Expedition Yemen By Camel; Kidnapped and shelled by mortar fire!

The last two days have been scary. First I got kidnapped and yesterday our area got shelled by mortar fire. Let me take the kidnapping first.

I was at the home of our friend Baba Hussein, helping him with some garden pots, when two guys came running in, grabbed me, I tried to fight them off, Pamela, looking out of a window, was screaming at the top of her lungs:

“No, Mikael, no!”

They dragged me out to the narrow street, where a Mercedes Benz was waiting, I was pushed into the vehicle and we sat off with screeching wheels down the narrow lane of the Old City. 30 minutes later I was rescued, whilst sitting on a chair with both hands tied up behind my back, by a team of agents. A fight took place between the bad and good guys, but I was eventually saved and when I came out into the open, Pamela came running towards me happily and we cried and kissed!

The truth is, we were actors in a Yemeni movie for television!

That´s the thing with Yemen, you never know from one day to the other what is going to happen! It all started when Pamela was stopped by two guys a day earlier whilst strolling through the Old City, which is the base of her research and they asked her if she could be part of a news program about youth. She said yes, prepared meticulously as always, was even nervous and begged me to come with her for the interview, which we decided that Baba Hussein´s home would be perfect for. Once there, it all turned into an action movie!

The shelling, however, was a big scare. After the action movie, the actors drove us all the way to Hadda, where I wanted to met Jamal and Boushra, to persuade Jamal to see why I wanted Boushra to be a part in the documentary I am doing. She is a Yemeni photographer, a mother of four great girls and she has a foot in both the West and East. But Jamal is an extremely vital part of the government and was worried that Boushra´s part in the film would put him in danger with possible extremists in a future Yemeni government. This was also the day when President Abdullah Ali Saleh was supposed to sign the GCC agreement. According to Jamal that would happen next day and he was getting ready to set off to a meeting with the rest of the government. I had 30 minutes to get him onboard with my ideas. Jamal is a great human and I understood his worries, of course, but I was able to make him understand how important it was for me to get a woman’s view of life in Yemen in my film. Because, up until now, I have hardly seen a woman unveiled. I haven’t talked to more than a couple. The others have either been shooed away or kept out of my sight. Normally as quick as I enter a building, men accompanying me shout:

“Allah, Allah!”

Those shouts tell the women to get out of my sight. I am not judging here, just recording facts. Luckily Pamela has been able to get some good footage from one of the worlds of women, the kitchen. Otherwise I would possibly return back home with no female stories at all. That is how important Boushra is! Anyway, they´re both onboard the project, I am happy to say! This great family of 6 belongs to the brave one’s who stayed, when many left as the war broke out ten months ago. And I asked Jalal, what was the worst during this time and he answered:

“The shelling of the mortars. They’re terrifying!”

The next day after lunch I fully understood what he meant, when 6 mortars, viciously loud and scary, detonated above our heads, just a stone’s throw from our house. The shock when the first one detonated, it is hard to describe, I was on my way back with Eva from the play park near the Parliament when it detonated. I picked her up, quickly watched the surroundings, terrified grown ups, curious laughing almost expectant kids, and ran back to the house. Two more went off, Pam came back and than three others detonated so loud that it shook my bones.

“Don´t worry!” Patrick the American said, one of the students in the house, who has 4 trips as a soldier in Iraq in his backbone: “They´re just measuring for the next time, so they get it right. Mortars are not exact; you have to shoot off a few to get the exact position right. That is why they explode in the air like this. It is possibly general Ali Mohsen, who isn´t part of the peace agreement, who is measuring out the goals he wants to hit, if things doesn´t go his way.”

Patrick was thick with adrenalin. Eva just wanted to go out of the dark, enclosing building we live in and see what happened. Pamela was full of adrenalin. I just felt, kind of odd after awhile. I just wanted to show these freaks of nature, you don´t scare us. So we cooked dinner and ate it on the outside with a star filled sky above us. No more mortars in the evening. As this is Yemen, where the most amazing stories and hypothesis turn up daily, it is hard to know who it was setting the mortars off, but it seems as they came from the palace and where aimed at Hashaba. Which means it was the president’s son, Ali Ahmed, who was trying to get his mortars right and hit Al Ahmar´s in Hashaba.

