Saturday, March 18, 2006

Generic Dictator Chant

I originally posted this on my Word of the Day blog (which I've been studiously neglecting) but I don't think many peeps hit that site and I wanted to share this with everybody back home.

It's a generic dictator chant!

!(Insert random dictator's name) بالروح بالدم نفديك يا
{biruuh bidim nafdiik Ya (random dictator's name)}

This loosely translates to "With soul, with blood, we sacrifice - Oh (random dictator's name)!

Don't be shy, I know you want put Bush's name in that chant ;)~

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

And I wonder, still I wonder - who'll stop the rain?

I was finally able to get the photos I mentioned in my last post and to get to the internet cafe at a time when the connection was working well enough to get them all uploaded to my blog.

I remember reading a post where it was asked if a person should bring rain gear with them. During the current rainy season you could definitely get away with wearing a poncho (they even sell them at the Shumaila Hari Supermarket) and with using an umbrella, but truth be told, you really don't wantt to be outside in that stuff when it's coming down. Just wait a couple of hours and it'll be over.

Before...


During...

After...



Saturday, March 11, 2006

Yusef Islam

Friday, March 10, 2006

Yesterday I accompanied English Tom to the Shumaila Hari Supermarket as I had to score some more Fruit Loops. Technically, English Tom accompanied me to the supermarket and I accompanied him to the Chinese restaurant around the corner from the supermarket as he was on a beer run. In case you’re curious, they are charging 700 riyals per can at the moment.

On the way back, English Tom suggested we get some food to go from the Jordanian restaurant. Part of his boycott of Yemeni food pending his imminent departure. After loading up on shwarma, we headed off in a taxi to Bab al-Yemen. After a few minutes, I mentioned to English Tom that I must have been zoning out because it sounded like part of the music that was playing in the taxi was in English. We both had a good laugh but it turns out I wasn’t zoning at all. Our taxi driver was playing none other than Cat Stevens who I believe is known in the Middle East as Yusef Islam, and in the U.S. as persona non grata.

As he was sitting in the front seat, English Tom commented on the cassette, to the driver, who was more than happy to talk to him about the music, probably because every other word on the cassette was Allah. Long story short, English Tom got out of the taxi the proud owner of a Cat Stevens aka Yusef Islam tape.

Today I managed to sleep most of the afternoon, which is always nice. After finally waking up and getting ready for the day, I headed out to the Internet café. The first thing I noticed was the angry, black clouds glowering ominously at me as I made my way to Tahrir Square. It was shortly after I arrived at the Internet café that the rains came – big, fat drops that held the promise of renewal. Yemen was referred to as Arabia Felix (Fortunate Arabia?) by the Romans (I think that’s right).

I managed to ride out the cloudburst inside the confines of the Internet café. On my way home I discovered that the rains weren’t so lucky for some intrepid taxi drivers. The main street that runs through Old Sana’a (the Wadi?) was a raging torrent of dirty, debris-filled water that reached the bumpers of the three taxis that I saw stalled in its waters. According to Aaron, I can expect to see some of those taxis floating down the Wadi when more severe rains come.

I apologize for not having my camera with me to get a picture of it, but I’ll have plenty of opportunity according to a conversation I had with a Yemeni man on my way home. The “rainy” season that will occur in the Fall will be worse and that the water level will get much higher. The Wadi is at a lower level than the part of Old Sana’a that it runs through. It is bricked on both sides to a rather high level. I promise to post a picture of it soon.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

An Englishman in Sana'a

Please forgive my typos...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Yesterday was English Tom’s 24th birthday and his third in the Middle East. He leaves for England in about seven days now and as part of his final testing, his instructor went with him to the souq and had English Tom barter for a jambiya (which is a decorative knife worn by Yemenis).

Somehow his instructor had cajoled him to bedeck himself in full Yemeni regalia on his birthday and to wear it for the entire day. English Tom asked me to lunch that afternoon and I’m assuming that wanted me as his security blanket as he felt a little conspicuous. He complained often on how everybody thought it was funny to take the piss out of him, but I think he privately enjoyed the attention.

Of course, like any Englishman worth his salt, he had prepared for a big booze-up in the mafraj. I donated 3,000 riyals to the cause and he even managed to convince the female students to cook for the party. After securing a couple bottles of gin and vodka, English Tom was set.

