A Travellerspoint blog

Fun City

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On the list of stupid things I could do in life, it would seem that going to amusement park in one the world's ten poorest countries would rank high up on the list. The phrase "Yemeni amusement park" didn't quite conjur up images of Cedar Point and Geauga Lake, and I jokingly imagined that the park had a sign on the outside that read: "Fun City; __ # of days with out a visitor killed." But, much to my surprise, Medina al-Fawh (literally translated as Fun City), was indeed, well, fun. To start off with, it is in a pretty good part of town. The very large and very ornate national mosque that is being built dominates the skyline around the park, and provides for an interesting backdrop. The Presidential Palace is also nearby. The street outside of Fun City has the Pizza Hut, KFC, and Baskin Robbins. This is the same KFC that caused a gun battle in Sana'a over two competing claims from different prominent families over the franchise rights. Inside the park though, they have Southern Fired Chicken, a very interesting and obviously copyright-law-free clone of KFC. SFC did have some very good burgers, it was nice to have a double cheese burger. However, I suspect that the hamburger meat was really kabob meat cooked in the shape and manner of a hamburger. Still, it was pretty tasty. After dinner, it was time for some rides. As I have previously mentioned, I was significantly dubious about the idea at the onset. The sum total of all the rides was about equivalent to one of the average American traveling weekend carnivals. There was nothing really fancy about any of it. Still, they had the equivalent of the Tilt-a-Whirl, and the Yo-Yo, plus a Ferris Wheel. After a few rides, we got around to what we had really come to Fun City for, bowling. This may have been the most surreal part of the night. The bowling lanes looked exactly like anything out of the States, maybe even a little nicer. The Yemenis who were there obviously spent quite a bit of time there, because many of them bowled quite well. Anyways, after the three games, I came out of Fun City quite relaxed. All in all, Fun City certainly loved up to its name.

Posted by mc327503 04:32 Archived in Yemen Arab Republic Comments (0)

Yemen: If the terrorists don't get you the sea anemones will

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The kids that went on the Hodeida trip recently returned from their jaunt down to the coast. I stayed in Sana'a because of the small hope of making my own illicit travel plans and escaping Sana'a to go to Wadi Hawdramaut or Aden. By my reckoning, even a 5% chance of going down to the Hawdramaut was more worthwhile than doing the Tihama coast, where everything would have been like my trip to Oman. Unfortunately, the CLS people figured that I was staying in Sana'a for precisely this reason (I am getting waaaaaaay to easy to read) and put me on the no-go list for travel permits. This roadblock not withstanding, I still could have flown to Aden or Sayun, this negating the need for a travel permit, but alas, it was not to be. So, I stayed in Sana'a and slept, studied, and started working on my Fulbright application. And from what I have heard of the Hodeida trip, it sounds like I may have made the right choice regardless of whether I managed to escape. Amongst the casualties on the trip, one person came down with scabies (no, seriously), one person came down with a violent case of food poisoning that required IV's, and nearly required evacuation and morphine, and one person stepped on a sea anemone in the Red Sea. It was one of the nasty types too, that have the barbs pointing in the reverse direction of the penetration, so they can't be pulled out short of invasive surgery. Plus, there were the usual bug bites, and major sun burns that come with going to a Middle Eastern beach in 100 degree weather, which I found out about back in Muscat. So, I'm fairly glad I stayed far away from the Tihama Coast. I spent quite a bit of time hanging out in Bab as-Sabah, talking with Yemenis and dropping a lot of money on gifts. I got invited, along with the other CLS kids staying in Sana'a, to a lunch at a house of Bab as-Sabah, which turned out to be Yemeni equivalent of Thanksgiving. Our host Gemal, who works with the Ministry of the Interior dealing with tribes in Marib and the Hawdramaut, put on a five course meal, including special Ramadan dishes and Bint as Sahan, which is flaky bread dripping with honey. So, between the oppurtunities to practice my Arabic and the work I got done on the break, all in all I've been very pleased with the trip recently. Now, with the mid-summer break over, it's back to the grind.