This took place at the same time as the president was in Riyadh signing the peace agreement. Some say that maybe Ahmed Ali wasn´t happy and wanted to stage a coup de etát. All I know is that Saleh signed and that makes me very happy. As you know, I believe Yemen is so different from all other Arab states; they have a sort of democracy that they´ve had hundreds of years, they’re not extremist in any way and fundamentalists are not liked at all here. And most people want to keep them out of any government. I think that Yemen, no I believe Yemen, will set the course for the future for the rest of the Arab countries, as regards to how to run a country who is fair for as many inhabitants as possible. A role model to be. Even if there is so much work ahead!

I knew before most of the world that the signing would take place, since a very, very good friend of mine, is the guy the president, or former president right now, listens to more than any. He told me it would happen 10 days back and also told me that the main problem was that all attempts to get a deal so far, had been due to the involvement somehow with outsiders, e.g. non-Arabs and when Jamal Binomar turned up as the UN envoy, it was perfect, because he is from Morocco and everyone concerned and involved immediately talked the same language. It is just staggering to know that all this violence, tragedy and death has happened during such a long time, because the West demanded to be involved in the future solution! But, having been involved in this world of diplomacy and human beings to some degree, it doesn’t surprise me. It is the home of bureaucracy and far too much incompetence.

My friend pushed hard for this kind of a lighter, middle way solution based on his knowledge of Yemen and it worked out exactly as he hoped. As it is now, first of all stop the violence, get Yemen back on track for a more equal and functioning society, this, and I agree, is the only way. Of course the extreme sides of the matter, like the young demonstrators in Change Square and all over the country, without whom this important move probably wouldn´t have happened, and as the religious fundamentalists and Al Ahmars and Ali Mohsens followers, sure they are not to happy at all for this agreement, but it is a middle way and the issue is moving forward a bit. However, of course, I wonder about the future as well and what will happen. I mean Ali Mohsen and Al Ahmar´s are still in the country. So is quite a big part of the Saleh Family who are still in charge of many important posts within the military and the government, and the question is, how to get them out of the game as well? Because I have learned one very important thing in my all too brief time in this great country, Yemenis love their land and want to die here. It won’t be easy to kick anyone of them out. And to where? Saudi Arabia? As one friend said:

“Who wants to live with those extremely religious salafis?I rather die in Yemen!”

Oh, yes, there’s a lot of work ahead! As regards to my great friend, who has agreed to let me film his daily life and talk about the meaning of life, I honestly believe he will run the country in a not to far off future. He is also a man with a foot in both worlds, he has travelled a lot, fought his way up to where he is today, restarted his life three times and he has stayed put throughout these hard times, even though he has been threatened badly, he has been offered big money to leave, he has to have body guards, his family have been moved abroad and he got seriously injured in the bomb who almost killed Abdullah Ali Saleh back in June. The guy in between my friend and Saleh died. My friend felt like he was given a second chance to live. And want to get Yemen back on track. I wrote an article about him the last time I was here, where I amazingly enough predicted a bit of what has happened to him. He is extra ordinarily inspiring and meeting him and listening to his dedication to his people and country, is a humbling experience. He is also the only guy in the country which at this moment can help me get a permit to do the first stage of my trip to cross Yemen by camel from the west to east. Because, as it is right now, we cannot even leave Sanaa. We are imprisoned like everybody else here!

But, talking about kidnappings, last week we met Hussein, a taxi driver from that part of the country, which if you talk to other Yemenis, they almost scream:

“They´re dangerous, they kidnap people, extortion is part of their behaviour and they’re heavily armed and crazy!”

We are talking about Khawlan. I want to try to get there as soon as possible for some days. It belongs to the tribal area and to understand Yemen, you have to understand their tribalism of the north as well. And next week I will tell you about two more extremely inspiring people. Abdulghani Al-Iryani and Jamila “Guevera” at Change Square.

That is if nothing else gets in the way!

Do visit the photo gallery of Yemen!

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