A Canadian in Yemen A letter to Santa Claus [Archives:2002/52/Culture]

December 23 2002

Thomas Froese
Dear Santa, As Christmas is now upon much of the world, and you’re the man who gives so much, it’s time again to write you my annual letter.
First, thanks for last year’s gift, the Gulliver’s Travels book. It was a great read. I enjoyed the Houyhnhnms, those horse-like characters. They’re so bright. So noble. And those savage Yahoos. So dim. So lost. Poor Gulliver couldn’t see himself in them.
But Gulliver was a world traveler. Like you Santa. So, as you go on your annual trip around the world on this Dec. 24, take a good look. It seems to me distribution problems down here are getting worse.
Start with my street here in Yemen. Soccer, or ‘futbal’ as they call it, is all that Middle East kids love. The boys in the hood here play in front of our place all the time. Their ball, though, beaten and deflated as some folks here feel, looks like it’s been through the war.
These kids aren’t David Beckham. They won’t make Time Magazine. But is anyone who kicks a ball around worth $9 million a season? How much is that a goal? In Canada, average National Hockey League plunkers now get $1 million to lace up their skates. And Michael Schumacher pulled in $80 million last year. For driving his car.
There are bigger problems though. Like toilets.
I don’t even like to think about this. But a concern I had when arriving in Yemen this year was that Jean and I wouldn’t have decent facilities. Thankfully in our home we do. But many Yemeni, especially those out in the country, are among three billion folks on Earth who don’t have a pot to call their own. That’s half of the world’s people. What’s with that?
Granted, things could be worse. It’s easy to complain we don’t have shoes until we see someone without feet. Yemen’s neighbours in Ethiopia are running out of food. Fast. They say 15 million might die in the next months. As usual, the children will go first.
Guess they won’t need toilets.
Ethiopians are actually beautiful people. I’ve discovered that some come to impoverished Yemen for a better life. Jean and I know several. Guess poor Yemen will have to do more. Some Westerners say they apparently have something called donor fatigue. Is that kind of like free will?
It’s not like there’s no money. On your trip to Ethiopia, look down on nearby Djibouti. That’s where the Yanks are playing war games. Keep an eye out for those Predator drone planes though. The kind that just killed some al-Qaeda suspects here in Yemen’s countryside.
A new Predator goes for $4.5 million. That’s from the $400 billion or so the US now gives its military every year. That’s six times what Russia spends. Santa, it’s what the next 25 countries spend combined. But hey, those Yanks need protection.
About clean water. A billion people now don’t have it. But there is wine. I hear that some Canadians are drinking a little more of it these days. Can you turn some into water? And then back again? For the Ethiopians I’d recommend a white Valle Berta Gavi from Italy. It’s rich on the palate, but still crisp. Clean as a vicar’s conscience.
Yeah, for some people, this Christmas kind of stinks. But you can cover the smell easy. Hugo Boss is nice for the guys. Give the ladies a more luxurious aroma, something romantic, but sophisticated for the times.
Nobody will think about Louis IX and Marie Antoinette. You know, the 18th century French royals. While their parties at Versailles were swinging, revolution outside was brewing. Eventually things exploded with a bang. That left everyone with the smell of blood. Less pleasant than frankincense for sure.
Frankincense was a valued item of trade in ancient Yemen, when this region was known as ‘the ends of the earth.’ You know, for the right person frankincense is still a great gift idea.
Yes, that person is you Santa. Frankincense and myrrh from the ends of the earth. Merry Christmas. Please, do enjoy it. After all, Christmas really is all about you. It’s about your honour and your glory. It’s about someone else’s glory? Really? Folks around here don’t seem to know that.
Anyway, I think this year Jean and I have all we need. We have each other, and more.
But please. Teach us to be thankful every day. Teach us to be generous throughout the year. And wherever our travels may lead, please do help us all find some horse-sense so that we don’t live our lives, short as they are, like a bunch of Yahoos.
Thomas Froese
([email protected])
is a Yemen Times editor.