06.12.2008 35 °C
Today, when I was playing in the sea, my mind brought me back to half my lifetime ago. I live in an apartment now, a few minutes from the beach; a beach with wild surf. It reminded me of Contis. And that’s also where my mind took me. I reminisced about times when everything seemed perfect, or at least, that’s what my mind led me to believe. About times when there seemed no problems or when problems seemed to have no grip on reality. The only real problems were the midnight curfew, and the limited time the holiday would last. I reminisced about times when I fell instantly, deeply in love with girls I’d never met before. The girls somehow seemed more beautiful on a French blue sky background. The judgmental eye of most friends was absent and that, together with a sufficient amount of alcohol, was enough for the innocent games of seduction to begin; drunken, wild, sometimes semi-innocent games. God, how I sometimes wished those games would have gone just a little bit further. It was also the time when me and my friend would spend hours on the beach, or on the campsite, planning daring midnight excursions to the beach or planning our future. One of our future plans was to return back to the campsite in Contis when our kids would be adolescents. We would, of course, allow our kids all the freedom we were denied. Somehow, at that time, I was just as certain of our future plans happening as I was of the midnight excursions.
The waves were slowly getting the better of me, which told me that I needed to get out of the water. Once I turned around I saw the tremendous contrast between the reality and the perfect world I just left. There were no beautiful girls here, or maybe there were, but I couldn’t tell from their veiled faces. No beignet sellers, no boison fraiches, not even any umbrellas. The beach here is a place for sinners and outcast, where lovers secretly hold hands, and where sinful plans are being discussed. Yet, I felt so much more at home in this pool of sin than in most other places in Mukallah. The contrast between right and wrong enters every aspect of life here. Hadramawt, and within it Mukallah, is considered the most conservative area within Yemen, which is in itself the most conservative country in the Middle East. Everything is either haram or halal, right or wrong. The grey area of “common behavior” has been taken out to avoid confusion. Pictures in the English course book are being scratched out for they are “haram”, talking to females is “haram”, wearing shorts is “haram” and so on. Maybe even more “haram” than being a non-Muslim, or an “infidel” as they so nicely put it, is asking why everything is “haram”. “Ask no questions” was the main advice I got. For many people here I am the walking proof of the sinfulness of the west, and therefore most of them are afraid to talk to me.
Walking back to my apartment I thought about my small trip to Sana’a. I was warned about the conservativeness in Sana’a, yet all the people were talkative and helpful. The city itself was captivating with its ancient centre and Taj Mahal-shaped mosque. The “old city”, with its busy suq, really was a place where yesterday met today. Cars were inching through the narrow lanes initially meant for pedestrians and animals only. The prayer call seemed in Dolby surround, due to the many mosques and the small streets in between the high buildings where the sound could resonate. Haggling was main conversation, every so often disturbed by a shout from someone with a better deal. Even my hotel was an ancient building, with so many small staircases that finding the way back to my room was a challenge in itself. The company of a fellow “infidel” made the trip a complete success. Finally could I vent about the pleasures and struggles that come with living in an Islamic country. Strange, how Sana’a romanticized and simultaneously blurred my view on the conservative parts of Yemen.
After that the trip to Mukallah, it was promising; armed vehicles as guides to make sure "Mr. Whiteman" reached his destination in one piece. The landscapes differing from tribal area's where every living creature was armed, to repetitive desert landscape; from wild camels to the littered gas stations.
My thoughts returned once more to the future plans me and my friend had made so many years previous. Never had it occurred to me then, that things might turn out differently. And it most certainly had never occurred to me that I wouldn’t even be there when he would become a father. Yet, a father he is, of a baby boy. While I was fighting the waves of Mukallah, he was fighting not to faint at the sight of his baby being born. I wasn’t there, and that bothered me. It also bothers me that I will not be there when another friend will become a father. Life continues, and one can’t be at 2 places at the same time. Choices have to be made, and for me nothing beats having the opportunity to see and experience this alien culture first hand. Even though I sometimes have to struggle to stay positive, it’s a struggle I take to the waves of mukallah. And, believe me, there are worse places in the world to be struggling.
But, not being there to see the baby doesn’t mean I’m less happy about it. So, from the scorching heat of the Hadramawt desert, I wish the new parents all the best and the blessing of Allah, Jahweh, Buddha and Visnha at the same time! And, while most of you Dutch people are getting ready to open up the first Sinterklaas presents, I am getting ready to wash the sand out of my butt.
P.S. Sorry for the column-style writing, I’m working on writing in class, so I’m practicing my skills as well. Thought this was a good opportunity.
P.S. I have a new number, as the old one didn’t work internationally. It’s +967735164748. Please send me your number by text or email, I lost all my contacts. Thanks