Monday, August 07, 2006

Pictures of Yemen

The famous Bridge of Shahara from afar


The beaches of Aden

One of the colored glass windows at Dar al-Hajr


Another of the colored glass windows at Dar al-Hajr

Salt Market in Old Sana'a #1

Salt Market in Old Sana'a #2

The narrow streets of the Salt Market

Friday, July 21, 2006

Lucky Me

You may be wondering what I did for World Cup action after Italy knocked Germany out of the World Cup. At the time, I was wondering what I was going to do myself.

Fortunately, luck was on my side as France made it into the finals. Why was this lucky? Because my German friends, Uwe and Sabine, are rather well acquainted with Theo, who is an American that until recently was working at the English language newspaper The Yemen Observer.

You see, Theo knows one of the French gendarmes and as it turns out, the French ambassador had set up a pavilion for the French citizens and invited guests to watch the match at his house. Now Uwe, Sabine, Theo, and I are neither French citizens nor were we invited guests but I guess it pays to know people as once we arrived at the ambassador's house, Theo called the gendarme on his cell phone and he came and escorted us inside.

I was especially excited as there was no doubt in my mind that I would finally be able to score some red wine. I mean hey, C'mon, this is the French ambassador's house I'm talking about. But no, either the French ambassador isn't a big wine fan or he just couldn't get any. There was gin and whiskey aplenty, but that was poor consolation as I really had my heart set on some red wine.

Speaking of the France and the World Cup, the Yemeni children seem to think it's extremely amusing to call me Zidane when I walk in the streets now. I concede the fact that he and I share the same haircut, but that's where the resemblance ends as I'm much better looking than him. If you're not familiar with who Zidane is, just type his name into your favorite search engine.

A few days before the World Cup final I attended an exhibit for a Yemeni artist at the German Cultural Center (where Uwe works). I was very impressed and ended up buying one of the paintings. Now I just hope I can get it home in one piece. I thought it would be better than dropping several hundred bucks on a jambiya that I'd never wear once I returned to the states; although, I've bought a jambiya too, just not an expensive one. The nice thing about Yemeni jambiyas is that the untrained eye can't tell the difference between an old, expensive jambiya with a lot of history behind it and a brand new jambiya made to look old.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Beer, Bacon, and the World Cup

Last night was about as good as it gets here in Yemen I believe. One of the German students, Sabina, suggested that we watch the Germany-Argentina quarter-final match at the German Embassy, so yesterday evening I headed off with Sabina, Uwe, and Jenny to the German Embassy.

It promised to be a night to remember and we weren't disappointed. Not only did Germany defeat Argentina to make it into the semi-finals of the World Cup (I'm a big fan of Juergen Klinsmann and the German national team), the German Embassy was providing free beer/white wine along with pizza and some other snacks! It was like I had died and gone to heaven.

I didn't think life could get any better than that until Uwe asked if I wanted to continue the party at the British Club. Now, English Tom had invited me to the British club several times before he left but I always declined as I felt too busy each time he had asked. If I had only known I would have accepted every time. Although the beer at the British club wasn't as good as the beer at the German Embassy, they did have one thing the German Embassy did not; that thing being a BACON, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich.

Mmmmnnn.... bacon. It was good. No, it was very good. Even after eating the pizza at the German Embassy I ate two BLTs at the British club. Couple this with going to Al-Fanous(sp?) and discovering that they actually served steak capped off a rather pleasant week. Let's face it... Yemen is a dangerous and uncertain place. A few days of beer and pizza are about as good as it gets.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Nose to the Grindstone

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I took Saturday off from class as Saturday is our “conversation” day and since I had talked with Ghaleb for about eight hours the day before, I didn’t feel too bad about skipping class and getting back one of the days from my weekend.

Our Friday together must have left a good (bad?) impression on Ghaleb as he came to class today with a photocopy of Al-Thowra (a Yemeni newspaper) for me to read. The first article was a kick in the noots but the second wasn’t so bad. Long story short, I ended up with about thirty new vocabulary words to memorize tonight.

Previously Ghaleb had only had me translating individual sentences/paragraphs from his Media Arabic book which tends to build upon vocabulary introduced earlier in the book, making it infinitely easier than an article picked at random from the newspaper.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ghaleb’s Super High Intensity Training continued today as he brought in a video recording from Al-Arabiya for me to watch. We started viewing the video but only after I got him to admit that the Arab newscasters speak faster than normal.

Much like the previous day I had the most difficulty with the first story which dealt with the investigation into Syria’s involvement (or non-involvement) with the death of a prominent Lebanese political figure. I forget his name but he was quite popular in Lebanon and I remember watching riots on the news after his death as the Lebanese were accusing Syria of having a hand in his death.

The second news story was much less difficult, probably due to what I remember from studying Arabic at DLI(?), as it dealt with the shooting down of an American helicopter.

The third and final news story was about the British Minister of Foreign Affairs praising Saudi Arabia for their recent success in the war on terror. This ended up being, to my relief, only slightly more difficult than the second story had been. Still, I once again ended up with about thirty more words to memorize this evening.

Ghaleb has decided that one day out of the week will be devoted to newspaper articles, one day for watching TV news broadcasts, one day for translating from the Media Arabic book, one day for working from the Al-Kitaab series, and one day for free discussion. Giddy-up!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Lunch with Gahleb

Friday, May 12, 2006

I’ve just returned from my instructor’s house, Ghaleb, about an hour ago and I must say that I had a very enjoyable time with him. You know an instructor must be doing something right when students come here to study and ask for him upon recommendation of friends that have studied with him.

