Rick came home straight from his haircut. His barber is a Kurd (don’t remember if he’s from Iraq or Turkey) and gave Rick some advice for me. He suggested not studying in Morocco since the dialect is so different from anything else. I had already come to the same conclusion. Morocco sounds like a great place, but I’m not sure how marketable my new skill would be if I went there. Sacco (the barber) also recommended not going to Yemen since a handful of Al-Queda guys just broke out of jail there.
I have to admit, that caught my attention, these were the guys that attacked the Cole and planned an attack on a French ship. Not exactly the kind of people you want to run into as an American. On the other hand, there are Al-Queda members and sympathizers ALL OVER the middle east. Folks, they are there and they are something that will be in the background no matter where I go. Plus, thinking a little further, the blasts that blew up several posh hotels on the sinai peninsula didn’t dissuade me from going to Egypt, and that killed HUNDREDS of people, why would I get freaked out over 14 criminals escaping from jail? No, the jailbreak doesn’t really faze me.
Since I had eliminated Morocco from my list of possibilities, I could concentrate on what was left. Basically there is Cairo, Yemen, and Oman. I would prefer learning a gulf dialect, they are in the most demand (after the syrian/Iraqui dialect, but that’s almost strictly government interest) from businesses and the government. I would also like to be in a place where English is not spoken. From my correspondence with various people learning abroad, the complete immersion experience speeds up the language learning dramatically. Cairo has many western influences and many many people that speak English (both for the tourism industry and for professional reasons). A couple of people mentioned that they spoke more English in Cairo than Arabic, that’s no good… That leaves both Yemen and Oman. From what I can tell, both are relatively safe for westerners, and they are both pretty inexpensive. The place in Oman has the disadvantage of being in the middle of nowhere (and I mean NOWHERE) which limits cultural opportunities.
So that leaves Yemen. I’m intrigued both by the language opportunity and the cultural setting. It seems that it is the only place that I am willing to go to that offers this combination (Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia having been crossed off the list from the get go).
But you’ll be in incredible danger! You’re sure to be killed! Actually, I think I’ll be fine. The ONLY Americans that have been killed in Yemen since 1990 were either wearing a navy uniform or were evangelizing southern Baptists. I have yet to see any credible proof that Americans are in any more danger there than any other middle eastern country. Yes, there is always some danger, but I got over that before I told anyone that I was doing this. Once again, by the numbers Yemen is safer for Americans than Egypt or even many cities in the US.
I think that the fear (I’m tempted to call it hysteria) about Yemen is due to the fact that very few Americans know anything about it other than the Cole was attacked there. It turns out that there is a lot of history there, a lot of variation in geography, and a rich cultural heritage that has stayed mostly intact for the past 6 or 7 hundred years. It is this history and culture that is important today, not the Pharaohs and Cleopatra. Mosques dating back to Mohammed, the residence of the last Imam, and plenty of still used historical places made and used by the various caliphates are what Yemen offers. Living history that still is relevant today. Not to sound too much like a tourist ad, but the more I research Yemen (and yes, I have been researching, including primary sources… people actually living there and getting their comparisons with Egypt, Jordan, etc.) the more I’m convinced that this is an opportunity not to be missed.
Here’s where I’m leaning towards. I’ve heard universally good things about them both from students that have gone there and other snippets I’ve run across on the internet. The cost is such that if I were forced to leave (due to whatever, health, deteriorating political situation, etc..) , it wouldn’t break me. Turns out that I have a month to decide to stay and still get a refund. So don’t worry! If I think the place is sketchy, I’ll leave. All I ask is that you trust me and my judgement. In the end, I’ll go where I want, so it’s better not to waste energy on something as silly as worry:-) It feels good to have narrowed it down again, now all I have to do is get ready!