It's interesting to reflect back and think about how my perceptions have changed over the course of this program. While this has certainly been the opportunity of a lifetime, despite my complaining, I think it has also definitely made me a little bit more jaded. This realization came to me in light of another round of fresh terrorism warnings. Upon our return from Ta'izz, we found out that there was another round of attacks in the Marib governate. Fortunately, these were against government buildings, checkpoints, and the electrical generating station in Marib. I think the idea that I would find these attacks "fortunate," because they didn't involve Westerners, should have been an early indication of my jaded-ness. Of course, since the electrical generating station linked Sana'a with the hydroelectric power of the Marib dam, rolling blackouts became much more frequent. This was certainly a bad sign, if the area around the tourist centers and the Parliament (aka our center) were losing power and not just the usual poor outskirts of town. Usually they keep the power flowing here as much as possible.
None of this really would have been a problem, since aside from the travel and power issues, what happens in Marib might as well occur in Mongolia for all that it affects us on a day-to-day basis. But, then we got another visit from the embassy folks. The last time we had a visit from the embassy, we were told that Yemen had no history of car bombs... which was eight days before the Marib car bomb attack on the Spanish tourists. This time, we were told that there was no threat of attack on soft targets (aka civilians and tourists rather than "hard" targets like military and government). The Marib attacks were explained away as an anomaly, and besides, it could never happen in Sana'a. So, of course, what happens? Three days later, the US embassy goes on severe lockdown, and sends out a warden message saying that somebody had "specific" intelligence that there might be an attack on soft targets in Sana'a. Of course, I found out about all this today when I finally managed to get on the Internet again and read my email, at Coffee Trader, the Sana'ani version of Starbucks run by an American expat couple. And of course, since it was run by Americans and often attracts an expat crowd, what was one of the places rumored to be on the target list? You got it, the very building I was sitting in. And what was my response to this email? Well, since the warden message was already a week old by the time I read it, I smiled and went on reading my email, I wasn't about to give up a perfectly fine Internet connection because of the threat of a car bomb. That's when it hit me that maybe Yemen has changed my outlook on what constitutes "safe." In America, we obsess over details of security, ranging from our homes up to the national threat index (still at yellow and holding). But, in the past two and a half months, the following things have become normal, and/or just background to the everyday noise of life:
- Fighter-bomber jets flying low over the city (Su-22's from the look of it)
- Sustained gunfire (the summer months, espcially August, are popular for weddings), even when its nearby and about sounds like it's going overhead
- News and rumors of terrorist attacks
- Prolonged power outages due to said terrorist attacks (and simple decay of the Yemeni infrastructure)
- The sight of AK-47's on the shoulder of most adult males
- Being "protected" by an escort when traveling, including a truck mounted heavy machine gun
When all of this becomes a simple, matter of fact part of life, I think that I am definitely going to come back to America with a significantly changed outlook on what constitutes "normal."