The beauty of being able to spend time outside of class with my instructor is that, as my instructor, he’s familiar with the level of my Arabic and he can adjust his conversation appropriately. If he does use a word that I don’t understand I just ask him the meaning and he will try to use it in a manner in which I will understand through context. Of course, if push comes to shove he can just tell me in English. Initially I thought that he would want to take the opportunity to practice his English (which is good) but no, he only spoke Arabic straight from the get-go.

That being said, we had what I thought to be a great conversation during my time there. I felt like I was really on top of my game. To be honest, I felt more comfortable talking to him in at his place than in class as I didn’t feel as if I were under any pressure.

Lunch was also very tasty! It consisted of a very spicy broth in the beginning and after that there was the ubiquitous chicken and rice but also beef, Yemeni pizza, and some other vegetable dishes that don’t really have comparisons back home. The dessert was Bint as-Sahn, which is a type of pan bread covered with honey. Ironically, he (and most Yemenis) uses honey produced outside of Yemen because Yemeni honey is so expensive.

I would hazard that almost all Yemenis eat on the floor as this is the third Yemeni house at which I’ve eaten (the first time was at the new student luncheon, the second was at Abdul Rahman’s) where I ate on the floor. They put down some type of plastic tarp (it varies slightly) and put the plates of food on the tarp.

Monday, May 08, 2006

From Aden with Love

Please forgive my typos...

Well, I was just about to study, but as the power has gone out I thought it would be a good time to write about my trip to Aden before I forget all the details.

Ahh… Aden. Yes, Aden. After missing out on the trip to Shahara and Ma’rib, nothing was going to make me miss this trip. And that is a shame as this was probably the trip I should have missed.

The foreshadowing of events to come began when we had to wait until about three in the afternoon before heading out to hire a car to take us to Aden. The reason this is an ominous portent is that it is about a seven hour trip.

The five of us (Myself, Evan, Aaron, English Tom II, and Alex) managed to hire a car for about thirty dollars. Normally they cram about nine people into the station wagon but we paid extra so that we could have the taxi to ourselves. The foreshadowing continued as the weather had turned rainy for our darkened descent down to Aden (Sana’a is at an elevation of just over 7,000 feet).

Our driver was not shy about passing slow moving vehicles regardless as to whether he had a decent line of sight and on about three different occasions I had given myself up for dead. During the descent the weather cleared up and the drive became more pleasant. Unfortunately, since we left so late it quickly became too dark to enjoy the scenery of the drive. As we got closer to Aden the road became noticeably worse with the driver having to slow to a crawl in some places.

We arrived in Aden at about 11pm and headed to our hotel. During our drive I had asked my companions for the luxury of staying at a decent hotel. I thought we had an agreement of sorts but no such luck. Although I saw several nice looking hotels as we drove into Aden, Aaron directed our driver to the Gulf of Aden Hotel which is located almost right beside the Al-Wafi Hotel.

I was quickly becoming nervous as the neighborhood through which we were passing wasn’t one in which a decent hotel would be found. If you look in Lonely Planet’s Arabian Peninsula guide (which I don’t usually do) you will see both hotels listed in their budget selection with Al-Wafi (I think that is correct but I’ve loaned my guide out and can’t check at the moment) being described as the best of a sorry lot (I think that’s what it said). Lonely Planet could have saved everybody a lot of time by saying the Gulf of Aden has a ton of cockroaches crawling over everything but that the Al-Wafi Hotel only has 1/3 the number of cockroaches (English Tom II had to knock two of them off his bed).

I was decidedly unhappy at this point and not having a good time. A couple points to mention about Yemeni budget hotels. They may or may not include blankets on the bed. They won’t have any cute soaps and shampoos, towels or washcloths for you to use. So, if you are like me and didn’t remember to bring soap, shampoo, towels or washcloths, you will probably regret it unless you don’t like bathing. I ended up bathing with some wet-wipes that I had in my backpack. If the above doesn’t put you off, you’ll be happy to know that the air-conditioning worked just fine and that the rooms were dirt cheap.

About thirty minutes after we checked into our rooms Aaron had us out the door to The Sailors Club. The Sailors Club was pretty much the same as the Russian Club and the Palestinian Club but actually a little nicer as it was located right on the water and there was a nice breeze to boot, and dare I say, I had the tastiest tuna fish sandwich ever.

For some strange reason, I thought we would be touring through the streets of Aden but Aden is no Old Sana’a. To paraphrase a line from the musical Chess, “You’ve seen one crowded polluting stinking town, you’ve seen them all”. Actually, the cisterns there are supposed to be interesting to view but that didn’t seem to have been on the agenda. No my gentle readers, the following day we were off to the beach!

There are public and private beaches in Aden and I recommend paying the two or three dollars to go to a private beach. We ended up going to the Elephant Bay Beach Resort which was rather pleasant. If you are in Yemen and decide that you absolutely must go to the beach, you could do worse. The Elephant Bay Beach Resort has rooms for rent that are located right on the beach (for a reasonable price) a nice dining facility/gift shop, a small but modern fitness room, and the manager there seemed quite capable.

As our time at the beach neared its end, the discussion of whether to stay a second night came up and much to my delight we decided to head back that night after dinner. Dinner was at the Sheng Sheng Chinese Restaurant. We all opted for the 10 course meal which ended up costing about eight dollars a piece. Such an excellent dinner it was! I can’t recommend it enough.

The ride home was no more enjoyable than the ride down but then, long, crowded car trips usually aren’t enjoyable and since we departed once again in the evening, I missed the scenery once again. We arrived back at the school at about 3:30am at which time I promptly took a shower and then spent the entire next day in bed!

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Squatholes of Yemen

I know that everybody is eagerly awaiting the skinny on my trip to Aden but in the meantime I offer you…

"The Squatholes of Yemen”