Expedition Yemen By Camel; Avoiding the Bani Salaam

”I just phoned my superiors” , Amin said as regards to the threat of the Bani Salaam or Anis; ”And they said the threat was real, so we have to back track I am afraid and head east and try to get out on to the main highway to Sanaa as quick as possible. As a security measure.”

Ahmed Ali was seriously cold. He hadn´t slept a lot, I am sure and he looked really worn down. His lips were blue, it was that bad! The same applied to Antar, the camel, who still didn´t eat the local food and wanted, like his best friend Ahmed Ali, to return to Tihama. Amin was doing far better. Not only because he had better gear, but all the walking was putting him back in good shape. He had always dreamed about doing Expeditions. As a young man, around 19 years of age, he had approached the government with an idea to let him out of the country, so he could cycle the world. They said no. They were scared he would never return again. Such a pity! So many young people who have had their dreams crushed by a inward thinking government. And it is, still unfortunately, the situation in Yemen, young people get extremely little help and encouragement to leave the country and come back and make a difference. Still, as a 45 year old, it hurts and he on and off brought up the Yemeni Youth Team in football who apparently just a few years back was one of the best in Asia, but got let down from the slow minded government who didn´t take the chance to back them, support them and give them opportunities to develop the game in this country which loves football.

“But if we get kidnapped” he joked; “We will at least get a rest and full board!”

There was some truth in that joke. Most people I knew from Sanaa joked about get kidnapped by the tribes, that it was kind of a paid vacation, they were that nice. And the reason for kidnapping you, was basically only to put pressure on a government they got no help or promised assistance from. Now, since I have never come across anybody who have been kidnapped by the tribes, I cannot verify that. But it wouldn´t surprise me! And if I don´t remember wrong, one great Yemeni expert from the outside, Steve Caton, who got jailed and kidnapped, kind of verifies this in his excellent book on the tribes, Yemen Chronicle. And with few exceptions, people survive the ordeal. However, it should be said, people have been killed, but rumour say it is people hit by a religious fever, possibly from further north that are behind those killings.

I just didn´t feel any kind of worry about getting kidnapped, but I didn´t look forward to getting on to the main road as quick as this and that with possibly force us to do 4-5 days on the main road. No fun at all in any way, though I suspect both Amin and Ahmed Ali looked forward to it, since they preferred restaurant food to cooked by me and Amin himself.

We started climbing again, slowly, and snaking our way up on a rough dirt road and this took us half a day, but offered great views. It was hardly any traffic, but the few who passed us, always cheered and yelled. I think we passed 3000 metres above sea level and than we went all the way down into a valley again. Stunning views again! We stopped for lunch at an old caravanserai, People came in great masses again, not only for us, but it was the Friday prayer coming up. As usual we got invited to lunch, as always we turned it down. This didn´t make Ahmed Ali happy, but if the three of us started eating, we would clear everything out for the others. These were poor people and among them, you have to bring your own food. Especially if you are three! As usual, everyone in the village arrived to have a look at us four, as Antar still was the main show; he started to get bothered by all these people who wanted to touch him. The further north we came, the more the local women dared to come out. As always, dressed in niqab and abayya, but at least present, which made me happy. I have never really been comfortable with this segregation. It makes a society weaker and less appealing, no doubt, for somebody like myself, who love to interchange and get to know people! However, I respect local traditions and customs, but just want to add, which is often not known amongst the locals, that the Prophet saw his women as equals and they never had niqab or abbayya and the reason they started to cover, it is known that the wife´s of the Prophet when in Medina, was due to the fact that they got to much attention from being his wife´s and got fed up with this massive popularity. I feel it is important to state that quite a few of these customs which are difficult for Westerners to understand are cultural, not religious decrees.

We hit the main road for lunch next day in a small town called Risaban. First thing we did was to stop for lunch and I said that they could eat absolutely anything they wanted. And they did. Chicken, meat, honey….A local cop turned up, sat down with us and ordered the same. He had briefly helped us when we arrived to disperse the big crowds around us and we thanked him since we were all really tired of these big groups of people just starring at us, asking us millions of questions and bothering Antar.

“I am not paying for this guy” , I told Amin, after the local cop had shown with his behaviour that we were paying and Amin said to him: “I am a cop as well.”

The shock on this corrupt police mans face when Amin asked for the bill for the three of us, I loved it! Even though we had our differences, mainly because we were both experienced human beings, I was very happy with having Amin as a partner. Ahmed Ali was just there for the money and we never got close. Neither did Amin and Ahmed Ali, but Amin and myself, we cared very much for his well being.

On paper, on the map, it would take us four days to Sanaa. Maybe five. We had averaged 20 km:s a day so far. But at this moment, when we were back in the modern society, where mobile phones worked and there were restaurants every 15 km:s, we pushed hard and before the evening we passed through the extremely busy and crowded town of Mabar and even though people didn´t want us to camp anywhere near them, locals were not helpful at all here, on the contrary, we forced our camp down near a government installation. We did 35 km:s that day and knew we would arrive in Sanaa the following day. I was quite worried though, how we in earth could travel through the map traffic of the city.

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