Sanaa Forge

July 16, 2008

metal-forge-sanaa1.jpgWhen your jambiya (dagger)  becomes blunt from whatever it is that blunts it (cutting up qat?), or if it cracks from the weight of far too many admiring glances, drop down to the local forge in the heart of Sanaa and have it beaten back into shape by barefoot smithys who don’t seem to notice the molten blobs of metal bouncing off their feet, or the bounding hammer that swings down past their head to smash into the white hot metal held down by only a pair of old tin snips.  They put on a good show for their client who anxiously waits the outcome of the panel beating on his jambiya and who hopes the foreigner with the camera will just bug off since he does not need these two artisans showing off at the potential expense of his pride and joy thankyou very much!!

Yemen Airport

December 8, 2007

MiG29The taxi down the runway after landing at Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, is the first hint that this place is a little extraordinary. Here are Su22 and MiG29 Soviet aircraft flying circuits (here is one with its parachute still dragging), and a number of them parked in their revetments. For a plane spotter it was heaven. Read more

Network Heaven`

August 17, 2007

Remember these two? Maybe not. Visit them here. Two girlfriends, orphaned in the streets of Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. They come to mind again as I help Anne with her work at Network Heaven. A few years ago she stumbled over an opportunity to donate corporate goods, otherwise headed for the rubbish dump for minor quality infractions, to the poor and needy in places like Sri Lanka. Hence the emphasis placed on “network” – and for many of the recipients of her work it has indeed been a little taste of heaven. There are some quite amazing stories of how even simple things like unwanted golf umbrellas helped street vendors stay out of the sun after their stalls were washed away after the Asian Tsunami. Its all very inspiring stuff and aimed squarely at the likes of these two kids in the markets of Sanaa. Anne now has a blog that is telling a bit of the story. Its worth a little bit of “travel” to get across and have a look at what she is doing.

The Qat, the Jambiya and the Nokia

July 20, 2007

There has to be a profound story in a heading like that. Sadly not here though. Qat, referred to below, is chewed by most. Even our government employed guide and escort (I am being polite – read “guard”) admitted to being hooked on the stuff and the only reason we did not see his cheeks bulging with qat was that he took it out when he was driving us around. When in meetings he snuck it back in for a quick buzz. But he was under strict instructions not to offend our sensibilities. Here a young man selling jewellery displays the ubiquitous chipmunk cheeks that betray the qat chewer. He was also very proud of his two symbols of manhood and of him having “made it” – interestingly a piece of the very old and a piece of the very new. The Jambiya is the dagger, tucked into his belt, which all men wear with pride but which young teenage boys wear with extra pride and swagger (imagine that next time you see a crowd of them milling around at your local mall! Teenage boys that is). You could buy the Jambiya for cents in the lanes of “Old Sanaa” but they looked like my Grade 6 woodwork projects. Or you could spend thousands – and they were probably someone else’s Grade 6 woodwork project! Gorgeous pieces of art at all price levels but the thought of trying to explain myself at various customs checkpoints on the way home deterred me from buying one. And of course he is nothing without his Nokia. These blighters never change the original tone though. How they know which phone belongs to who is beyond me – like a single ewe knowing which bleat is her lamb in all same sounding calls, they seem to know which phone call is for who. It would warm the heart of a Nokia sales rep.

Chewing the Qat on a Sunday Afternoon

July 20, 2007

Its the Sabbath, prayers are done (for a few hours at least) and the family has an afternoon to kill. In Sanaa, capital of Yemen, there are few leisure options up your sleeve. Many head down to the qat (chat) markets, pick up a few kilos of qat leaves then head for the hill. To do what I hear you ask? To sit and chew the qat. Chewing this stuff apparently gives you a high but one young man told me it took ten to twelve hours of solid chewing to get the effect. And I can tell you from experience this is no lettuce leaf structure – about the size and density of a bay leaf. Or a citrus leaf. And completely tasteless. But it must get them in since all these folk parked here on the escarpment to the west of the city were doing nothing but chew the stuff. it would be humourous if it was not so sad. While Yemen has been known for years as a source of the stuff the country is also famous for its coffee. But coffee growers have ripped out their plants to grow qat – it is a more potent cash crop than the stuff you drink and the buzz is apparently worth the short sightedness.

Yemen – Life in Perspective

November 1, 2006

In April 2005 I visited Yemen. It is an amazing place caught in a Soviet era time-warp from which it is slowly extracting itself. As with any place you visit, the impact most acutely felt is that made by other people, especially children. Two in particular really stand out.

Here they are, the two girls that impressed me most! Orphans. Street kids. Running around in a market in the centre of town – Sanaa. Filthy, on the nose. But gleaming and beautiful and proud, despite their circumstances.

The girl in the background was not crying, but stifling a giggle. Both were. Beautiful and fragile and unkept.

Here they are being very shy. The French woman is assuring them I am OK. She was the woman to whom they darted for a brief hug before pulling away and running around this upstairs veranda. Then darting back for another hug. Over and over in a game, albeit a serious one. Here, it seems, is their only wellspring of love.

After a while they let me take a couple of photos but until I knelt down and showed them the images on the back of the camera they remained highly mobile targets!

The image below was one of many that happened in the process of getting them settled down and used to the camera.

In the eighteen months since I have seen them I have haggled deals, worried about share prices, hired and fired, signed contracts and worked obscene hours. I wonder where they are now?! Somehow they make all the other stuff unimportant.