Days two and three

OK, day two started out with the Yemeni version of a “continental breakfast”, bread, honey, some really nasty (fake processed cheese) soft cheese, and hard boiled eggs. I am beginning to think that the constipation that is attributed to Qat might actually be a symptom of their diet. Chicken, eggs, bread, rice, potatoes… notice anything missing? I was really craving some fruit or something green that day, but no luck… Anyway, we were scheduled to do a “4 hour” hike that day to some villages that were only accessible by foot. We all asked about the conditions we could expect and the guide told us it was easy, we go downhill for a while and then it is flat. Fair enough… The first thing we did was to go see the view, and it was a great one. Kokabahn is at 9000 feet altitude and about 1500 feet over the plain below. We took lots of pictures and then piled into the truck. The driver took us to the outskirts of town and then pulled off onto a barley discernible trail. I remarked that the area we were going into looked like Mars and Luca agreed. Lots of rocks, not much else… After a time we started to see rockless areas surrounded by low stone fences. Even though it was out of season, we could tell that these were fields for farming. That had to be a ton of work, clearing all of those stones… Time went on and we started to think that perhaps we weren’t going to go hiking after all, we were going over some unbelievable terrain. Real 4 wheeling type of stuff, not all of the tires were touching the ground, not because of the speed but because of the rocks. Then the thought occurred to us that if they considered this car friendly, what was the hike going to be like? The terrain over all was pretty flat but punctuated with big rocks and ruts. He took us to a pretty nondescript village that had one interesting thing about it. It was a kind of castle like thing built right on the edge of a precipice. We had to pay the patriarch 100 riyals each to let us in. The place looked ancient, they claimed it was 600 years old but there looked to be two or three families living there along with their livestock. We were all anxious to get to the top so that we could see the view. Turns out all you could really see from the top was the roofs of the other buildings, but the staircase on the way up was amazing. It was a narrowish, curving affair with the rock face on one side and about 900 feet down on the other side. Quite an experience…

The driver then took us to some scenic overlooks. Wow. We had gained some altitude during the 30+ minute drive and/or the plain below had sunk down a bit. We stood on cliffs that were 2000+ feet from the bottom. Check out the pictures, it was amazing. I felt like I was in an airplane, everything was so small that you couldn’t see any details below. We were actually below some clouds that were coming through. Poor Alessandra doesn’t like heights, she had no idea that we’d be doing this… We took lots and lots of pictures, I put the best up on Flickr…

The next stop was a village named Bokur. We were let out 300-400 feet above the village and we climbed down the rocks to the farmland. It wasn’t particularly steep and kids and women traversed it everyday. We were met at the bottom by a gaggle of kids calling out “Colum colum, Sura sura sura!” They were asking for pens and for us to take their picture. I’ve asked around and no one can tell me what the motivation for either of these things is. There were a few that asked for money, but most wanted a pen. Seems a strange thing to ask for, but innocent enough. The picture thing I don’t understand at all. It’s not as though they ever get a copy, maybe they just like the attention from the westerners… I have no idea. They flocked around Nollaig and Alessandra. Nollaig’s Arabic is good enough that she could talk to them, I have since given her the moniker of “The Pied Piper” due to her ability to draw a crowd of kids wherever she went. The kids are adorable, but it quickly became tiresome to hear the constant badgering for pens and pictures. We made our way (slowly) out of the village to a million chorusses of “Bye Bye!”

Bokur is at the source of a spring and we were going to hike along the wadi (riverbed) to some other villages. The thing that catches your eye is how green it is there. All the rest of the places we had seen were either just rocks, or rocks and dirt. The green was quite nice… Most of that green was made up of Qat plants. It is the cash crop of Yemen and so wherever they can they plant it. We hiked down the wadi, scrambling along the rocks and skipping our way merrily along. It was somewhere along here that I landed a little funny on my right foot. I didn’t think much about it until I got my foot in that position again and my ankle just gave way. I didn’t sprain it but I had apparently twisted it a little bit. It gets better… One of the times that my ankle gave way I over compensated and managed to strain my right quad a bit. Now when my ankle gave out on me, my whole leg gave out. My hike quickly became an effort not to really sprain my ankle and not much else…

