1 .- Why to travel to Yemen?  لماذا السفر إلى اليمن؟

I remember it was spring when I received an email from my colleague. Told me that next summer he will return to Yemen, which repeated visits for the fifth time. Of course,  without thinking too much about it , I answered him:.. “I ´ll go with you man…”

My friend lives in northern Spain with his family. I met him the summer of 2005, here in Yemen.

 At that time I decided after finishing the third year of Arabic at the School of Languages, spending 5 weeks in a Middle Eastern country or the Arabian Peninsula where they speak classical Arabic and preferably a country that was something “different” … And as primitive and original as possible, with the intention to practice a little arabic and have adventures of course, traveling to a place ” like those …”

 I love the primitive country, ancient, but not in the pejorative sense, but primitive in the sense that even today despite globalization they retain their essence, their customs, their idiosyncrasies, their traditional dress …. The contrast to  the “western world.” Why ….? Well I could not tell the exact reason …. veiled women, tea with cardamom, men with their turbans and their weapons, spectacular buildings of mud, the vacuum cleaner of the desert, the bustle of the souks, the qat, the “jambiyas” the incense of Arabia. ….

Overall, I thought  in Yemen (اليمن) or the Yemeni Republic (الجمهورية اليمنية) and is also called. I have always been fascinated by that country, “The Arabia Felix.” The people, their lifestyle, their clans, their wars, and that vast desert, the Rub al-Khali. And I started looking for a school  in internet,  to study there,  in order to improve   my arabic, and preferably in the capital, Sana’a. And after some days, I found several schools, and I choose one of them. Send the application,  after a few days, I was admitted, and from there it was all expected, get the visa. A certain impatience mingled with curiosity, especially to check my level of arabic and the environment that I will find in the country, because  we studied classical Arabic, and it turns out that depending on the nation or region, speaks Arabic dialect  as in the case of North Africa (Morocco, Libya and Tunisia), no similar at all with the classical language. You strive for years to learn this fascinating language and calligraphy, and then not being able to communicate with your neighbors to the south, the Moroccans, of which 14 kilometers separate us. And you have to go to the Middle East…Not really a bad excuse….to travel far away.

Once in Sana’a in 2005, I attended for over a month at an Arab school, two hours per day. Almost by chance I chose one of the three schools for learning Arabic. Located in the old part of the capital (صنعاء القديمة) and was called Sana’a Institute for Arabic Language (صنعاء معهد اللغة العربية). And my fifth and final week at the school  I coincided with my colleague Basque. And  as a good Basque, it would be 8 weeks. And spend 8 weeks in Sana’a is not easy….” for many reasons which I shall explain…. Patience.

From “the first minute”, as he would say we had quite affinity and good  connection. Overall, we spent in Sana’a for 3 or 4 days and after class we were  get lost in the souk, exchange point of views abou the country, drink tea, observing  the villagers, with their weapons, and long beards, their arms, their mosques … …. Women obviously missing and which are therefore covered from head to the feet,  with a black dress called “Balto” or “Burka” and a black mask called “Niqab” (نقاب).

And it was time to leave. We exchanged emails and over time we have kept in touch. I traveled north to his home and came to South mine. I met his family.

I kept my rythm, traveling mainly in Australia, India, SouthAsia and the Middle East (Israel, Palestinian Territories, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon) and later in Russian…After many years studing  Arabic, I was saturate a little of the language and environment of these countries , and began to study Russian. Seduced me learn a new alphabet …. to finish “to become crazy “……

 My friend traveled to Iran and his own repeated every year Yemen. He loves this country and was “ totally addicted”, seduced by this region. You can say it has produced a social structure in the country, with friends in various cities.

He  proposed me to go to Yemen  by land, through Oman, down the road along one of the largest and hostile deserts in the world, the desert of Rub al-Khali (الربع الخالي in Arabic means “the empty quarter …. “refers to the fourth part of the Arabian Peninsula … .. almost everything is desert ….). Thus did not have to insist a lot to convince …. The adventure was assured.

 Go to Yemen already implies a certain risk, fundamentalism and tribal wars throughout the country (years earlier, in a suicide attack, 8 Spanish tourists were killed, http://www.elmundo.es/ elmundo/2007/07/03/espana/1183450002.html), and entering by land through the desert … … it had a “plus” of risk and uncertainty because in Yemen never know what can happen if you travel by land, even if you bring your visa in order. Just meet a border soldier who tells you that you are missing a stamp or anything else …. And stay just there … .. without entering. Maybe that morning  the soldier has no chewing the qat or he is in a bad mood.” (The قات Qat is, a stimulant plant like snuff, psychostimulant properties … 95% its inhabitants consume it …. we’ll talk about that later ….).

On 1 July, we met in Madrid. I book  a cheap hotels in the city center and there, we met again after several months. At nine o’clock the temperature was 34 degrees in the capital … warm … … But nothing compared to what we came up …. We took a walking tour through the Puerta del Sol, surroundings and finished giving a tribute dinner at the Plaza Mayor as two gentlemen, …. Fish, paella, wine, dessert, coffee and cigars.

We look at each other without  saying a word and both thinking ” Hey  man, this is the last decent meal we do in the next 3 weeks . We were going to miss the Spanish food. … and we were will be  hungry many days. … and no more beers and olive oil…”.  Since then, a lot of tea, rice and a little more ….. Alchohol in Islam is “Haram” (حرام), prohibited, it’s a sin …. Although you know,  not all muslims are pious…..