A Canadian in Yemen: Now there’s some good cultural cheer [Archives:2002/50/Culture]

December 9 2002

Thomas Froese
Gotta love the humour here. A recent foray of mine in this space lamented the loss of my neighbourhood qat market, and went on to note why qat will become the new #1 weed worldwide. I suggested it would actually unify the world, kind of like Coke. You know, ‘I’d like to teach the world to chew, in perfect harmony.’
That was my tongue in my cheek. Congratulations to all of you who knew that. Only one reader was a bit fuzzy on it, and contacted me to earnestly point out the evils of qat.
Okay now. Humour is spelled with a ‘u’ if you’re from Canada, and some Canucks, that’s slang for Canadians, enjoy using it liberally: kind of like how the Brits and Auzies spread that horrendous marmite and vegemite on their bread.
So like a good afternoon qat chew, here comes another little yarn. Ready?
Jean’s gone
My wife, at the time of this writing, is gone for a few days, and you know, I’m getting hungry. Some friends have had pity on me and invited me for a meal here and there, but I think rather than doing any more battle with my kitchen stove, I’d rather just get kidnapped.
Indeed, Yemen is among the best places on Earth to get snatched. The thing about kidnapping here, though, is that it’s a kind of cultural education. No, really. How often can you see a semi-automatic Kalashnikof so close?
I understand kidnappers here are usually tribal folk and often get tourists eager to see Yemen’s ancient sites. Some roads in Mareb seem like they’re kidnapping alleys.
My research shows that in the last five years, 114 foreign tourists and 43 expatriate workers have been nabbed across Yemen. Italians go missing most often, followed by French and Germans. Kidnapped Americans are down the list at just nine. Canadians are barely on the map.
Of the 114, five died, including one British-Canadian, killed in an unusual 1998 incident. Apparently at least one kidnapper was executed for that. But 109 hostages have walked free, most after just a few days. And in five years, some 350,000 tourists have visited Yemen. So, tell me, what’s the risk?
A liberating approach
About 30,000 kidnappings now occur around the world annually. So, I think, the Yemeni do have things under control. And I honestly believe, they also have the most liberating approach. A parliamentarian, a few years ago, put it this way.
“Kidnapping is part of Yemen tourism. It’s an adventure for tourists, because they’ll end up learning about customs of the tribes as well as their good hospitality.”
I couldn’t agree more. And I also can see the thinking of Yemen’s tribes. Hey, what would you use to negotiate if you wanted decent roads, water and health-centers, or maybe the release of your brother, innocent as he may be, from jail?
But most of all, I’m in the corner of Italian tourist Giorgio Bonanomi. He couldn’t be happier. “Too bad it’s not possible to organize holidays like this. It was fantastic,” he said, after his kidnappers fed him lamb and exotic fruits.
I’ve heard that one tourist company owner went so far to even set aside $11,000 Cdn monthly for customer ransoms. Hey, bring the wife and kids. Tourism here needs it. It’s lost about $1.5 billion since 9/11.
Chinese accountants, French honeymooners and Polish diplomats have all been snagged by Yemen’s hospitable tribesmen. For my money, though, I want to go with a bunch of Germans. Having a German passport with Berlin as my birthplace will help. So will the blonde hair and blue eyes.
Indeed, Germans are big here, and as a German-Canadian I’m happy to hear Ambassador Werner Zimprich recently announce $55 million Cdn in German aid this year.
More so, I’m happy to see that in addition to expatriate workers, Germans visit for festivals to share poetry, food and, even, uhum, beer, a rather uncommon commodity in this part of the world. I’m not a big drinker myself. In fact, I really frown upon it. Apple juice all-around.
But like the parliamentary speaker said, it’s about cultural exchange. I peeked in at recent Octoberfest celebrations at a swanky hotel here. I won’t name it, but its name starts with an S, ends with an N, and has H-E-R-A-T-O in between.
Spreading cheer
I saw not only kegs of you-know-what, and an oom-pah-bah band from Bavaria, but Yemeni running around in green felt hats and Alpine leather shorts. I couldn’t wait for everyone to yodel. The point is gangs of kidnapped Germans could spread that kind of cheer across Yemen’s countryside.
And all just in time for Eid.
I have only one fear. U.S. President Bush. He’s already slapped around German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for not supporting America’s plans for Iraq. What if Germans now spread, uh, cheer through Yemen and some eventually reaches Baghdad? Oh, the consequences.
Anyway, wearing a ball cap and runners apparently boosts the odds of getting picked up. I’d better get ready. If you see Jean upon her return, tell her not to worry. The stove is turned off.
Bound voyage.
Thomas Froese
([email protected]) is an
editor with the Yemen Times.