By the time we got to Boduger, my legs were really tired. I think they were a bit tired from the previous day’s climb and now I was favoring my left leg and climbing around. I was happy to sit down when we stopped. Turns out that we had come to a madrassa. That’s just a school, Americans usually associate that word with a religious school, but it could be any school. Well, when the kids got a peek of us, the whole place was in bedlam. Nollaig, Luca, and Alessandra wanted to go in, Christoph and I decided not to. I just wanted to rest, Christoph didn’t want to be bothered… That gave us 10 minutes or so of rest. A few kids that weren’t in school came around and chatted with us. Nollaig and the others brought a crowd out with them and they chatted with the teachers and the students for a while. Eventually, she came over and told me to go talk to them. They had been informed that I was an American and they thought that I wasn’t talking to them because I was an American. Whoops! Time to put on a show, put a smile on my face and go shake hands…

We hiked another hour or so with sporadic rests. My legs had turned to rubber and I was no longer worried about spraining my ankle so much as falling the 50-70 feet down into the wadi. There were really only a handful of places tht were potentially bad for me, but I had no problems. Keep in mind that we kept passing (and being passed) by women loaded up with all sorts of stuff. Everyone else was doing our hike in flip flops with no problems, so it wasn’t as though we were scaling K2 or anything, but my leg worried me. At long last our guide said “We’re almost there, your car is right there!” He was pointing down into the village of Wadi Al Hijur. We were about 800 feet above the town, we weren’t on a cliff really, but it was really steep. I was looking around to see how we were going to get down there but much to my dismay the guide just started straight down. I made it, but my legs were done… The call to prayer started right about then and it was quite nice. I have heard nothing but people shouting over loudspeakers in Sana’a. We thought it was a woman singing, but it turned out to be a boy. He had quite a voice and phrased things well. A nice way to end our hike.

The driver took us to Manaka. This was switchback city, up and over mountain after mountain. As we got to Manaka we drove into a cloud (we were up pretty high) and couldn’t see squat. It was dark and incredibly foggy and were driving along roads with no guardrails and who knows how far down the bottom was (around 1000 feet it turns out). None of this phased the driver, he kept going at the same speed as before, making the turns before we even saw them. All of us were scared to death, but we made it… We actually stayed at Al Hijjara, just outside of Manaka. The hotel was fun, we gulped down the dinner and then they started playing music. This was the first time I had heard Yemeni music that I liked. They played traditional instruments (mostly percussion) and even had some traditional dancing. This was all men of course. All of a sudden they started picking people from the surrounding patrons to get up and dance with them. I was on my feet before I knew what was happening. I was dancing with a 13-14 year old kid, lead legs and all. I will deny to my death that a video exists of this, Nollaig screwed it up anyway, she videoed it in the vertical format…. We all slept like logs that night.

The next day was pretty quick. We went to Manaka and another little village and got some nice shots of the scenery. Then it was down to Hutaib. This is apparently the third holiest site (behind Mecca and the Dome of the Rock) for Ismali Muslims. Not really sure what that means, but there we were. Then we went back to Sana’a, got back in around 1:30 in the afternoon. It was a good trip, even if it did take my legs two days to recover and I now have a huge pile of laundry to do… Let me know if there are any questions about the pictures.