Now, alcohol in the mafraj isn’t technically permitted at CALES but we weren’t worried that staff would come up to see what was happening due to the fact that the staff assiduously avoids the mafraj. I think it has something to do with the male and female students utilizing the mafraj at the same time. I’m pretty certain that the mundane conversations that take place between the male and female students is viewed with the same disapproval as if orgies were going on (they aren’t, btw).

Andrea managed to procure some birthday balloons and a string of flashing lights and the food was surprisingly good. Aussie Girl somehow got a head start on the drinking and seemed pretty well lit by the time everybody else got their drinks. Around 9:00pm, English Tom poured Aussie Girl into bed as she had begun flopping around like a fish even though we stopped serving her at 8:15 or so.

Three students have come down with an illness of some sorts. My friend Evan got sick almost a week ago, then about three days ago Aaron became sick. This morning Andrea was complaining of chills. I think Evan’s illness may be unrelated as his symptoms appear to differ from Aaron’s and Andrea’s.

Today Evan had finally had enough and went to the Yemeni-German Hospital to try and find out what was wrong. About four hours after he left, Evan came back to describe his experience. The appointment consisted of some blood drawing and a, ahem, stool sample.

So, they hand Evan a cup and told him to go into the bathroom and get busy. The first thing that Evan noticed was that there was no soap in the bathroom. The second thing he noticed was that there was no light in the bathroom. Now, one of the symptoms of Evan’s sickness is uh… loose stool. So here is a guy with loose bowels, in a bathroom with no light, trying to crap in a cup. Oh yeah! The kicker, according to Evan, was when the guy escorting him around the hospital shook his hand right after he came out of the bathroom.

Evan has started taking some antibiotics that they gave him before he left the States and thinks it is helping. Personally, I plan on not getting sick.

Earlier in the week when I went with Evan to look for Pizza Hut, we stopped by the Shumaila Hari Supermarket on the way back. For the past few days I’ve been eating Fruit Loops and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – Yeah baby!

It’s not that I have a problem eating Yemeni dishes; it’s just that it is a pain to go out every time I want something to eat. I still average about a meal a day at a restaurant. Eating out is cheap depending on what you order and where you eat. I usually get a half order of chicken with rice or hummus, some bread and a Fanta Orange to wash it down. The cost averages about 360-400 riyals (or about $1.90-$2.10).

If you order meat, you have to be careful to specify that you want beef and not goat or you’ll end up paying more for that little privilege. If you order chicken, you have to specify how much of the chicken you want. I find that a half order of chicken and some rice is more than I can finish.


Since most eating is done without utensils, I lick my fingers every so often to get the majority of the grease/juices off and then tear off and eat a piece of flatbread, which has the effect of cleaning off most of the remaining junk from your fingers.

Monday, March 06, 2006

This morning Evan and I woke bright and early so that we could head down to the local clinic and have our blood drawn for the monthly AIDS test. They let me give them about $30.00 for the peace of mind of knowing that I don’t have AIDS.

The clinic was beside the Kuwaiti Hospital and although it seemed rather basic, I didn’t get the impression it was dirty. The nurses spoke to me in English and they did a better job of drawing blood than the nurse at my doctor’s office did right before I left for Yemen. Evan, unfortunately, was unable to have his blood drawn as he did not have the two passport photos that were required.

Evan and I walked back from the clinic and stopped in at an internet café. I tried to Skype Traci but the connectivity was so bad that we couldn’t get through. This was enough for me to get irritated to the point that I told Evan I was going to go buy a cell phone.

Now, I had wanted to make friends with a Yemeni before I bought a cell phone here so that he could help me with the purchase as I didn’t want to pay the “foreigner” price but I couldn’t be bothered to wait any longer. After walking around and asking in my best Arabic “Do you sell mobile phones? I don’t need a new one, just a cheap one.” in about 7 or 8 likely looking shops (of which only 2 actually sold cell phones), I finally found a place that would had one for about $57.00, and new to boot. I even got a one-year warrantee with it! Woot!

Earlier, Evan had told me that one of his Yemeni friends had gotten him a cell phone for $40, and that a female friend of his bought her phone on her own for $120, so I figured my price was in the right ballpark. The other place I found that sold cell phones quoted me a price of $140, so I decided to go ahead and buy the one for $57. Of course, I can’t actually use my cell phone today as my passport is at the hospital where I had my blood test done and they can’t sell me a simcard for the cell phone without my passport.

