“Let us kidnap you. Our government, or yours, will pay the ransom. You take half, we take half. You will get a nice vacation in our village. What do you think?”
This suggestion was followed by a big smile. I was visiting a great friend of mine, Ahmed The Kawhlani, as I have always called him and he was the first one which kind of introduced me to the world of the qabilis, the tribes of Yemen. He smiled as well, but added:
“He is only joking!”
The joker was a relative visiting him from the village. He, as Ahmed, carried their Kalashnikovs. And their jambiyyas (Curved daggers) and beautiful belts made by gold-and silver thread.
“Without a Kalashnikov, we tribal men would be seen as women” , Ahmed explained, padded his gun and added: “You never know when you need it.”
When he picked me up along the silah (a kind of a ringroad, but a beautiful one around Sanaa) this morning, he had a friend who owned a dabab who was driving, because my friend wanted to have his Kalashnikov at hand, just in case. I felt at ease and safe. There´s no better protection in Yemen, than the one of a tribe. Ahmed is from Khawlan and they are part of the biggest tribe in Yemen, the bakil. For example, if Ahmed gets into trouble in Sanaa, he will call his tribe and at least 30 of them, well armed, will quickly arrive to help him. But most of the time, Ahmed is the one helping others. He has the same kind of extra job as Sheikh Mohammed Naji Abdul-Aziz Al-Shayef, as I wrote about a few days ago (An insight into Tribal Yemen). He is a trusted arbitrator, margha, in his neighborhood in Sanaa. His cases are not as big as the Sheiks, but deals with for example theft, domestic violence and his favorite issue, when for example the son of Sheikh treat people arrogantly and bad.
“This happens too much!” , Ahmed said and continued with passion: “He will threaten us with his father and the only way to deal with such people, is threaten with something bigger. A bigger Sheikh!”
Ahmed is married to a girl from Sanaa and she doesn´t want to live in the village, so they have a comfortable apartment northeast of the capital. He is very wise, well read and have really sound opinions. So, of course, when I stepped into the car, we immediately started talking about the tragedy yesterday. He sad he was sorry that I had to be so close to the bombing, but added with great sadness:
“This is Yemen today.”
Since yesterdays great tragedy and loss of so many lives, I have talked to almost all my Yemeni friends. Their opinions differ a lot from the Westerners I know. Well, there´s even a distinction between the Yemenis which deal with Westerners professionally and the one´s who don´t meet to many Westerners. I am of course following the reporting in the global media and I notice that it has a tendency to immediately put the blame on Al Qaeda, which of course have claimed they have done it, as any other group of unhealthy fanatics would. But, not one of my Yemeni friends who are somehow involved with what is going on, think they´re involved. Ahmed bluntly said, as everything else he says in his broken English:
“I know, I know very well, if the government doesn´t give me money, I will blow something up and say I am Al Qaeda. If I don´t like this government and don´t want anybody else to like them, I will blow something up and say it is Al Qaeda.”
When it comes to the two other groups, many of them worry it is Al Qaeda. All we can do is wait and see and not speculate too much. And hope it doesn´t happen again. Since this was the National Day of Yemen and people were off work, traffic was as bad as ever and I therefore walked back from the far end of Hadda to the Old Town. I kind of crisscrossed through town and it took me over two hours, and people are really friendly. Almost everyone you meet, at times even ladies in their abbayyas, say hello and welcome. Since I, as usual, got lost in the myriad of streets, I had to ask my way, I always got more help than needed. Like an ice cold Coke by a youngster, who obviously thought I looked over heated. The tenseness from the last time I was here is gone, even the day after such a tragedy. No hostility at all, most men were chewing qat, and the most fascinating aspect of it all are those three times people actually came up to me and thanked me for coming to Yemen in these difficult times. But, of course, people were really sad and in some stage of shock still.
I think it is also important to remember, when something as tragic as this happens and the media freaks out with eye catching headlines, like Yemen being the most dangerous country in the world, Yemen a new Afghanistan, etcetera, that the situation is like during the “war” or “the troubles” the last time I was here, there´s only a few parts of the city which is affected, when it comes to being unsafe or not and possible restrictive movement. Believe me, and this is based on 25 professional years of dealing with people in over 120 countries globally, Sanaa is safe, life calm and I feel absolutely no worries moving around anywhere.
The Expedition? No idea what will happen. One day at a time. And right now, it seems really not that important.