Isaac

Day one of my trip

I woke up late and so there was no breakfast for me. We (Luca, Christoph, Nollaig, and Alessandra, Luca’s sister) piled into an early 90’s Land Cruiser around 8:30 and headed out. Our first stop was just outside Sana’a, about half an hour’s drive. It was a scenic overlook that was quite nice. We actually saw Wadi dahr, the rock palace off in the distance. It’s one of the most famous sites from Yemen, do a google picture search for yemen and it’ll come right up. While we were oohing and ahhing over the scenery, a guy walks up with a falcon and asks to put it on one of us. I like birds so I volunteer. Afterwards, he asks for money “to feed the Falcon.” Yeah right… He was the first of many people asking for money, and they all had the same price in mind, 1000 riyals. Thats about $5 US. It isn’t much, but keep in mind that it will get you half way across Yemen (on public transportation), buy you 20 lunches, and represents many Yemini’s wages for most of a week. No fricking way was I going to pay someone the equivilent of a week’s work for 45 seconds with his pet. I (over)paid him 200 riyals and he seemed happy enough…

Our next stop was an unplanned one, we got a flat tire. While the driver put the spare on, I wandered around looking for interesting rocks and plants. Found a couple of weird looking (to me) plants and some colorful rocks, but nothing worth keeping. We then went to a really small… I can’t really call it a village since there were only a handful of buildings, but it was a place to get the tire patched. Alessandra and Nollaig decided not to wear a hjab, or even a scarf over their hair for the trip. Let me tell you, if you know any 20 something year old women that need an ego boost, send them to rural Yemen without covering their face or hair. It was like travelling with rock stars, within 3 minutes of us pulling into the tire place, there were probably 20 guys standing around gawking. They weren’t leering (well, most of them weren’t), it was if they had never seen a woman before. Truth be told, they might have never seen any other women other than their mother and their sisters… A couple of the guys mentioned that there aren’t any women in that village at all. They were calling out “I love you!” and “Bella Donna!” (Alessandra is Italian), but much to their dismay, we pulled out of there 15 minutes later. Of course, 2 minutes down the road we saw some women that had to belong to that village. They were hard at work herding goats. What were the guys doing?

We then went to Thula. It’s an old village, even by Yemen’s standards. It is best known for a fortress that is on a ridiculously high rock formation. The Ottomans were never able to take the place because it enjoys such a tactical advantage. It was about a 700 foot vertical climb, not too bad but we were at a decent altitude, so I was sucking wind pretty bad. Plus, I hadn’t eaten anything yet (it was around 11:30 or so) so I was a little gassed. The view from the top was worth it though. The funny thing is that every place we went, we were impressed with the view, then we’d gain some altitude and we’d like the next view even more…

Next stop was Kokobahn. It is the village with the highest altitude on the entire Arabian Peninsula I think. We arrived in the late afternoon and almost everyone wanted to take a nap. I stayed up and did my homework… My roommate Christoph didn’t wake up until after sunset, but we decided to take a look at the village. Clouds had moved in and I think it was a new moon, in any case, it was really dark. Then the power went out. Power outages are pretty common here, and apparently they are even more common in the outlaying villages. Lucky for me, I had brought my flashlight, but it was still disorienting walking around a strange village with nothing but a flashlight to light our way. We came across a place where the ground just stopped, it was nothing but black below. I should have gotten a clue when I shined the flashlight down and it was still nothing but black.. The next morning we saw what we stumbled onto… Kokobahn is at an elevation of just under 9000 feet. That particular cliff was “only’ about 800-900 feet off of the nearest ledge below… We got lost trying to get back to the hotel, but we made it eventually. The dinner was basic (chicken, french fries, bread, potatoes, and some water) but we narfed it down. Tomorrow I will write about the second day…

Isaac

I’m back! and new pictures…

Got back from my trip into the Yemen countryside yesterday. Came back with a slight sunburn, a slight strain to my right quad, and thouroughly exausted. Yemen is a beautiful country, check out the pictures… I will come back and add descriptions to the pictures and blog about the specifics of the trip when I have more time. Tonight is my first night conjagating verbs! Well, it’s progress… I’ll write my more extensive notes about my trip on my laptop at home and just cut and paste when I’m at the internet cafe. Look for updates starting tomorrow, In-sha-allah.