On my way back from purchasing my new cell phone, I stopped to take a photo of a doorway to one of the Yemeni houses.


Right after I had taken my photo, out popped a cute little Yemeni girl who asked me to take her photo.


That was the calm before the picture storm. I suddenly became besieged with requests to take pictures by every kid in the vicinity. I finally managed to beat a hasty retreat and returned to my room.

One of the additional photos I took of the children was actually worth keeping so that was a nice surprise.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Fear and Loathing in Sana'a

Please forgive my typos...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Wednesday night here is the beginning of the weekend. It seemed like all the other nights before it but it was different in many ways…

If a person wishes to study Arabic abroad, I think they should clarify what they are looking to get out the experience. This was a topic brought up earlier by Evan. I think many people are attracted to Yemen for several reasons – It’s inexpensive, you receive one on one instruction, and you have to communicate almost solely in Arabic which helps reinforce your learning.

Just thinking of Yemen evokes images of the exotic. Yemen has many things to offer the aspiring student of Arabic, but excitement isn’t it. To be honest, Sana’a is rather boring and has absolutely no nightlife – or so I thought…

It’s called Tourist City. I believe it’s mainly a place disaffected Saudis and bored expatriates frequent. Wednesday night I finished my class around 8:30pm and was unlocking the door to my room when English Tom popped into the common area for my floor to announce that it was time to leave for the Palestinian club.

I was actually quite hungry at the time and had intended to find some chicken and then hit the internet café to make my chess plays but an evening with English Tom is better than food so I put my things away and joined the other students on their pilgrimage for booze and dance music.

There were eight of us in two taxis. The first sight that greeted me was a guard with a suspiciously Russian looking automatic weapon. It is his job to keep out the local populace. After checking to make sure we all looked foreign (I guess that’s what he was doing) he waved us on in.

Tourist City is a gated community that houses at least two dive bars, the Russian club and the Palestinian Club. It turns out that the Palestinian club didn’t open until 11pm but the Russian club was open so off we headed to the Russian club. Along the way, English Tom pointed out that the American Embassy was right across the street from Tourist City – coincidence?

Shortly after our arrival English Tom went to the gate to try and help get Hadda(sp?) into the club. I don’t quite have the full story on her. From what I gathered, she is the daughter of an Arab diplomat. I don’t believe she is very popular in Sana’a as she has lived in many places and isn’t particularly fond of behaving in the manner Yemeni society expects.

After a couple of beers (about $5 for a small and $7.50 for a large), everybody was ready to head off to the Palestinian club where we were allowed the privilege of paying 1,000 Riyals to get in. It was as we were waiting to get inside that I noticed that one of our students, Laura, was having problems walking. I don’t know what she drank at the Russian club, but Hadda was practically holding her up. Unfortunately for her, she made it into the Palestinian club but the effort must have taken her remaining energy because within about five minutes English Tom was taking up a collection so that Hadda could take Laura back to the school.

The Palestinian club was actually nicer than the Russian club. It’s roomier with more tables at which to sit, fog machine, lighting effects and a bar staff that actually moves like they get paid.

I don’t dance (neither did the other guys by the looks of things but that didn’t stop them) so I stayed at the bar while everybody else hit the floor. While everybody else was dancing, I noticed an older gentleman at the bar that looked more Indonesian than Arabic but who appeared to speak Arabic well. I remember thinking that he was acting the ass towards the barmaid but then went back to watching my fellow students boogie on the dance floor.

Somehow, the ass at the bar had managed to insist on buying one of our female students (whom I’ll call Aussie Girl) a drink and wanted to take over to one of the tables to talk. Shortly after, Aussie Girl, deciding she’d had enough, began heading back to the bar followed by ass-man. English Tom showed up right at that moment and began arguing, in Arabic, with ass-man about leaving Aussie Girl alone. I pulled Aussie Girl behind me and English Tom, and waited to see what would happen next.

Circumstances definitely didn’t disappoint when one of our newly made, drunken Saudi friends wrapped his arms around ass-man, picks him up, and carries him off! Now that’s entertainment!
Shortly thereafter, ass-man made his way back to the bar and proceeds to harass the barmaid but pointedly ignored us. Alas, the damage was done and soon English Tom and I left with Aussie Girl and American Tom for home.

