The first time Yemen crossed my radar was in high school, when I was flipping through channels and inadvertently stumbled on the excellent documentary called The English Sheikh and the Yemeni Gentleman. I was intrigued by author Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s strong attachment to the country despite having no Yemeni background and captivated by the lifestyle so strongly rooted in tradition. For a long time I had a vague hopes of travelling to Yemen, so naturally in my second year of college as an Arabic student, when I heard of an affordable opportunity to study Arabic in Sana’a, I jumped at it. Anyone who has ever had the privilege of visiting Yemen knows what happened next—I fell in love straight away. True, the weather’s beautiful, the aesthetics of the Old City are stunning, and ambling through the best-preserved souks in the Arab world is certainly an experience, what clearly makes Yemen worth visiting, as Tiffany mentioned below, is the people who live there.
There are many things to admire about any culture, but the part of Yemeni culture that struck me the most was the importance placed on personal relationships. Coming from a society that is fast-paced and over-scheduled, where hanging out with friends and family is a thing reserved for weekends and holiday vacations, the amount of time that Yemenis put aside not every week, but every day at qat chews to spend time with friends and family is mind-blowing, to say the least, and made me wonder exactly what we were spending all that time on. As an American I was humbled by the degree of friendliness and total absence of hostility that was shown to us by people who are often portrayed as being violently anti-American, and as a Muslim I was touched by the welcome I received as a sister in faith from another country.
Partially, I am involved in the Yemen Peace Project simply because I love Yemen, and I hate the feeling of helplessness and injustice that I feel when I see a place that gave me such wonderful memories crumbling because of forces outside its control and then on top of that being slandered in the American media as a “terrorist haven” as we ourselves nurture anti-American sentiment there. But I’m also involved in YPP because as an American I love my own country as well, and I would like someday to be proud of the way we conduct ourselves abroad. That day seems a pretty long way off, to be honest, by my hope is that by fostering discussion and relationships between Americans and Yemenis, we can all help make it a little bit closer.