Dean, a British student here has offered to show me around Dubai. He works there and when I mentioned that I have an extended layover there, he offered his couch and to show me around… nice guy! So I’ll take him up on that offer, it’ll be much nicer than just hanging around the airport…

That’s all for now, busy busy busy, I’ll write more soon. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Isaac

Lots going on…

I went to a cooking class today… Yup, Luca and Naleg asked at a local hotel and they got a quick 1 1/2 hour class together for 5 people. We made “Yemmeni Soup” (not made of real Yemmenis), Fasah, and Salta. Salta is not a bean dish like I had been lead to believe and the fasah that we made here was much more complicated than what I got in the souk the other day. The soup is made from lamb, onions, tomatos, cumin, and some salt. They only serve the broth as soup, the rest is made into ewither salta or fasah. It was interesting, but I’m not so sure how practical it was. Some of the ingredients (Hulba anyone?) seem to be rather specific to this neck of the woods. Also, does anyone know what herb cumin comes from?

This wednesday we will be going on a trip! We’re going to tour some villages around Sana’a. We’ll be, at most 40 or 50 klicks out from the city so it’s not like we’re going way out into the wild. One idea was shot down thaty I might try later on. They had originally looked at going to visit and camp with some bedouins out in the desert. The trouble is that Luca’s sister is only here for 5 days and that trip would be 9 hours each way. Still, it sounds like a great trip to take if I have a week or so to do it in…

Class has gotten more intense all of a sudden. We are starting to look at pronouns (singular, plural, masculine, femine) and it’s making my head spin a bit since the verbs and the pronouns must agree. Interesting fact, there are no possesive pronouns in Arabic, they modify the noun to show who it belongs to. I better get to studying. I’ll try to check email and poist tomorrow, but then I’ll be gone till friday and may not post again until sat. “See” you then…

Isaac

That was interesting…

Went to the resturant last night and ordered Fasaa, that lamb dish that I liked so much the other day. What I got I later found out was fasula. I really don’t think my pronunciation was that far off, I think they didn’t have any lamb cooked up and so they served me what they had that sounded pretty close… Anyway, it was tasty. It was a bean dish, looked like it was lightly mashed and then fried up into a thinish patty. Had a decent amount of spices that made it good. It was also cheap, about 75 cents, but not without consequence… Note to self, do not consume a lot of beans and wash it down with a soda… I didn’t get much sleep last night due to the effects of all the gas, so I cancelled class today. I’m going to go back to ordering chicken until I get the whole food thing a little more under control…

For any of you wondering, the sun really hasn’t been an issue. Christoph (a German)has been here 2 months and has not tanned a bit. We’ll see what the summer is like, but so far not even the hint of a burn. I was afraid that at this altitude I’d have more problems, so far so good!

I put up a picture of my favorite pastry from the local bakery so far. It has a really flaky crtust, liberal amounts of honey, and chock full of nuts. It tastes like peanuts and almonds mostly. Each one costs about 65 cents. I’m doomed….:-)

Isaac

Not much to post…

I’ve really settled into a routine here. I may be going to see more of the country next week. Luca’s sister is visiting and he’s looking into a weekend (wed-thur-fri) expedition to see some more of the country. I won’t be going to far, but it’ll be good to get out of the city for a while. The countryside looks fantastic, at least it did from the air. On the other hand, this means I’ll come into contact with abject, desperate poverty as opposed to the run of the mill third world city atmosphere. The 5 of us should have some fun, and it’ll break up the study, eat, sleep grind.

Christoph took me to a Palastinian resturant yesterday. We had chicken, rice, bread, and Mashaaka. Mashaaka is a vegtable mix in sauce. I don’t know if I was just craving veggies, but it tasted really good. The tricky thing is eating it. With no utensils, it was a bit of a challange. I had to pinch it with pieces of bread. Christoph pointed out that he had been eating like an Arab and now he looked like one since he got a decent amount of mashaaka on his shirt and pants… I’m going to go back today and attempt to order some fasaa, that lamb concoction that was so god at the other place. If they don’t have it, I’ll go with the chicken…

Finally registered with the embassy. SOme kind soul recommended that I register online, turns out that that is the easiest way to do it. I screwed up the description of my physical address though. Going by what I wrote, I live in the middle of the wadi… So I have to log back in today and correct that and give them my phone number…

The rest of today will be spent studying and washing my clothes. There are some cleaners around, but the guys report random variations in the quality of the results. Much shorter pants have been a common problem, they must wash in really hot water and then blast them dry… I’ll stick to the manual method for a little while.