So, if you are dying to have an overpriced drink and the chance for a little excitement, Tourist City is the place for you!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

With the memory of last night firmly in the back of my head, I woke up bright and early (well, for me anyway) and headed off for the internet café to call my wife.

I installed Skype on her PC before I left and most the PCs at the internet café have Skype so we can talk for free. The only problem is that due to the time zone difference, I have to make it to the internet café no later than 10am to make the call at a reasonable time in Seattle.

Evan showed up around 11am and soon we were off on another lovely adventure! There are two (that I’ve found thus far) rather modern supermarkets in Sana’a. Evan, who has become desperately tired of eating out, wanted to visit one of them to buy things he could prepare in the kitchen at the school so off we went.

Along the way, Evan decided that he could not end the day without eating at Pizza Hut (which later English Tom declared to be crap). Understanding Evan's situation, I agreed to accompany him and we began looking for Huda Street. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds because for some reason, the Yemenis decided not to put any signs up identifying it as Huda Street. Man oh man we walked a long way on Al-Zubari Street before finding out that we had gone way too far and had to double back.

Huda Street is a very long street. I suggested jumping in a taxi van but Evan wasn’t jiggy with that idea so we walked. And we walked. And we walked. We finally passed the Shumaila Hari Supermarket when Evan decided to give up on Pizza Hut and eat at a place that seemed suitably western for his tastes. As it turns out, we never would have found Pizza Hut as it’s not actually on Huda Street but on a street branching off of it.

Later that evening Evan and I were hanging out in the mafraj with Aussie Girl when English Tom invited us to the British club - yet another place where one can have a drink in Yemen but as a non-Brit I couldn't actually get in without English Tom. I begged off but Evan, with our failure to find Pizza Hut weighing heavy on his heart, was tempted into accompanying English Tom but the promise of a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich and relatively cheap beer. Although it was hard to resist English Tom (and the BLT) I bowed out due to the need for some quiet time.

BTW, if you come to Yemen and bring a surge protector to use with your laptop, be sure the surge protector is for use with 220 voltage and not 110. Um, er, uh… just trust me on this one.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Little Taste of Syriana

Please excuse my typos...


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Today is my first day of class. Jameel told me that he really wants me to study with a specific instructor, but because of his other student obligations, the time slot is from 6-8pm. Supposedly this will only be for a couple more weeks as some of Mr. Ghaleb’s students will be leaving then.

I was lucky enough to get a room in the CALES proper. At least I feel it to be lucky, even with having to use the squatter. Evan explained to me that there is another residence building that actually has Western toilets, but I’ve personally grown quite fond of the squatter. I also won’t have to worry about getting to class once the rainy season starts (it rained yesterday, btw)

I have decided to answer the question of where I am from with:

“ أنا من أمريكا ولكن في قلبي أنا يمني ”
(I’m from America but in my heart I’m a Yemeni)

Why you ask? Just in case. Just in case…

Sleepy Gary – 2, Annoying Call to Prayer Guy – 2


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Today I set off on my own to find a place to get a haircut and promptly got myself lost. I wasn’t worried as I was sure that I’d find a familiar landmark eventually.

As I walked along I noticed quite a strong police presence which made me wonder if I should have stayed at home that day. Soon thereafter I stumbled upon to gentlemen that I believe said that they were part of some sort of civil defense (don’t quote me on that). What I did understand was that the reason for all the police on the street was that the “president of Palestine” was arriving in Sana’a today. They also shared some of their watermelon with me. After thanking them for their generosity I continued on my way, more relaxed for having found out that the police presence wasn’t a concern of mine.

As luck would have it, I found a barber shop and got myself a spiffy haircut and about ten minutes of conversation practice. After my barber had finished I asked him how much I owed him. Although, I didn’t understand him at first, I realized he was playing the how much do you think you should pay game. I asked him how much the price was normally. He said 500 riyals which I knew was too high so I offered 300, and what do you know, he said okay! To be honest, 300 riyals was still a bit too much, but I did get some conversation practice thrown in there so I figured it was a wash.

The internet café that Sophia took me to the other day is pretty good so I’ve decided to continue using it (plus it’s smoke free). I’ve yet to pay more than a dollar for any of my visits there. I think I’ve been averaging around $0.75 per visit or so. Aaron mentioned that there are some cheaper places around so I may look around for them later.