Posted by mc327503 03:27 Archived in Yemen Arab Republic Comments (0)

The terrorists have won

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So, once again the terrorists have won. Our trip to Wadi Hawdramaut, the centerpeice trip of the whole program, has been called off. The road to Hawdramaut runs through Marib, and the program is concerned that some of us fragile little flowers "might be scared" to go through Marib after the bombings. Mind you, this isn't to stop in Marib, or go to the Temple of Bilqis where the bombing occured, they're afraid to simply drive through Marib. The trip was still supposed to occur even after the bombing, but with an alternate route through Aden. But then they found two unexploded car bombs in Aden, and that was the final nail in the coffin. Of course, they didn't bother to ask us if we were concerned about driving through Marib, nor did they let us vote on it like they said they would, they just decided that some people were too scared, and called the whole thing off. This is regardless of the waivers we've signed, and the fact that we all knew what we were getting into when we came here during a civil war. Anybody that is scared to go through Marib shouldn't have come to this country in the first place. The worst part is that they aren't even putting a stop to travel to Hawdramaut, just for the CLS program. The YLC kids, who are paying their own way and apparently expendable, can not only go to Hawdramaut, they can even leave the country and go to Ethiopia. So, instead of the Hawdramaut, they're sending us on a trip to Hodeida, on the Tihama Red Sea Coast, for an allegedly relaxing vacation on the beach, and to go snorkeling. This sounds very good in theory and a lot of the other kids have bought it. Unfortunately, what they aren't telling anyone is that the Tihama is about 110 degrees right now, with humidity. So, we won't be able to go to the beach during the day, and the water will be about 80+ degrees when swimming in it, which will not be fun. On top of all this, we're staying in even more depressing hotels than some of the ones we've already visited. And it is malaria season on the Tihama. Given the figures on malaria in Yemen, we're statistically more likely to die from malaria than terrorism.

Posted by mc327503 02:44 Archived in Yemen Arab Republic Comments (0)

Manakha: On top of Arabia

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With the travel ban lifted, we are back in business on moving about the country. So, this weekend (weekends here are Thursday/Friday), we went to Manakha, three hours east of Sana'a. Manakha is only about 100 kilometers east of Sana'a as the crow flies, but because of the topography, it turns out to be quite a drive. That, and we got stopped at the checkpoint outside of Sana'a for an hour on the way to Manakha, so that they could send us a security escort from Sana'a. Of course, the security escort just turns us into bait. It practically puts a giant neon sign in Arabic above our buses saying "Important American Tourists Inside." The security detail consisted of a truck with five guys with AK-47's and a 30mm machine gun in the flatbed of the truck. Obviously, these guys probably won't do anything to actually stop an attack, but they sure as hell will kill anybody after they've already attacked us, since nobody is going to go after the security escort first. Obviously, with the security escort and the recent events in Marib, the atmosphere turned macabre fairly quickly, with people cracking car bomb jokes every time we stopped moving. But mostly it was all just really dramatic, with the trip being totally uneventful. It was nice to get out of Sana'a and into the countryside, and the countryside was pretty breath taking. The drive to Manakha goes past the highest point in Yemen, which is also the highest point on the Arabian peninsula. Manakha itself is a small, uneventful town built into the side of a cliff. At night, it looks like a beach town, because you see the lights of the city, and then just aboslute black-ness, with the emptiness of the cliffs substituting for the water of the ocean.

Our second day in Manakha, we went on what was describe to us as "a little walk." It turned out to be a three and a half hour epic journey along the rim of a huge valley. I've seen some pretty rugged territory in China, Oman, and throughout the States, but nothing even came close to the severity of the scenery there. It was just ridge after jagged ridge of mountains, for as far as the eye could see, which was pretty far up there. We stopped in numerous semi-abandoned villages along the way, where the houses were built on rocky outcroppings that shot straight into the air. No wonder the Ottomans had such a hard time conquering this place, each little village is built like a castle. Anyways, the drive back to Sana'a after all this was also uneventful, and now we're all gearing up for the big trip, the four day excursion to Wadi Hawdramaut, the Yemen's version of the Wild West in a country that already looks like the Wild West pretty much everywhere.

Posted by mc327503 02:41 Archived in Yemen Arab Republic Comments (0)

Back in the communications age

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Because they're spreading us all over the city, the program is giving us phones, so I am back in the communications age. Unfortunately, it looks like calls on the phone to the US are about $1/minute, so if you want to talk, it's gonna be best to call from the States. My number is 967-713269224. Yemen is +7 hours from the East Coast.

Posted by mc327503 23:33 Archived in Yemen Arab Republic Comments (0)

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