I miss Yemen

 Old Sana'a Looking Northeast

Old Sana'a Looking Northeast

My job used to take me to Yemen once or twice a year. I haven’t been there since 2009, and I miss the place and the people.  I miss Yemen though it is incredibly poor, misgoverned and many of its citizens follow a version of Islam that repudiates every value I hold dear. If that’s not enough, Yemen is running out of water. It is also one of the most intensely beautiful places I have ever seen, both the cities and the wild countryside which is never really wild since it seems that wherever there is a trace of rainfall, Yemenis have terraced and planted clear up the knife sharp mountainsides.

Woman in traditional garb - alleyway in Sana'a

Woman in traditional garb - alleyway in Sana'a

I miss Yemen despite the brutal aspects of what is essentially a conservative tribal society.  I always come away from Yemen with a sadness for the victims of that society, particularly women and girls.  Yemen is a country that allows men to marry children.  A quarter of girls are married before they are fifteen, and 12 year olds die in childbirth.  In 2009, the international furor over the story of a nine-year old girl seeking a divorce, embarrassed the government into establishing a minimum age for marriage.  However, the law was rescinded in the face of popular opposition.

Southern port city of Aden. Old quarter was built inside a volcanic crater

Southern port city of Aden. Old quarter was built inside a volcanic crater

I miss Yemen because there are men and women there of astonishing bravery and greatness of soul who are trying, against enormous adds, to change their society .  To be an honest journalist in the Middle East is dangerous, and Yemen is no exception.   Nevertheless there is a band of young men and women journalists who challenge the regime and risk prison or worse.  I am proud to call one of those journalists my friend.  Mohammed Al-Asaadi is a man who has gone to jail for his journalism, and he is a Muslim who has shown me the tolerant, humane face of his religion.  I have had the honor to meet Amal Basha of the Arab Sisters Forum, an activist who risks her life not just with her words against the misogyny of Yemeni society but  by her refusal to cover her head and face like 99.9% of Yemeni women.  When I am in Yemen, I am among heroes, the Rosa Parks and Freedom Riders of our time.

On Saturday, the spirit of Tunisia arrived in Yemen with a demonstration at Sana’a University against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.   According to reports, the demonstrators were inspired by the successful overthrow of a corrupt dictatorial President in Tunisia.  I guess they figured if one bad President could be deposed, maybe they could do the same with their own spectacularly awful President.  I wish those Yemeni demonstrators luck.  They will need it.  The list of those arrested by the security police is growing.



Dancing on the road from Kokobah

Dancing on the road from Kokobah

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10 comments on “I miss Yemen

  1. I miss Yemen too! Thanks for your beautiful words!

  2. Phil Stephens on said:

    Excellent insight into the true spirit of Yemen. And thanks for reporting the unrest at the university in Sana’a. There has been news of the beginnings [hopefully] of a Tunisia-like in Cairo yesterday, but Yemen gets neglected when the media have bigger fish-frys to cover. Well done, Old Boy!

  3. Phil Stephens on said:

    Things are really “heating up” in the streets of Sana’a today. And the damn cable TV stations give “teasers” to the story…and then don’t give any details. Maybe the networks don’t have any reporters on the ground, over there, but you’d think they could provide some kind of information from both Yemen and Cairo. The world may come to depend on Calgary Fats for the “low-down”.

  4. Phil Stephens on said:

    Contrast the demonstrators in Cairo and Sana’a with our valiant Tea Party-ers. How long has it been since ANYONE in the U.S. risked going to jail, or worse, by taking to the streets in the name of ANY political cause? Hats off to the realpolitik taking place in the Middle East!

  5. Funny Shirts on said:

    Sweet article! Greetz from New York, The Shirt Guy!

  6. Mohammed Al-Asaadi on said:

    Larry and friends,
    Yemen appreciates your passion and will always offer a warm welcome to all of you. Your work, Larry, is amazing and I am sure readers in the US and the world will continue to enjoy your breathtaking writing style with enough sense of humor.

    Very proud of you and all you are achieving. Yemen, all local friends, and I miss you much as well.

  7. Muhsin Al-Da'iry on said:

    It’s interesting to see that no one’s representing the side of the Southerners in Yemen. This horrific regime is a product of the northerners blind support for Ali Abdullah Saleh. When anybody from the south tries to criticize his majesty, northerners are quick to defend him. It’s just that the temperature is heating up from all corners that we now hear their voices. I’m for peace and justice; but there’s not a place in the world I think deserves a succession than those of south Yemen (Aden, Lahej, Abyan, etc.)

    • Calgary Fats on said:

      Thanks for sharing your views. I know that southerners have a lot of legitimate complaints against the Saleh government.

      I have a question for you. Do you think if Saleh is gone and his regime is replaced by a democratically elected government, there could be peace between north and south?

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