‘If you come to Yemen, I will be your tour guide’
I have been hoping to return to my home in Yemen for the last five years.
Currently studying in Malaysia, whenever a friend inquires about my country, I am quick to offer my services as their tour guide.
When you decide to go to Yemen, I will personally take you around, I always say with a huge grin.
I hope to take them to Shibam Hadhramaut to show them “the oldest skyscraper city in the world,” a little known fact; its streets known for harmony.
I hope to take them to Wadi Dawan so they can taste the purest of honey in the world, a symbol of peace, created through a centuries-strong tradition.
I can almost imagine us walking through the beautiful valley, with the voice of singer Abu Baker Salem echoing over the desert sands.
I hope to take them to Bab al-yaman, the point of entry into the Old City of Sa’adah if only to introduce them to the people.
I have discovered first-hand an unparalleled kindness in them. I often think back to the strolls with my brother down the streets here as children, every farmer that we passed would generously offer us fruits and refuse any payment for them. All of them so poor, yet the richest!
I remember mostly how we were never refused help here. How strangers offered car rides without a moment’s hesitation.
There is a wonderful silver market here that I frequented with my father. We would always stop at a shop owned by a Jewish family to exchange pleasantries.
You must always respect them, my father told me once. In the nooks and crannies of these streets, people thrived on mutual admiration. No matter their belief, every greeting was a warm one.
I especially hope to introduce my friends to the finest thing about Sada’ah — its pomegranates. How I could write pages and pages on those pomegranates.
I hope to show them Sanaa through my eyes, the city that has so profoundly captured my heart.
I hope to take my friends to the traditional Friday gathering at my relatives’ house, where we especially gather for tea just to catch up on everybody else’s life.
I hope to take them through the streets to distribute free candy to joyful children, to hear them scream “Jaalah” as they dance around us gleefully.
I hope also to arrange a stay for them at a tairamanah, where the room at the top offers the view of a breathtaking sunset, bathing the entire city in hues of yellow and purple at the time of maghrib.
I hope to take my friends to walk on the cool white sands of Socotra, the jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea.
And take them to the highest peak of the highest mountain for a view of the ocean of clouds below.
I hope to explore Aden with them. Walking on the kurnaish while men clap their hands to a peculiar beat for their friend’s wedding.
I am most excited to show off the elephant mountain to them, truly like a big beautiful elephant the middle of the sea.
I hope we can sit with the girls of Aden and try out their unique homemade perfumes, heady from the subtle scents of zabad, bakhur and laban alasfor.
I hope to show them Taiz and its infamous Shibani Restaurant, where your order: andak waheed shai ya laed is shouted from one waiter to the next all across the restaurant until it reaches the kitchen!
Here the bread of mullawah and Aden’s infamous tea will make you forget all the troubles in the world.
I hope to take my friends to meet the artistes of Taiz, Yemen’s capital of culture. I hope they will enjoy all those long discussions on philosophy.
I hope they will appreciate the brave, empowered Taizi women.
I hope to show them a Yemen free from all labels; a people free from all hatred.
But above all, I hope I still have a country to go back to that hasn’t been torn by war.
I hope I still have people to go back to who have not been displaced.
I hope that if I continue to talk about Yemen, you will understand that it is home to a people just like you. All Yemen needs to be saved is the uniting of hearts.
Killing people won’t solve any problems in Yemen; this is a war of ideas. And if there was ever a war that needed to be stopped, all you really have to do is ask the people who want it to end.
Some days, like today, I see all my aforementioned hopes fading ...
I have made many promises to many friends. I hope I can keep them.
If I cannot, I must apologize friends.