Saturday, April 15, 2006

Arriving in Sanaa

My journey to Yemen: I arrived on the 27th of Jan. 2006 in Sanaa Yemen after passing through Dubai for about 10 days visiting my dad. Dubai is one of the most beautiful cities I've seen, we stayed in at my dad's apartment which is on Shaykh Zayd Road - buildings there are so modern, sophisticated and beautiful, the weather was also amazing!

I arrived at Sanaa Internations Airport at about 9 O'Clock in the morning, the flight was smooth and mostly over the desert of Saudi Arabia and then into Yemen therefore the view was mostly all the same, I must admit I was shocked when they mentioned that we are passing over Sanaa now and all I saw was basically the SAME VIEW I've been watching for little under 3 hours!!

I was excited, anxious, nervous, a little scared but above all curious .. As soon as we landed I was prayng that things would just go smooth with my entrance and I would be able to spot the family to guide me out of the airport.

The airport is well.. modest.. All the passengers lined up to have our passports checked, some were taking longer than others but I had my Visa prepared from the Embassy in Canada so my turn was quick and I passed through the gate as the officer welcomed me to Yemen reminded that I had 3 months.

Fortunately I had friends waiting for me, a yemeni family whom I had become familiar with and they arranged all my papers and Visa for entrance into Yemen. I spotted the driver at the glass window holding up a sign with their names written in marker, at that point I was relieved and felt I can enjoy myself in Yemen.

We gathered my 2 pieces of luggage and Alhamdulillaah (All Praises to Allaah) there was no baggage check that day, so we hurried off down the steps and outside where the van was waiting. I met more members of the family and we all got into the van and drove off.... it was interesting seeing the city for the first time and I could not believe I was finally in Yemen, in fact I think I was pinching myself along the way.

The drive was lovely, and the family explained to me many areas of the city as we drove to my apartment in the district of Bir Ubayd. I loved most of all the mountains, and we got fairly close to them, it reminded me of Northern Iraq where I lived for some years.

The smoking was a problem, three individuals in the car were smoking, and with the heat and the women all veiled (including myself) it was very difficult to breath (for me I guess, because I assume they are used to it) If you give me heat I can take it but heat and smoke is just unbearable. Later I discovered that like Iraq smoking is very common here, and being away from the middle east for many years and living in Canada one is not so exposed to it but in these countries sometimes you just don't have a choice and you got to put up with it.

I was prepared for alot of things though (and that was one reason they mostly joked about how much stuff I brought).. one of my suitcases was full of my books, waterproof solar and crank power flashlight, a mosquito net canope for my bed, zip lock bags, pliars, herbal tea bags, lots of soup stock cubes, and I even brought a spoon and fork along since I heard yemenis don't use them (and i'ts a good thing I did because the first days in the apartment I really needed it!)

Before I knew it we were home! Everyone was getting out of the car and I was asked what I wanted for breakfast (We were served breakfast on the plane but I was too nervous to eat and being a veiled vegetarian on a special acid/alkaline balanced diet it wasn't very easy eating on a plane or anywhere infact) Eggs were a safe suggestion, and I agreed.. The woman sent her brother away for eggs and juice I assume though I insisted water was just fine.

My baggage was taken up and I approached the building door which was actually on a very busy street, we walked up several floors (which was kind of tiring) and finally we arrived. I heard so much while I was back in Canada about this apartment, and the woman described it to me as being really lovely compaired to Yemeni standards but I had to see it for myself and finally I was just about to do so.

She opened the door and ohh, the first thing I noticed was the LOVELY colourful yemeni designs carved into the walls!! And those little stain glass windows above the bedroom and kitchen door inside the apartment, I was excited and enchanted by the beauty of the traditional decor.
She told me that was nothing compaired to the rooms, so I followed her as she opened the Majlis (sitting room) and indeed it was a million times more beautiful as the whole ceiling had decorative carved designs and straight ahead opposite to the door was the window and above a large stained glass window (Qamariyyah as they called it)

All the rooms had Qamariyyahs except the kitchen and bathrooms, I was disappointed actually regarding the bathrooms, they looked old and the tile job was very messy giving it an awful appearance but as long as there was running water, especially hot (so I thought) I would not complain.

