards of the men.
The last part of Yemeni society that I've been having quite a bit of fun with is the currency. The exchange rate is $1 US for 199 Yemeni rials. Consequently, we've gotten very good at dividing by 200 to get an approxiamate price in US dollars. The advantage of the exchange is that when you exchange money, you get a huge stack of rials. I exchanged a couple hundred dollars at the airport, and got back a two inch thick stack of rials. It looked like a Tony Soprano-style gangster wad. Most of that is locked in the safe at the AIYS now. While the likelihood of getting robbed is next to zero, its just physically impossible to carry around a stack of bills that sized. Between the money I've exchanged, plus the stipend we're getting from the program, I've suddenly realized that I actually have more money than I can spend, for the first time in life. It seems like the only way to spend it all will be to take a trip down to Aden, the Dubai of Yemeni society. Even then, the $700 combined between the stipend is a pretty incredible sum of money. I think I could get used to life in Yemen.