Randy has suggested posting some audio files. Not sure where I’d post those. I have thought about doing some video and posting it to youtube, but the internet connections here have all but ruled that out. Maybe if I send a dvd to one of you with better bandwidth we can work something out….

Isaac

More food!

Today Adel and I went out to lunch as part of the class. We went to a local resturant in the old city. Upstairs we had faal ‘sa, bread, and soup. Faal ‘sa (the closest transliteration I can come up with) is a lamb dish. It is just the meat (no bones) in a thick gravy. It has “some green stuff” (Adel’s description) on the top which seems to be some sort of vegetable puree. Man was it good. You scooped the stuff up with pieces of bread, no utensils of course. The broth was apearantly made from lamb stock even though it was clear. There was fat congeling on the top, but it sure was tasty. We then squeezed some lemon juice into it and it took on a whole different flavor. The acid really cut through the heavy lamb taste and made it almost like a drink instead of a broth. We finished up the meal with bananas dipped in honey. Yemen is famous for it’s honey, some of it reaching prices of over $200 per gallon! This stuff was not the top shelf stuff I’m pretty sure, but it was good. The entire meal ran 800 riyals, or 4 bucks for both of us! I am going to make this a staple of my diet, I’m getting sick of chicken! Next up is the “national dish of Yemen”, Salta. it’s a vegetarian dish made mostly from beans I’m told. Now I’m off to the bakery around the corner for some more culinary exploration!

Isaac

Some more on the pictures

Taking pictures in the old city is kind of difficult since everything is right on top of everything else. The buildings are sights to behold, but it is difficult to get the whole thing in the shot. The streets of the old city are all paved with stones. The really old parts (like where I live, the picture of the cobblestones was taken right outside of my building) have lumpy cobblestones. Your ankles get a real workout walking across them. The newer paving jobs use a flat brick that looks like it is made of concrete. Interestingly, they are all hand distressed. I saw a paver using a hammer and chisel to methodically put pockmarks in the surface. I guess it is for traction in the rain or something. I will have to take a closer look and see if they are quarried stones or cast stones. If you have a camera in your hand, the kids will not leave you alone. It really is a different atmosphere here in Yemen, kids are not afraid of strangers and neither are the parents. Photography is not frowned on here, unlike the US where you are looked at as if you are a criminal because you think a building looks interesting. The exceptions to this attitude are police, the military, and women. It is actually against the law to take pictures of the military or police. I don’t think it is officially against the law to take pictures of the women, but it is clear that no one would appreciate it. It cracks me up, it’s not like you can see any part of her. I’m constantly amazed that women recognize each other on the street, and husbands recognize thier wife (or wives). So you won’t see any pictures of women from me. If you look very closely in the picture with the building bridging the street, you can see a woman and a child or two…

Isaac

More pictures!

I’ve loaded a handful of pictures that I shot today. They consist of some more shots of my building, my walk to school, some kids, and the market I go to all the time. It is taking for freaking ever to upload these things. This internet cafe seems to be the fasted around, they have decent monitors (don’t look fuzzy), is nice and clean, but there is something that is driving me absolutely crazy… Most of the keyboards’ shift key sticks. This results in many things being in caps and/or weird looking symbols instead of numbers… Anyway, just one more little thing. I may wait until I get to Malta to upload many more pictures. I plan on updating my website when I get there too. I am hopeful that I can find some decently fast connections over there…

Isaac

Got the tickets

Finally got my tickets to Malta. It took a while, but I saved a considerable amount of money. A former customer of mine told me to look him up if I ever visited Shanghi (Tony, you out there?), I laughed but took down his info anyway. Well, I asked how much it would cost to get there from here… around $670! Looks like I might take a trip to China sometime!

Isaac