Breakfast was brought, and I was told to sit down or relax on the sponge mattress that they bought, nothing else was in the apartment because I requested that I buy things myself when I arrive.

Scrambled eggs, lemon milkshake (I think, which I did not drink) and yummy flat bread was placed infront of me, I ate Alhamdulillaah then headed to the bathroom to make wudu (ablution) as I had missed the dawn prayer waiting in the lounge for departure at the Dubai Airport. To my surprise no soap, no water jug, no toilet paper (which I expected but not regarding the others!)
At that point even a shower was something I wasn't looking forward to. I placed some soap that I had brought with me in the bathroom then headed off to pray and tidy up my luggage.

The rest of the day we sat around talking, getting to know each other and learning about the city as I watched people outside my window.

Lunch time approached and knowing ahead of time that I'm a vegetarian (only eating fish) they ordered fish and rice (I don't eat much rice due to my acid alkaline diet but it wasn't really the time to be picky) I heard the fish in Yemen is quite good and something to look forward to and so I was . They placed the food infront of me and unlike breakfast which I could eat with my hand I went over to my purse and took out my fork, spoon and napkin then headed back to my mattress , said Bismillaah (In the name of Allaah I begin... ) and started eating, the rice was good and the fish was whitish and it appeared to be fried perhaps due to the dark outside colouring on the pieces and very closely resembling meat actually that I thought maybe they brought me meat, but the fish scales gave it away.

As sunset approached we prayed and I wasn't very hungry for dinner, it was getting chilly and as I was told Sanaa can be cool at night. They brought food from the restaurant and ate, it was my first experience of watching yemenis eat and though I've seen pakistanis eat with their hands and Iraqis mostly use their bread to even scoop up rice and not really messing their hands up too much, spoons are also commonly used there but it was nothing like the yemeni experience... even the little 3 year old child could do it quite well but that didn't mean no mess would be left behind. And if you have a problem with sharing a large platter and group eating then this isn't for you (nor me)
*** No Offence to anyone regarding their ways of eating, everyone knows what they are used to and what they grew up doing, and I find it very interesting to learn about other people's culture, and don't have anything against eating with hands if it is done neatly***

Bed time: Something I was looking forward to after the long day and being up since 4 OClock in the morning to catch my flight to Yemen from the Dubai airport. It wasn't so very pleasant after I woke up the next morning and found that I had been bitten almost ALL OVER by some BUG!! [I regret not putting my net up, because shortly after I arrived and noticed the screen on the top window I felt safe and thought there was really no need for it - soon to discover I was WRONG]

The kitchen had a fan, and the hole in the wall was totally open to the outside and so any bugs could enter easily, we had some fruit flies in the kitchen and some house flies in the apartment because the kids kept opening the bottom windows. (Anyone coming to Yemen I would strongly suggest you bring a mosquito net along, it can be easily hung from one of the curtain rod holders drilled into the wall on each side of the window)

To be continued.....


Omar Barsawad said...

"..I was expecting living here would be a bit of a challenge until things are organized. And I must admit it was depressing even for someone like myself who has lived for some years in Pakistan and Iraq and Kurdistan wasn't in such a good situation at the time either." That's a very depressing statement about your first impression of Sana'a!

I hope, you are finding it not that bad - by now!

PapayaTree said...

After having moved to the new apartment things got much better, there weren't as many bugs, there was hot water, it was cleaner and lots of sun, far away from the busy roads and toxins unlike the other apartment and immediately things got better. Instead of it being a challenge, now it's more like I'm discovering new things that make living here more interesting everyday. Thank you.