By Mac (Houston, Texas)
Much to my own surprise, Sana'a, Yemen has gradually become like a second home to me. In July of 2007, I arrived to Yemen without knowing a single word of Arabic. For the next 10 months, I studied the language and eventually developed close friendships with my Yemeni friends and neighbors. When it came time to travel to the States in May 2008, I hoped that I'd have the opportunity to come back to Yemen someday.
Ten days ago I finally returned to Sana’a to study and work at the Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies. Since my arrival, I have been grateful to find that my old neighbors still treat me as a one of their own.
July 2nd was my first full day in Sana'a. In the afternoon I took a stroll over to my old neighborhood (called Bustan Al-Sultan or “Garden of the Sultan”) – the place where I lived during my year of Arabic language study. As soon as I turned the corner onto my street, all the little kids ran towards me with their arms open wide, laughing and shouting my name. I felt a bit awkward at first; many passers-by look over at me and the swarm of children with puzzled looks.
The kids proceeded to bombard me with all sorts of difficult questions in slurred Arabic, such as: "Mac, do you remember my name?" (I often didn't, but I had a helper who assisted me with not-so-subtle whispers). One girl ask me, "Mac, would you like to get your ears pierced?" Her father - who happens to be a good friend of mine - overheard the comment and asked her to "Please apologize to Miiister Mac."
The following day, several of the neighbors invited me over for a large welcome lunch. All of my favorite Yemeni foods were laid out. It was delicious. I thanked them profusely as I am used to doing back home in the States, but then I was reminded of my error. My host and good friend Hussein looked toward me and said: "Mac, there is no reason for 'thanks' (shukr) in your own house."
Taken aback by his expression of friendship, I slipped again and said: "Thank you, Hussein." As long as I live here, I will still think and behave like an American.
We are a group of Americans, Spaniards, French, and many others who are living and studying at the Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies (YCMES) – located in Sana’a, Yemen. We hope that the blog will give you a sense of the sights, sounds and smells we experience everyday, as well as our many Yemeni friends and neighbors.
Most of us are here in Sana’a to study Arabic and the contemporary Middle East, although some of us are researchers and scholars. We hope that you enjoy our blog, and please feel free to contact us if you’d like to join us in Yemen.