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One Week: A retrospective.

September 17, 2009

Since we haven’t had the chance to update the blog regularly during our first week here, I want to play a quick game of catch up. Here’s a handful of thoughts that I’ve scribbled in my journal (the one that’s not dependent on electricity) in the last six days:

1) Maybe it’s my lack of sleep, but the road into the city from the airport feels apocalyptic. Empty, rocky fields of trash. Unfinished houses, re-bar sprouting from the roofs. All the storefronts are shuttered tight with green and blue metal, locked from the outside. Shreds of the Yemeni flag, the red and black bleached by the sun, flutter from the rooftops. There’s no one on the streets.
Happily, the scene brightened a bit when we enter the Old City of Sana’a…

2) In Sana’a the architecture looks, no joke, exactly like it was constructed with gingerbread and frosting. Up close, the buildings are weather-beaten and many of them are empty and crumbling, but from a distance, Sana’a looks like something out of a storybook. It’s crazy to think that until oil was discovered here in the ’60s, the Old City was all there was. People lived here in pretty much as they had for two thousand years.


3) This is pertinent: It’s Ramadan, the month-long holiday commemorating when Gabriel first gave Mohammad the Koran. This affects our lives directly because it is also the month-long holiday when no one eats during the day. This makes people nocturnal. The streets are quiet – almost silent – until about 2:30 in the afternoon, when the whole city spills into the souks at once. Children and motorcycles and men with loudspeakers and women in burkas, all jostling and bargaining and counting down the hours until sundown when they can eat. (The start and end of the fast is marked, we learned, not only by the calls from the muezzins, but by the blast of a (fake?) canon twice a day). When the canon fires, everyone on the street leaps on the nearest vendor and begins shoving their faces, grinning widely and offering food to strangers. Impromptu gatherings of hungry men pop up everywhere.

4 ) Learning Arabic has been fun. Yesterday, we learned to say, “I like/love to study with a dog,” which I think will be very helpful.

5) So, our Arabic teacher told us that John Walker Lindh, the infamous American Taliban (remember him?), studied at our school.

So, that’s nice. One more strike against us on the ol’ Terror Watch List.

6) From the roof of where we’re living, we can see 28 minarets. (Maybe 30. There’s a discrepancy among the judges, so there’s a re-count scheduled for tonight). At any rate, the final number includes the 6 from Ali Abdullah Saleh Mosque (which looks exactly — I mean exactly like the big white palace at the end of Disney’s Aladdin.)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jane permalink
    September 18, 2009 3:41 am

    Wonderful images in words and pictures! The Arabic lessons also sound excellent – you never know when you might meet Pluto at the base of a Disney-esque minaret. You mention only men eating in the street. I assume the women are inside baking gingerbread bricks? … Jane

  2. Bates permalink
    September 18, 2009 4:24 am

    Wow Hales – you are doing awesome over there. Mabrouk! I am so excited to hear more about your ridiculous adventures. And way to go on the story – totally amazing.

  3. Austin permalink
    September 18, 2009 3:44 pm

    Wow, the Old City looks truly amazing. Is that picture taken from where you live? I love the image of people happily cramming their faces full of food after hearing a cannon blast. Minus the cannon, that’s kind of my daily routine.

    • Paul Stephens permalink*
      September 21, 2009 9:09 am

      The old city is pretty awesome. The new city is… not so awesome (traffic, smog, hideous architecture, you know). A lot of the buildings in the old city have a mafraj (sitting room) at the very top, like a little crow’s nest, so you can sit around, chew qat, and take in the views. It’s your kind of place Austin, I’m tellin ya.

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