Sudden evacuation is strange and traumatic, and also not nearly as exciting as you think. Due to rising instability, the organization I work for expedited an exit and reentry visa and put me on a flight to Doha. Much of Sanaa still seems very normal; the night before I left I went to have Thai food with friends. My one close Yemeni friend gave me a thin silver bracelet as a goodbye present. I’ve been wearing it like a talisman, hoping that it’s a see-you-later present.
At the airport I met four of my friends, 3 journalists and a writer, who had been arrested that morning and were being deported. The news reports haven’t really captured the human drama of that story, or the black comedy. Apparently a Yemeni colonel sat them all down, and one by one, read out their full names.
“You leave today,” he told each of them.
Yemen will miss those guys.
So I’ve flown from Yemen, which has the second-lowest per capita GDP in the Arab world (if you don’t count Comoros and Somalia; Mauritania has the lowest), to the country with the highest per capita GDP in the entire world. Of course, they do cheat by not allowing any of their slave labor to get citizenship.
Everything here is shiny. The streets are clean (curbs! I’d forgotten about real curbs!) and the medians are planted with grass and real flowers. They have nice things. Yesterday, I took a taxi to the Villaggio mall, passing a wasteland of faux-Andalusian block housing, surrounded by high and ugly stucco walls.
The mall itself was done up like somebody’s vision of what an Italian arcade might look like in Disneyland, the ceilings painted like a blue sky, with fluffy white clouds strewn across it. I read somewhere that different parts of the mall were supposed to represent dawn, day, dusk, and night, but I couldn’t really figure out which one was supposed to be which. Half the mall smelled of chlorine from an unimpressive gondola track running through the length of the building. I bought makeup, shoes, and Starbucks and watched an American movie. I miss Yemen already. On the way back to my hotel I heard a BBC blurb about the western journalists deported from Yemen.
“I know those guys,” I told my taxi driver. I don’t think he understood what I was saying.
So here’s wishing for safety for my friends in Sanaa and a swift return for anyone who wants it. Please don’t deport any more of the young people in Sanaa, Yemen.
The bright note to this whole story is that in a few hours I’m flying to Kathmandu, for a combination field visit (our flagship program is in Nepal) and recuperation. And it’s boating season. Life could be worse.