A Trip With A Potential Kidnapper? [Archives:1998/26/Last Page]

June 29 1998

Going to see some traditional villages in Yemen doesn’t mean that you have to go very far from the capital. Kawkaban only 55 km. away on the road to Thalan and the Mahweet province offers the Sanaa resident and foreigner alike a chance to be in harmony with nature and a chance to get away from the pollution that is becoming an ever increasing problem in the big cities. The initial road taken was that leading to Wadi Dahr until a cut off point leading in a more westerly direction; a tourist going out of the capital can drive towards the Asr district and continue on the road leading past the Plaza Suites and the Shamlan water distillery. The driver jokingly said he wanted to kidnap me but was assured that by doing that he’d only have to pay for my keep and clothe me. After all I’m not a rich company person or an embassy official so why bother!
Anyway I was little worried because my guide knew the local mentality and went on explaining to the driver that I was just a teacher, not important enough to get any attention from the bureaucratic officials if I went missing.
A view of the countryside takes in the town of Dohaa just five minutes out of the city where locals say that the best qat for the city is grown. My guide and friend, Nasser took me past town with numerous groves of flourishing qat trees. Inclement weather out of the city made driving a little slippery but with a four wheel drive we soon past the rain clouds and reached a Check Point Charley where we all had to produce ID’s and I had to show proof of my residency in Yemen. My guide and driver had to leave their identification behind which would be picked up on the return. This sort of security pleased me, until then I thought I had to produce everything including my birth certificate. The security guard said he was cautious about kidnapping.
Nasser remarked that if he was really intent on smuggling me out off the capital why not take me to Hajjah or Marib instead of just 50 km. away. I could see that the security man would not buy that kind of logic.
After the checkpoint we drove until a fork in the road, to the left Kawkaban was another 9 km. and to the right past a mountainous butte, you can head for Thaalan. A couple of kilometers down the road coasting this mountainous chain there was a surprise, a traditional gypsum plastered Yemeni building perched on a ledge against the mountain with our destination on top and towards the far side.
The road started to go up the butte and reached a small square in front of a castle wall entrance to the town Kawkaban. All traffic leads through the narrow door to the village, passing through the first thing you hear is “welcome to Yemen” from a villager at the entrance. At the village entrance the paved road ends and a rocky dirt road begins. Inside are houses, clustered together much like in the old part of Sanaa but without the crowded urban sprawl around; my first impression was the natural beauty of the mountainside and no plastic bags on the road. Children playing along the road greeted us as we drove past the houses and into a square where there were a couple of tourist hotels, one of which had a small folkloric museum. Since my goal was to see the countryside from the mountain top, I didn’t linger long in the square, just hopped back into the pick-up and continued past a town mosque towards the town edge. There was a wonderful view of the agricultural lands below waiting for me, with Mahweet province in the distance on one side and the road from Sanaa leading to Shibam on the other. The main attraction though was a closer view of that house on the mountain ledge we saw on our approach and which we could now photograph from above.
We took in the mountain air, tried to shoot down a buzzard and then headed back down and a little further towards Al Ahjar where I could see water from the hill top running down through the town to irrigate the fields below. My hosts wanted a group photo with me holding one of their rifles and we listened to Hadrami music and song on the way back.
Would I venture to a neighbouring town out of Sanaa during these troubled times? The answer could be a message to any adventurous tourist that comes around; know your guide first; as long as you go to the towns which are not not troubled areas like the road to Marib or Hajjah, the risks are very slim.
You might even end up taking a photo with your would be kidnapper and brandish his rifle!
Martin Dansky/Yemen Times