Speaking of Aaron, he’s found several places that sell DVDs. Of course, they’re illegally copied, but it’s okay because when I was in Korea a gentleman explained to me that it’s not wrong to buy illegal DVDs because the average person couldn’t afford to buy the legal DVDs. I’ve often wondered how much weight that defense would carry in a court of law. Last night Aaron showed those of us in the mafraj the latest t-shirt he bought in Tahrir Square. It had a logo in the upper right corner that stated (in English) the wearer of the shirt was a counter-terrorism instructor. I’m not sure if he plans to wear it, but my money says he will.

Sleepy Gary – 2, Annoying Call to Prayer Guy – 3

Monday, February 27, 2006

Today was laundry day. Please don’t misunderstand me. I didn’t actually DO the laundry myself – I took it to a laundry that is very close to the school. Six days worth of clothes ended up being 830 riyals, or about $4.50.

I haven’t been very hungry since arriving in Yemen. English Tom says he heard it was because of the altitude but who knows. I’m gonna have to find some food tonight after my class as I met Evan at the internet café and ended up skipping lunch and just getting some juice at a fruit stand instead. It seems that Evan had been violently ill the night before and had no desire to try his luck with food right then.

Sleepy Gary – 3, Annoying Call to Prayer Guy – 3

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Just down from the internet café I frequent there is a nice gentleman selling sweets; baklava mostly with some other variations – a street vendor. When Evan and I first happened upon him he asked us where we were from and I could visibly see his expression change as we told him we were from America. When he muttered in a somewhat dejected manner that he was from Iraq I understood his reaction.

The irony of the situation was palpable. Here is a man that probably left his country due to the conditions resulting from America’s invasion and he was serving sweets to people from the nation that invaded his country. I’ve decided to make a point of stopping by his stand after every visit to the internet café to buy baklava… an apology of sorts.

Tonight was dinner at the Syrian restaurant (Al Sham I think). Unless you have been to Yemen, you probably don’t realize the significance of this.

Yemen is like no other country in the Middle East. This difference extends to their food. Traditional dishes from the Levantine that normally pop into a person’s head just don’t exist here. Yemenis also tend to eat with their hands and use flatbread to scoop up anything they don’t eat with their hands. Perhaps the sole exception is rice, which they use a spoon to eat. Eating at Al Sharm was a more enjoyable experience inasmuch as we had a full set of flatware and a much larger selection of food (Yemeni meals don’t tend to have much variety).

Towards the end of our meal the owner (who is Syrian) came over to our table to ask us how our meal was and then brought us some dessert and tea on the house. After the more basic experience of Yemeni restaurants, it seemed a luxury.

Speaking of traditional Yemeni food, Evan has been rather ill the past couple of days. We think it’s food poisoning as it began a few hours after we left a restaurant. Luckily I wasn’t hungry and only had a coke. And speaking of coke, I’ve pretty much decided to switch to Fanta soda whenever I decide to drink something other than water. The carbonation from Fanta as compared to Coke or Pepsi is much smoother, in my opinion, when consumed at this altitude.

I think that the food poisoning episode (if it was food poisoning) kind of got to Evan as he was a little down on the Yemeni restaurant scene and was declaring his intent to find the Pizza Hut before the week was out. Not having gotten sick, and having an ungodly ability to eat the same thing day in and day out, I haven’t reached Evan’s level of desire for Pizza Hut but then, I’m not one for turning down pizza if the opportunity arises :)

If you are planning to come to Yemen to study, please don’t bother with an AIDS test as you will just have to get one here (if you are going to study longer than your tourist visa is good for). As a matter of fact, you’ll have to keep getting one for each month that you stay past the time for which your tourist visa is good.

I also have to get a letter from the embassy (due to my need for a residency visa) stating that they have no objections to my being/studying here. Evan has already made that trip and it seems that not only does the U.S. Embassy here in Yemen not care if I live/study in Yemen; they have no clue why the Yemenis want it.

I think that there are currently about 30 or so students studying at CALES. There seems to be a good mix of nationalities. So far I’ve encountered students from England, America, Spain, France, Germany, Australia and Finland. Supposedly enrollment picks up towards the summer months.

Sleepy Gary – 4, Annoying Call to Prayer Guy – 3