“Travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind” - Seneca
When I first came across this quote by Lucious Annaeus Seneca or also known as Seneca the Younger, I remembered the real reason I chose to take the journey to Yemen. It was not only to discover new places, but it was also a spiritual journey for me. Travelling can do wonders to someone.
I first got an offer for a short study in an institute in Yemen but I was sceptical about accepting it. To begin with, I thought this journey wouldn’t happen because I was struggling for the university’s approval for my leave, among other small barriers. But somehow, everything fell into place and things got much easier for the journey to happen. So, I took up the offer and went on to spend a year in Yemen.
The journey began as I parted ways with my family for the first time to go to a foreign land. I have always told myself that if I were to travel, it’s not going to be to some common tourist favourites like London, Paris, or Rome. Those places have their own special attractions, but what about the little guys? I’m sure there’s a small town near London, Paris or Rome that’s not famous but is worth taking a trip to and be in awe of.
With that in mind, it was easy for me to be excited for the trip to Yemen. Unlike other Arab countries, Yemen is somewhat more old school. Its culture is still authentic and very much alive.
Travelling to experience other cultures and learn from our differences is what every traveller should look forward to. The things we encounter daily in foreign lands make the trip worth it. Well, at least to me.
I’ve been to some Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia — Mecca and Madinah specifically — and the United Arab Emirates (to Abu Dhabi). I find the people in Yemen are more cultured compared to people of the other Arab countries. Abu Dhabi displays the majesty of modernity while in Yemen, you can still see the old city where everything is how it was back then. A place in Sana’a called Bab-al-Yemen (which means “the door to Yemen” in Arabic, also Sana’a Qadimah which means “Old Sana’a”) is the location of the old city of Sana’a which used to be the capital of Yemen. The current capital is still Sana’a but it also includes the 2000 square miles new Sana’a.
In Bab-al-Yemen, you can witness the authenticity of the city through the market and the elevated houses made of clay and rocks; the original structures of Yemen architecture still standing strong from hundreds of years ago. The uniqueness of this architecture is what amazes me the most. I am in awe of how men from the past can do so much with so little technology. The signature structure of Yemeni houses is the coloured, patterned windows called “Qamariah” (“the moon”), which are placed on top of the regular windows. When a ray of light shines through the Qamariah windows, patterns and colours will be projected on the floor of the houses.
Yemen to me, can be considered as a poorly developed country, but that is another reason which makes it unique. The underdevelopment lends precious moments that I get to witness. Children stroll around town on self-modified bicycles, adding on side mirrors belonging to a car or a cardboard sound maker at the wheel spokes that gives the sound of a motor. These little things I find precious because it shows how people who have very little make use of everything they have while the people who have more never seem to have enough.
Travelling to Yemen really opened my eyes on how we, as citizens of a modern country, took everything for granted. Most of us can always have electricity while Yemenis stay in the dark on some nights when electricity was cut off. We have more than enough water but while I was in Yemen, we would on some days skip showering because of the scarcity of water. Our supply of petrol and gas are readily available while in Yemen, sometimes it would take days just to fill up your tank. Being in a country with scarce resources helped me to be more grateful of how well-developed our country is. Some journeys through Yemen were personal to me as some places were recorded in the Quran. One place is Ardh Jannah — “the Garden of the Earth” — where a story was told about the consequences of greed (Quran 68:17-32).
The journey through Yemen was definitely a journey to remember. Even though I stayed there for almost a year, I couldn’t go to all of the places. Hopefully one day, I would be able to return to Yemen and complete my bucket list.
Photos & Words by Illya Hadi