Ramble No. 7:
I’ve had an interesting life. Born in London, moving back to Yemen at a very young age, travelling in between with mom home-schooling us half the year until it was time to learn Arabic grammar and algebra, that’s where she drew the line. Apparently we also adamantly insisted we have a more stable education so we can have time with regular friends. Also, I would tackle 6 months worth of homework within days. We settled in Yemen so we could attend regular schools and we would only visit England during the summers, some winters and any long holidays in between.
I remember not accepting it at first. It all seemed so backward compared to England. We lived in the capital, Sana’a in the North. Arguably, more backward than the rest of the country. The South was colonised by the British until about 30 years before I came into the world and when it was liberated, you could still see so many aspects of it remained. The north on the other hand was still somewhat tribal and traditional. I loved it nonetheless.
For one, Southerners tended to value education more and appreciated and respected women more. Over the years and being away from Yemen now, I do not agree with this. Out of my own experiences, I believe the North values women just the same, perhaps more than the South.
I wasn’t a conventional girl living in Yemen. I did not dress traditionally (or religiously) nor did I adhere to cultural norms. I was far too loud, I’ve always spoken my mind, most of my friends were boys (increasingly so as I grew up), I dated, I ventured where women did not do so and the list goes on. I was a rebel and I knew it, yet almost everyone I encountered showed me absolute respect. Sometimes they even voiced that they would not offend me due to my gender which seemed ironic to state as the reason but, obviously, irony is fine with me.
I loved Yemen, I still do and I know that even if the war doesn’t end during my life time, Yemen will always hold the biggest part of my heart. It shaped me into who I am today. It’s streets will always be the image I see in my head when I’m crossing any road. The hustle and bustle of Sana’a at midday is what I will yearn for no matter what city I’m in. Everytime I hear clanking metal I’ll flashback to the man banging a little wrench against the side of an empty gas canister, wheeling a barrow full them through neighbourhoods for anyone who needed to replace theirs because you needed one plugged into your stove to cook – no internal gas mains!
I spent countless days bored and staring at a wall while the electricity shut off. The length of time this happened shifted from day to day and when there was any political conflict or a plan to increase power charges on the public, these cuts seemed to last the entire day or days on end! Where there is no electricity, there is no hot water so we had to remember to keep the water heater on while we had power because the generators couldn’t power the heater and the rest of the house at the same time; TV or water heater, water pump or internet. We had to make little choices like these but in a house of more than 2 people, priorities seemed to conflict. After turning 15, priority was always Internet. Who needs a shower when you can troll online? Who needs the heater on when you can keep your laptop on your lap to keep you warm while you tweet absolute nonsense? It’s funny that no matter what part of the world you talk about, teenagers around 2006-2012 all have similar priorities.
But when the power was off for days at a time and diesel was a rarity; either no where to be found or too expensive for regular consumption, generators did not roar on throughout the day, instead, if you were lucky enough to get some diesel to run it then you switched it on to charge things up, maybe to get the water heater going or use the blender or shaver, etc. But you would spend the rest of the day with no power. Usually, this made the teens flock to cafes and restaurants because they could usually afford to keep their generators running, or they had two separate electricity lines running so that when the power went off on one grid, they switched to the other avoiding use of their generators until both grids are off which didn’t really happen until the recent political turmoil.
I still appreciate the times when the power went off and I’d spent all my allowance (or got grounded which I was quite often) so I’d have to stay home and figure out what to do. After a while, my mom would prefer us to have our friends over. She’d give us complete privacy to be stupid kids as we pleased and she did not limit the amount of people we could have over. If you’ve seen my social interactions post, you’ll know I wasn’t a loner, not at all. Even now when I speak with old friends, they’re surprised to hear I don’t go everywhere (or stay at home) with a bunch of people and I am instead often in my own company. After some time, my house became the hang out spot for very close friends (i.e. 20-40 people at any given time). We had fun, even if we did nothing but sit on the roof and watch the houses nearby, talk about ridiculous things, figure out each other’s lives, snack to no end and mostly, decide what to do when the power was back on!
I miss all these things but what I miss the most is the rainy season. Being a backward country, we didn’t really have a system to direct rainwater generally except through the old city. It was used as a road except when there was heavy rainfall which I absolutely loved. I understand a Westerner would describe such rainfall as a typhoon with the size of the raindrops and the temperature but it was just normal rain to us. I miss that. I miss actually getting drenched in that rain within seconds.
It was mostly made up of cobblestones but led off onto tarmac roads. I remember driving down there when I first learned how to drive and I was told to be very careful because it had started to rain and it was getting very slippery. The nostalgia is sometimes paralysing because it was a place so full of life and the memories are intense. Anytime of day, if I close my eyes, I can imagine being in any part of the city and I can hear the same sounds, cars honking their horns in traffic, people yelling random words across the road at each other because somehow they all knew each other. In a city filled with some 2-3 million people, it was strange that everytime you met someone new, you found out they grew up around your cousin or best friend. The smells (except in areas that lacked proper drainage!).
I miss it all. I miss the parts I was lucky enough to see and the parts I never got to. I hope the war doesn’t destroy much more because it was all so beautiful before it was torn to shreds.
*****None of the pictures are mine, sorry don’t know the sources but most can be found through a simply google search of the country.*****