What I didn't expect to hear (but did hear) when I decided to go to Yemen: "Call me as soon as you get here. The weather is still sunny and we should take advantage of that."
What I did expect to hear (and did hear) when I decided to go to Yemen: "It's dangerous. Don't go. People get kidnapped there, you don't know what it's like…"
Exactly. I didn't know what it's like, but I have wanted to see this place since I was 8 years old and saw a picture of the brown-and-white houses of Sana'a. Now I'm finally here. It's true, I don't know how dangerous it is, so I try to follow people's advice to avoid the biggest dangers and other than that, hope for the best.
It's been good to be in an entirely new country, in which so many things are unknown and unexpected. There is so much pleasure in simply stepping out the old, heavy wooden door and wandering through the narrow streets of the old city, finding something new around every corner.
There are the men who look like half a chipmunk with one cheek full of qat and the men in wrap-around skirts and daggers in their belts on motorcycles. There are the women dressed head to toe in black with only their eyes visible, and women in more traditional dress which includes a colorful cloth that covers their entire face. There are the little kids coming back from school in their dark green uniforms who scream hello hello! and souwar souwar! (pictures pictures!). There are a surprising number of wild cats and dogs, there is a lot of garbage in the streets, there are small restaurants that serve the most amazing concoction of eggs and vegetables and herbs, and everywhere I look there are those brown-and-white-houses I came to see.
Of course there is also a whole new realm of culture and politics to explore. I've had friends and friends-of-friends who've done their best to explain the history and tribes of this complex country. I've participated in a 'chew' (sitting around on flat pillows on the floor with bags of qat and cans of sugary drinks against the bitter taste) and I've been invited to participate in the male section of a wedding when I passed the procession in the street – all men chanting songs, the groom carrying a golden sword and being videotaped – on their way to the big tent in the street where, once again, qat will be chewed.
In a way, it's like being a little kid again, exploring and poking around and asking everyone what's this and what's that and nobody minds answering because I'm so obviously foreign. I don't have a lot of time here, but like most kids I can't wait to 'grow up' and learn more…