Brussels Children Get a Glimpse of ‘Le Yemen’ [Archives:1998/05/Culture]

February 2 1998

On the sixth of January, 1998, the 5th graders of the Ecole du Chant d’Oiseau in Brussels were treated to a real delight. Ten-year old Miriam Koch made a presentation on her visit to Yemen. The little boys and girls were enchanted as the descriptions flowed out of a land, almost from one of their fairy tale books. “Our trip started from Sanaa, a city that is over 2,000 years old. The most impressive aspect of this city is the architecture. The buildings (as the pictures show) are quite unique,” she explained. Other cities the presentation covered include Aden, Mukalla and Shibam. If you travel in Yemen, you are bound to be struck with something that Yemenis do differently. One thing that immediately faces you as you walk the streets is the djambia or dagger. “Chaque homme porte un sabre”. Yes indeed, most Yemeni male adults rap a wide-band belt with a dagger tucked into it at the front center. “Another thing I noticed is that electricity is disconnected for about two hours every evening, starting around 6:00 pm… That immediately left little Miriam worrying about how Yemeni children do their homework, as there is no electricity, and without modern amenities. “Ile ne font pas leurs devoirs comme nous. Ile le font sur des coussins car ils n’ont pas de table”.
A third interesting aspect of Yemeni living is qat. She calls it the famous drug which troubles Yemen. But it is all over the place as it is not the illegal type. A fourth aspect of Yemeni living that drew little Miriam’s attention was the absence of cutlery. “Il n’y a pas d’assiettes, pas de couverts… Les Yemenites mangent avec les doigts de las main droite”. An important ingredient of Yemeni dishes is bread, of which “I ate plenty”. Transportation is an interesting aspect of life in Yemen. She describes the mini bud (dabbab), the 4 wheel drive big cars, and of course, the camels, donkeys and other traditional ways of transportation. They all co-exists. The presentation was accurate and well-balanced, one would say well beyond the abilities of a ten-year old, even if born to German parents. She definitely got some help, but hey, give the little girl some credit. She did most of the work, and made the presentation.
The information was supported with telling pictures and useful maps. Breifly describing the country’s climate, flora and fauna, and even the relevant taxi fares, Miriam’s presentation could very well become a rudimentary tourist guide, at least in the towns she visited. We can now say that some fresh young European men and women from well-to-do families know something about Yemen, a country steeped in history and, until very recently, shrouded with mystery. When they grow up, these young people will hopefully have a broader outlook towards the Arab world in general and Yemen in particular.
This is probably the best way to remove obstacles standing in the way of various nations of the world getting to know each other – let their young folk meet each other and tell their friends about it, just like Miriam did. It would be the first step toward a more tolerant and harmonious world fit for the next generations to live in peace and prosperity. If you get to recognize the other nations as equal human beings, it is doubtful that you’ll ever want to go to war with them.