Back to Sanaa

Image30 April – I go out to wander in the old city and drop in the Arabia Felix hotel where I'd sent part of my luggage a few days ago in order not to carry it in the mountains. The hotel staff are very welcoming indeed.

In the afternoon I go to Wadi Dhahr to visit the Imam's palace, a sort of ancient fortress mansion guarded over by towers on the cliff along the brim of the valley. I go back to Sanaa, now steeped in a lovely oblique evening light, altogether different from the perpendicular one of the morning that didn't cast a shade at all.

As had been recommended to me, I go to a recently inaugurated hotel in a tall building and ask to go up to the roof to admire the view. The brick houses with white decorations in geometrical patterns are fairylike, still I see every little window as a barrier to the outside world, a symbol of the narrow-mindedness that I notice in the unconditional separation between the sexes, in the discrimination of the woman and her rigid clothing code. I go back with the mind to that pot-bellied man sitting next to me in the car yesterday, with his legs apart, while we were all squeezed tight together. He looked like the typical contemptible representative of the male sex. Even when I see male children, I sometimes think that, want it or not, they will turn into oppressors, perpetrators of this unjust social order with the excuse of a brain-washing religion.

I go out of this marvellous hotel with a vague sense of shame. I have lived a journey that is completely different from what usually do the guests of this place. I feel I am betraying my true self, leaving this hotel as if I were one of its custom; besides, an even wider gap opens between myself as a stranger and the simple poor world that surrounds me, as I know that this establishment is intended for affluent tourists that see the country as a show and maybe don’t try to get near it, understand and experiment it, be it in hardship. I recollect that Dutch tourist who said she felt rather indifferent to Yemen, because she's travelled so much as to get used to everything. Everything? What nonsense I had to hear, but I left her convinced of her greed for sensational things in order to arouse an interest, even if I pitied this point of view and wished I'll never get there myself.

Image1 May – Today is the first of May, Workers' Day in Yemen too. We have a date with Adnan at Suq al-Luqma to have lunch. On my way I enjoy last minute chatting with some sellers in the market, while I snoop among the sacks of corn and spices, buying the fantastic raisins. We then have a tasty salta, like my first day in this country three weeks ago, just before leaving to Hadhramawt. We head for Bab al-Yemen to drink a fruit shake. Leaving time has come, but were if for Geraldine I might as well miss my plane because she puts it into her head to call by the cobbler's, copy my pictures on her pc, and she has to repeat the operation several times without success (in reality the problem is that one of my cd's is damaged beyond hope).

We say goodbye and hope to meet again soon. This reunion in a far away country has been the chance to appreciate my friend as a really extraordinary person, determined in her firm purpose of study and research, admirable for her constancy and her strength to keep living this love for the Arab world that struck me too and made us meet three years ago in Damascus and once again during these beautiful days in Yemen.

I take a taxi to the airport. A young driver, his cheek swollen with qat, talks to me garrulously sputtering about fragments of the stored leaves. The whole of Yemen in a cheek, but I'm sure it will stay much longer in my mind and heart...