Poor Yemen… The most impoverished country in the Middle East really did not need to be kicked around any more, but it has been unable to avoid becoming yet another proxy battleground for the Shia vs. Sunni civil war now crashing through the Islamic world.
We were fortunate enough to be able to visit the lovely city of Sana’a, a UNESCO World Heritage site, during a lull in the fighting there and despite all that it has been through, the city remains beautiful and the people remain friendly.
There’s something about countries that are going through the worst of times… The people in such places – Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Iraq – seem to be the most hospitable and friendly in the world. Conversely, one will feel nothing but cold indifference when walking down a city street in the spoiled countries of northern Europe.
Aside from war, Sana’a is probably best known for its “gingerbread houses” of gypsum and bricks, fired from local materials, that are interspersed with gardens, mosques, bath houses and street markets. Although these buildings are not as old as Sana’a itself (inhabited for 2,500 years), some of them are more than 1,000 years old. That a building made of mud and standing several stories high can survive for that long is extraordinary:
The inside of the homes can be quite luxurious:
At almost 7,500 feet in elevation, Sana’a is one of the highest capital cities in the world and so, unlike the coastal flatlands, the temperatures in Sana’a do not become unbearably hot. As such, it is possible to walk around comfortably even in the middle of the day.
A crowded city street in the middle of the afternoon proving my point:
Street scenes in the markets and alleyways of Sana’a:
He’s selling dates. A lot of dates:
Heaps of spices for sale:
A group of khat dealers dividing up their product:
Later in the afternoon, men high on khat, such as this gentleman, will be slumped against walls all over the city:
This camel is used to power the mill one can see to the left in the picture… Sesame seeds are placed in the mill and the camel is then walked in a circle around the mill, turning a heavy stone which grinds the seeds up to produce sesame seed oil:
A small niche business repairing shoes alongside the street:
A man, his cheek bulging with khat, selling the traditional daggers of Yemen, the jambiya:
Stopping for lunch on a quiet afternoon… In front of our fixer, Fuad Shaif Al Kadas, is some of the traditional bread in Yemen that seems to accompany every meal:
Some of the friendly people of Sana’a:
To best appreciate Sanaa though, one needs to find a high place and, preferably, sip a tea while watching the sun set over the rooftops…
I am not the only one able to appreciate Sana’a at sunset:
An intensive (and ongoing) aerial bombing campaign of Sana’a, led by Saudi Arabia, was initiated almost immediately after our departure. This has caused a significant loss of life and has damaged or destroyed many of the irreplaceable 1,000 year-old-homes in the city.
Some of the death and destruction from the bombing campaign in Sana’a is undeniably due to carelessness or even vindictiveness. However, those pilots with the most noble of intentions also bear responsibility.
The Saudi pilots are very conservative (some less charitable observers state that they are poorly trained) and do not like to take the risk of flying low as this makes them more vulnerable to anti-aircraft defenses. As such, they conduct their bombing from high altitudes. Unfortunately, this significantly degrades the accuracy of their bombing, leading to many unintended targets being struck.
Western countries, primarily the United States and Great Britain, are supplying weapons to the Saudis and their partners for this campaign and are providing intelligence on targets.
As an example of the impact this is having on the city, I took this picture…
… just a short while before these homes on the right were reduced to the below, killing the family inside:
America and Great Britain, those are your tax dollars at work.
The photo above, of the bombing damage, is courtesy of Yahya Arhab.