Yemen was never on my radar until I had work there to manage. Yemen is Arabia’s undiscovered gem with some of the world’s oldest skyscrapers, mountaintop villages, pristine coral reefs and one of the world’s largest expanse of sand. All I knew was of the political instability and kidnapping of expats. So when the opportunity presented itself for me to visit, curious me jumped right on it.
I was going to Yemen with not one, not two, but four older French men. All who had been in National Service when it was a French requirement so I felt safe from the get go. Or maybe it was my adventurous spirit thinking all I needed was extra life insurance on me and I’ll be fine. That and ignoring the fact that my Mom would not be sleeping the entire time I was there!
We were to spend two days in the capital Sana’a and one day visiting the plant in Balhalf, as minimal time as possible in the country. Normally I would choose to stay the weekend, but this was not an option in Yemen. It was long enough though for me to get to know the people, make friends and experience how they live.
What I did not expect:
- I knew we would have bodyguards for the trip but police escort came as a surprise. Travelling convoy style to the hotel attracting attention in a city with the army stationed everywhere, nervousness did kick in.
- The hotel security checking for bombs under each vehicle before we entered the Movenpick Hotel’s compound in Sana’a. The security detail impressed me, how to not feel safe?
- Being surrounded by army and police men EVERYWHERE!
- In Dubai, people always stared at me as if I was the hired escort when I travelled with my older Caucasian male bosses for work. In Yemen the women were more in shock I was not in a Burqaa since I looked Yemeni with my Trini-Indian brown skin. Bearing the cultural differences in mind, I was advised that dressing in a burqaa was not necessary, just be fully covered. Dressing in jeans for a plant visit seems suitable to me and suits for office meetings. Yemen is the only country I have visited where I can say I felt completely naked with the stares I got in my long pants, long sleeved tops and in sweltering 40C heat too! The problems of being a girl!
Got the most original pick-up-line ever in the hotel lift “sorry if I keep staring at you but you’re the first woman I have seen after months working in the desert” I had to pinch him I am no mirage…but creative he gets that!
- To be interrogated by US Immigration each time I passed through for having a Yemen visa in my passport. Yes I knew I could no travel to certain countries like Israel at the time but I looked forward to what questions the US Immigration would hit me with. Thankfully I’ve changed passports since.
I used to look forward to returning to my hotel room at the Movenpick after each day out. Mainly because I was greeted by chocolate truffles, cookies and fresh flowers in this desert of a country. Chocolates just made it all better!
Despite all this, the people were a mix of warm, friendly and downright shy. My bodyguards, in an attempt to practice their English kept in touch via email, I always looked forward to updates of their families. I found that really sweet.
The Yemeni people get a bad rep for the doings of just a few in the country. It is a beautiful country filled with history and my next few posts will be of Old Sana’a, the souks, the faces of Yemen, the terrain and my helicopter ride along the Gulf of Aden.
One day I plan to revisit Yemen as only a tourist and hope to stay much longer.