From Court to Sky Al-Maqaleh Flies in Search of Freedom [Archives:2000/27/Sports]

July 3 2000

Yemeni glider, Mohammed Saleh Al-Maqaleh was born in Ibb, the greenest city in Yemen. He used to work as a prosecutor but he left for something far more pleasurable. He started as the first wrestler in Yemen and then, despite its risks, turned to hang gliding.
During his career as a sportsman he has participated in exciting events. He has challenged all the difficulties and risks to practice his hobby and has not listened to those trying to warn him and his family against the possibly deadly consequences of such a perilous game.
Recently, he participated in the Hang Gliding Championships in France as the first Arab glider to fly across the Alps and came back home with a valuable cup.
He strongly criticizes the role the Ministry of Sports and Youth had in regard to encouraging sportsmen. However, he thinks that Yemeni sports are still in the very beginning of development.
His main dream is to establish a club for hang gliding, but he complained about the ignorance and negligence of the authorities concerned.
Al-Maqaleh started this kind of sport in 1986. He is married and has two children, Moad and Loai. The Yemen Times met with him and had the following chat:

Q: How did you start?
A: I first started as a wrestler. I was the first Yemeni wrestler and I helped to establish it as a sport in Yemen. Then I practiced hang gliding as the first Arab hang glider. So many Arab and foreign newspapers have talked about this sport and my participation in its activities.
Presently, I practice hang gliding and diving. I am also planning to fly with an engine-glider.
I started hang gliding in 1986 while I was a student at Sana’a University. At the time, I glided down the Wadi Dhahr mountain. I was awarded a certificate of merit and an amount of money from the University. I was also given a certificate as the first Yemeni glider. It is no boast to say that I was the first Arab to hang glide at the time.

Q: What made you choose this risky sport?
A: I always look for freedom. I enjoy undertaking hazardous and rough tasks. I used to be a wrestler while I was working as a prosecutor and now I fly in the sky. These are difficult tasks. However, hang gliding was a dream that had haunted me since I was a child. I envied birds whenever I went to the mountains and saw them flying freely in the sky. I thought of imitating them, learning their language as well as their movements. Fortunately, the dream has come true.
I could bring back the history of Abbas ben Farnas, who was the first Arab to think of flying. Hang gliding was not practiced in the Arab world in 1986. So the choice of this sport was a reminder of one of the leading Arab’s attempts to fly.

Q: What about your participation?
A: There has been no Arab championship in this sport so far. I participated in championships in Germany and France. It was interested in moving from Yemen to Europe to practice this sport there. I have introduced Yemen to my European colleagues and I am still in the beginning of establishing this sport here.
My best performance has been the recent one in France in which I won a cup.

Q: What are the most interesting situations that have happened to you while gliding?
A: Hang gliding is full of interesting events. When I first glided over Wadi Dhahr, many people tried to dissuade me because they were worried about my safety. The University itself was very worried and it requested me to write a letter that I was responsible for anything that may happen to me.
I once had a very embarrassing situation with a goatherd when I landed on some of his goats. Another time I got myself stuck on a high tree and I was rescued by police. I had another interesting experience when I once glided down the mountains of Ibb. It was about 6 o’clock in the evening and it was a little bit dark. When people saw me flying over their heads they thought that I was a genie. As I landed in one of their fields they started looking for me with torches and sticks in their hands.

Q: What about the reaction of your family?
A: My wife is well-educated and considerate. But the problem is with my parents who are mostly influenced by the warnings of society telling them that I might die. My mother used to fast for the whole day praying to God that nothing bad would happen to me whenever I flew.

Q: How do you evaluate the role of the Ministry in encouraging sports and sportsmen?
A: It is well-known amongst sportsmen in our country that support and encouragement for sports and sportsmen are very weak. I depended on myself when I started and it took me a long time to succeed.
Encouragement from the Ministry of Youth varies according to the culture of its staff. It needs a long time until people in general and those of the Ministry of Youth and Sports realize the importance of sport.
The problem with the Ministry of Youth and Sports is that its staff want to be everything. This means that hang gliding will take a long time until it becomes popular.

Q: What about establishing a club for hang gliding?
A: I have offered the Ministry the idea of establishing a club for this sport, but so far I have not got any response.

Q: How is your relation with the Ministry?
A: I do not work at the Ministry of Youth and Sports. I work in the Judicial system. However, my love for sports motivated me to establish wrestling and hang gliding as a service to my country. All these were sponsored by me and it was me who helped bring these sports in Yemen to light.

Q: What about your recent participation in France?
A: I flew for a week in France. Then I flew over the Alps. I was the first Arab glider to do that. I would like here to thank Yemeni TV who covered the event and is now preparing a program about me.

Q: What are your future plans?
A: I am planning to fly with an engine glider. This is a new sport not only in Yemen but in the Arab world. I am planning to establish a federation for this kind of sport in Yemen. I feel optimistic about it and I think that it will prosper.
I will travel to Jordan and Saudi Arabia to participate there in the near future.