“What I think about the Saudis…” , Kasim said whilst chewing an enormous load of kat , “Hmmm…well, you have to excuse me, but I don´t want to talk bad about other people.Please excuse me.”
Kasim, the taxi driver, well, his answer was so typical Yemeni. They´re easily among the friendliest people I have ever met, but I think amongst the most amazing thing I have encountered is their attitude not to down talk other people. Now, for me, coming from a continent where we have newspapers like the awful tabloids, sit coms full of people hired to talk crap about others and reality shows like Big Brother where people thrive a bad talking others, Yemen is so refreshing!
We just stopped Kasim outside our living quarters in a tiny alley in the old city of Sanaa, on our way to visit a new friend of mine, a power station of sorts, Brid from Ireland, and it turns out that Kasim speaks pretty much perfect English. Part of his family, which is the case with many Yemeni, are living abroad. He has spent more than five years in Saudi Arabia himself, working and collecting funds for his big family, did well and returned and runs a taxi company amongst other things. And the only negative word I could get out of him, on the way back from Brid and her great husband Richard, was that the Saudis where maybe a bit to strict. Both Richard and Brid had also lived and worked in Saudi Arabia.
However, that half an hour it took us to leave the Old City and make our way through heavy traffic to the new part of time, as many taxi drivers world wide, it turns out Kasim was a wealth of information and full of opinions of his own country. Now, since the country is in some kind of a dire situation, which according to Kasim is similar to Somalia a bunch of years ago, which threw the country into a continues series of internal wars and poverty, Kasim was of the very astute opinion that only words and conversation could solve the growing problems the country are facing. For more info on the situation, see local opinion from Yemen Times and on the international side, see BBC.
It wasn´t easy to find our way to Brid and Richard, but Kasim took it as a quest of life and eventually we ended up on the carpet in their home eating and drinking and discussing Yemen.
“Why we choose to move to Yemen instead of Oman? Well, the thing is that Oman isn´t much different to the West. You have to put in 80 hours a week to survive and the demand is as hard and we have had enough of that. But, as important is, Oman is becoming more like Dubai and the West and moving away from the real Arabia. And after years in the Arab world, we want to stay close to the true soul of Arabia.”
It was actually this Irish powerhouse who persuaded me to come to Yemen instead of Damascus or Cairo and I don´t regret that for a second. Even though I have only been here two weeks, it is a high light of my life. And I remember something a good friend of mine said, he´s living in Oman, a Brit, Marc, when we were discussing foreigners (expats) living abroad and in the Gulf area, why it is such a major difference between the quality of the expats. I have personally found the best, friendliest and funniest expats in the most difficult and demanding of countries and the truth is probably as Mark said:
“You go to Saudi to make money, but you choose to work and live in Oman, Yemen and Kenya because you want to live there.”
For me, a personality will always be preferred to a copy of the rest of us humans, because when you meet personalities not only do you have a good laugh, but you learn enormously much and you leave them with a very positive attitude o life. Just like living Brid and Richard. Who will help me a lot whilst I am here. Great people!