Last friday, the "Anthropology of Yemen" crew, composed of YCMES faculty, Drs Thomas Stevenson and Steven Caton, students, and researchers ventured to the nearby qaria of Thulla. The village retains its historical aspect above the productive hamlets of the Kawkaban region, carved into the mountainside and overlooking the southern sprawl of terraced farms and small wadis toward Sana'a. The streets are narrow and seemingly burrowed beneath the overhanging upper floors. As a seasoned anthropologist, Dr. Stevenson spent the morning socializing, eating and accepting invitations into the older styles of homes, with the livestock on the ground floor, dung cakes for heating and the traditional tandoor. The rest of us climbed to the top of the mountain to see the antiquities on top. We were accompanied by a small group of villagers who volunteered their local expertise for a small fee. According to one archaeological enthusiast, the Himyarites used the summit of Thulla as a gravesite and military outpost in pre-Islamic times. Since then, the hill station has retained its strategic importance for a long list of powerful players in Yemen's history, ranging from the earliest Islamic converts to the Ottomans, Imamates and Turks. We saw burial caves, several architectural styles stratified in the watchtowers, windswept masjids, weapon storerooms, as well as leftover munitions (everything from canon balls to .308 caliber cartridges). The mountain was very impressive from a natural standpoint as well, considering the desert vista, lizards, trees and wild roses we smelt along the way.
After three hours on the mountain, we reunited in the dabab (Yemeni for taxi-van) and drove to the village of Shibam, near the base of the hill station Kokoban. Tired from our morning adventure, we passed on the hike and ate at the famous "Hamida" restaurant and tourist hotel. We were served more food than three times our number could eat-and not just "food" either. The table overflowed with the festive Yemeni fare: Salta, Bint As-Sahan, lamb of all cuts, breads, sweets, Coca-cola, etc. Paraphrasing the words of our administrator, "we ate so much we couldn't see." Thankfully our vision cleared after a little respite for digestion and we moved to the ancient mosque of Shibam, where we again saw evidence from pre-Islamic and early Islamic civilizations carved into its foundations. We then retraced our steps to Sana'a, passing big (for Yemen) forests of qat along the way. Fortunately for us, the two anthropologists in the dabab were game for jokes and conversations about the area, complementing the great sightseeing with their wealth of knowledge and good senses of humor. Thus the trip lived up to an unofficial mission statement of the YCMES program: 1) Learn about Yemen, 2) from those who know about Yemen, and 3) by being in Yemen. And have fun while we're at it.
The approach to the Jabal: Peculiar construction in Thulla:
The way up: One of our friendly guides:
Overlooking Thulla: The hill station:
Colorful companion on the way: Village surrounded by qat farms to the West of Sana'a:
Michael, always on top of things:
Zach (USA), with additional photography from Tory (USA) [2013-05-31]
Editor's note: You can't go to Thula too often (although you probably can eat lunch in Shibam too often - I shall conduct further research into the matter). Also, in a more gossipy vein, Prof Stevenson was disappointed by the lack of pictures of old men with ploughs in the above post, a deficiency we shall address on our next visit. This won't be for a few weeks, though - the anthropologists are heading to Taiz and Ibb this weekend.
So it turns out that Charles isn't all talk when it comes to photography. Here we see Lenka, Arabic/Anthropology student, taking her own photo of the view from Thula's Hosn. It was a long way up, I'm not gonna lie, but very much worth it. We were there as part of a YCMES combined Department of English/Programme in Arabic Language trip, and as well as Thula we visited Kawkaban and Shibam and had a truly epic lunch - possibly more epic than the view from the top of Thula. A picture, however, is worth a thousand words, and if you want more I highly recommend the gallery I have just uploaded of photos we took on the day.
Seen in the rain: three friends chewing together.
[2013-05-01 Editor's Note: do not expect a Photo of the Day every day]
Luca, a YCMES veteran, is currently putting the finishing touches on his anthropological research in Sana'a. Once again, he takes some time out to reflect on his experiences studying in Yemen so far...
My name is Luca Nevola, and I'm a PhD student from the University of Milano - Bicocca. I have been coming to study Arabic in Yemen since 2006. I had always been surprised by the kindness and hospitality of the Yemeni people, and it was partly because of this that in 2009 I decided to undertake my first cultural anthopology fieldwork with a tribe called Beni Matar in the north of the country. I lived for 5 months in a small village, al-Qalis, where I was welcomed enthusiastically and treated as an honoured guest. While my Arabic was a bit rough to start with, the villagers helped me out with the local dialect and very soon I became fully acquainted with my new home.
In 2011, when the Arab Spring erupted across the Middle East, I was a student at YCMES undertaking the first part of my PhD research in Sana'a. While the situation generally was tense and dramatic, I never felt in danger. I took adequate precautions, living in the College and avoiding sensitive places, and found the people to be as kind and helpful as ever.
Since the elections in 2012, the situation has improved drastically. I'm currently undertaking the final part of my fieldwork in a village not far from the capital. I've been travelling quite freely to and from my village at all hours of the day, and have yet to experience any threat to my safety. The terrifying reports that depict Yemen as the last al-Qaeda stronghold, as a country where every step has to be made with care, bear no relation to my experience here, and studying in Yemen is something that I would recommend to anyone.
So YCMES has built this lovely new website, and we thought how much easier it would be if we moved our blog here from the wastelands of wordpress.com (it's still there, although won't be updated for the foreseeable). Then we thought it'd be nice if we actually started blogging again. What with one thing and another the blog fell by the wayside a bit during 2011, but we are very much back in business now.
So expect this to be updated with rather more regularity than has been the case for the last couple of years. There won't be as many videos because I'm not American (although Stephanie is and I probably won't be able to restrain her for long). Nor will there be any more food blogging, because we can't compete with yemenkitchen. But apart from that I'm sure that we can manage to be every bit as witty and informative as our illustrious predecessors.
I'll try and guilt-trip Charles into writing up our weekend visit to Manakha to start us off (he's currently sulking because despite his Canon 5D Mk.II and L series lens he didn't manage to take any photos there that he'd put his name to). Until then I shall leave you with i) a picture of an ingenious Yemeni BBQ bellows solution introduced to us by Kamal a couple of weeks back, and ii) a video I found in the archives of some YCMES students chewing qat.