Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pacman

Well, it is true. There are people here in Yemen that run around with big knives and kalashnikovs but honestly, it's just not all that threatening or scary anymore. I think I've been doing this too long. The people are nice and it's not like they are threatening you or anything. Actually, I thought it would be a little heavier on the guns, the way they talk about this country. The government has been trying to crack down on that lately, though it has only been successful in the larger towns and cities. Driving by the small villages you still see quite a few. The knives are ceremonial and here in Aden I saw a traditional dance in a random location for no apparent reason (best drumming since Pakistan) in which the knives were a part. They are a sign of courage and everyone is supposed to have one. The problem with the country is that everyone identifies with their tribe rather than country so there are lots of problems that flare up between groups or between a tribe and the government. Lots of areas of the country are off-limits to foreigners because of continuing security problems. Other areas you can pass through but need a permit first from the tourist police. Such was the case from Sayun to Mukalla and then from Mukalla to Aden.
On the bus from Mukalla to Aden there is a stretch where there is some problem with unruly tribal people. There is a potential for kidnapping tourists (the standard bargaining tactic by the tribes though the story is that the kidnapped are treated like royal guests) so the three of us (me, the (east) Indian-American, and a Chinese guy) were given special service. Our own armed guard that didn't even want to let us out of the bus during the breaks, and in one stretch we had 2 police jeeps in convoy ahead of us fully loaded with weaponry, including the mounted machine gun. Very cool. I feel so important. Truth is the government would rather go through all that hassle once in a while instead of actually dealing with their problems.
Otherwise the country is largely the same as any other poor country. Overpopulated and too much garbage everywhere. The national bird is the plastic bag. We sat one day over Shibam and watched them all fly by. They are much more numerous than the birds...... So sad. There are times when it all starts to feel the same. Otherwise, the scenery is such that if you like the American southwest with it's deserts and canyons, you'd love it here. It is even better than Oman.
It is much more strict Islam here and with a lack of the subcontinent community there are no more females to look at. Everyone is full covered and it is just the eyes that stick out, if even that. The funny ones are the ones wearing glasses on the outside so that they look like black Pacman ghosts. Otherwise it looks like the Angel of Death carrying off your children....... You can see some colour around their ankles from whatever is underneath and they do wear nice shoes. They still get all dressed up and I'm sure some of them are really pretty. At least the eyes are. But it is really annoying not knowing if you are right or not. I need my female spies to go and check it out for me, like in Pakistan. There are some places I just can't go.
As for the differences in the treatment of the 3 of us. I definately get more attention and stares. I am sure some of these kids have no idea that I am standing next to other tourists. Even on the bus with the guard I was the number one guy. They also seem to think there are only 2 religions, Islam and Christianity and don't even listen to another answer from these other guys. But they speak better Arabic than I do (mine is a few words at best) so they did all the talking which evened it out.
I am now on my own again but it should be ok. I will just end up getting a crash course in Arabic and dancing like a chicken again :) One other note is that the entire adult male population here is obsessed with Qat. It is a leaf stimulant that they chew all day long. Otherwise things are good. The roast chicken is good and cheap as well. I am missing green. There is no vegetation anywhere.
Ammon

3 Comments:

At 11:27 AM , Blogger The Watkins said...

Ammon I'm glad that you still need us for something...... even if it is only to spy....... don't worry we will be there soon...All is well and we are almost ready to leave the RAIN.....
Love Mom

 
At 11:30 AM , Blogger huggybigbear said...

Hi Ammon,
I think I feel about large north american cities the way you are describing the countries blurring. Funny you were describibg the leaf chewing and it so sounded like the South Americans who chew cocaine leaves while portering.
You sound a bit off, I can imagine you miss the chatter of the rest of the crew (what me imply women talk alot.... of course, gotta live dangerously) LOL. How are you holding out? Do you find the couch surfing ofsets the culture changes, and language isolation? Did you geta knife? that would make for interesting border crossings... cavity check anyone?
Anyways, I'm in LA for the next week but I will try to check in the evenings.
BE careful out there.

Big Bear Hugs
the Bear

 
At 9:25 PM , Anonymous Sandra said...

Ammon you will see more people who identify themselves with their tribes. I remember when I was in Kenya, we have two guards for the HIV camp that I was working for. They started with a "conversation" and ended up running to me in the first aid room. Another one is when I was off from a village, two group of women ran after our car and tried to get my "support" by showing off their colourful custom, and the tribe dance...
great experience...
love and stay safe.
Sandra

 

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