My first visit to Yemen was in 2009. While not my first visit to the Arab world, I had no idea what I was getting into. I went to study Arabic. I expected to engage in a study of culture and language in this forgotten world. I didn’t expect to fall in love with a country and a people whose culture is so different from my own but whose people are very much the same. Yemen is a country of extremes. It has coastlines and plunging mountain ranges. Cities with moderate temperatures year-round and regions where the thermometer climbs wildly into the 120s-130s each summer. Political struggles divide the north and south. Tribal and family ties command stronger allegiance than national identity, causing easy misunderstandings between Yemen and the West. Extreme poverty threatens the tenacity of an already unstable nation.
But as startling as the geographical, political, and economic landscapes may be, there is something else that will capture your attention and refuse to let go:
The Yemeni people.
I was challenged by the landscape. I was captured by the people. Here in this land whose harshness is borne out in its economic poverty, political tensions, and natural difficulty, you find a people who love their land, welcome in the stranger, and dream of a better future for themselves and their families.
Yemen struggles with a lack of infrastructure, lack of adequate water sources, high unemployment, violent political upheavals, and struggling educational opportunities. But despite the hardships, Yemenis love the land they call home. They do whatever it takes to carve out a life, even if it comes with little in the way of material comforts. They are incredibly hospitable, to a point where an American can easily be put to shame. The tensions between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims that are devastating in many parts of the Arab world are much quieter here.
Mostly, Yemenis want to live, to live in peace. They want to have enough, for their families and their neighbors and to share with the poor.
Not so different from America, is it?
One of my fellow YPP directors, Will, got in contact with me and the rest of the directors early this year as events between Yemen and the U.S. began to unfold in a way that seemed destined to produce serious, long-term problems for both countries. We were all getting frustrated, angry even. How we could we turn that frustration into something productive? Will took the reins and began building the foundation for the Yemen Peace Project, and the rest of us piled in to help in our own specialized capacities. We are a small and ever-morphing organization, focused on a specific goal: to build relationships between Yemen and the United States in order to help bring peace to a region that has known far too much in the way of violence. We want our country to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Welcome to the Yemen Peace Project.
I am working on YPP’s advocacy activities. In the weeks to come you will be seeing background information on U.S. Foreign Policy and appropriations as they relate to Yemen. You’ll also be invited to join us in advocating for strategic American policy objectives designed to help prevent Yemen from becoming another place where American troops end up called to war. In addition to political advocacy, one-to-one personal relationships are part of what will build and sustain this movement. I encourage you to get involved in our Pens for Peace exchange, follow our local bloggers and discussion tables, and learn more about Yemeni culture through our Photo of the Week.
That’s why I’m here. I’m not sure what brought you to this site, but I hope you’ll stick around.