Taiz is at something of a crossroads in Yemen. It is close enough to the south to be touched by the separatist sentiments found there. It is close enough to the north to be caught up in the intrigues in the capital. It is close enough to the wilderness of Yemen to have Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or those sympathetic to them operating in the city (Pierre Korkie, who was recently killed along with Luke Somers during a hostage rescue attempt, and his wife were abducted in Taiz in May of 2013). It is also the industrial heartland of Yemen (Taiz is near the famous Mocha port on the Red Sea), which means that it is too significant for anyone to ignore.
Our arrival coincided with a hammering rainstorm which upgraded the normally horrendous traffic on the way into Taiz to exceptionally horrendous and so we entered the city well after dark. Due to the rain, the streets of Taiz had all been transformed into streams, carrying torrents of muddy water, trash and god knows what else deeper into the city. As the depth of the water on some of these streams that used to be streets went over my knees, it made navigating the back alleys of Taiz somewhat difficult. However, with a bit of luck and persistence, I was able to find enough to be able to prepare a dinner before the electricity went out.
What was interesting, at least to me, was that despite the heavily adverse conditions I described above, the streets were packed with people and traffic to the point that it was difficult to push through the crowds. Noise and activity were everywhere.
Below is where I took brief shelter from a particularly fierce downpour and acquired some of the ingredients for that night’s dinner:
I woke up early the next morning and stumbled down the five flights of stairs in complete darkness (no electricity yet) to make my way out into the awakening city. I was a little early. The city had hit the “snooze” button and wasn’t awake yet. In stark contrast to the chaos and crowds the night before, the streets were devoid of activity and people:
As I was wandering the nearly deserted streets of Taiz, the piercing yelps of a puppy suddenly broke through the silence of the city for several seconds. I made my way to the street where the sound had come from and as I swung around the corner, I saw the following:
1) A mortally wounded puppy lying on the ground
2) A male dog moving off down an alley
3) A Yemeni man standing and watching the scene
4) The mother of the puppy standing a few feet away from her creation, seemingly unsure of what to do
I took the picture below a few seconds after arriving and the details of the above will become more clear if you click on the picture to bring it up to its full resolution:
So, what happened?
I know that humans can be tremendously cruel. I also know that male animals will sometimes kill the offspring of others in order to eliminate genetic competition and to make a female available to mate again sooner. So, I don’t know if it was the human or the animal world that was responsible for this loss of life. By the time I took the picture below, both the Yemeni man and the other dog had moved on.
This is the mother and her deceased offspring is to the right:
This street – in front of our hotel – was so crowded the night before that vehicles didn’t even try to go down it and would just move on to find another way to their destination.
In the background of the picture, the buildings on either side of the street frame Sabir Mountain for us. Sabir Mountain is one of the highest mountains in Yemen and serves as a dramatic backdrop to the city of Taiz:
Naturally, we felt compelled to ascend Sabir Mountain to gain perspective on Taiz:
The increasingly better views of Taiz as we made our way up the mountain:
As with most places, the wealthy families of Taiz prefer to look down on those less prosperous than them rather than up at them:
The broadest views of the cityscape of Taiz from Sabir Mountain:
Approximately half way up Sabir Mountain is Cairo Castle (which is also known as Al-Qahira Castle and a host of other names). The history of this fortress overlooking Taiz is somewhat murky as successive conquerors and rulers have continually rebuilt and expanded the castle – each time on top of earlier ruins. Some say that it pre-dates the arrival of Islam in Yemen, some link it to Queen Arwa and others connect it to the Ottoman era. It may be that all of these theories are correct as the defensive properties created by the topography of the land around the site are ideal and this would have been attractive to any number of groups throughout history.
It was also from these heights that government forces rained artillery fire down on pro-democracy protesters in 2011:
A view of the crumbling walls around the more modern citadel hint at its earlier scale: