Mukalla after Al-Khour: From ugly duckling to beautiful swan [Archives:2006/957/Reportage]

June 22 2006

Saeed Al-Batati
To paint an accurate picture of today's Mukalla and Al-Khour's impact upon the city, one must go back in time two years and take a look around. The site of Al-Khour (meaning the canal) previously was known as Al-Iga (a sewage disposal gathering place), where thousands of gallons of raw, fetid sewage was pumped, creating a lake of waste reeking with unpleasant smells and a powerful source of mosquitoes. It was a real blot on the landscape with its unbearable, musty smells that estranged Mukalla from both locals and tourists. Because people couldn't stomach the stench or the sight of Al-Iga, many left for cleaner spaces. Meanwhile, Mukalla thoughtlessly was forgotten amid the sewage marring its landscape.

In 2002, the cornerstone was laid for a long-awaited project to replace Al-Iga with an artificial canal. Locals rejoiced at the news in high hopes that the project would rid Mukalla of its fetid swamp. For three years, constructors dragged their heels on the project; yet, when the city was earmarked to host celebrations for the 15th anniversary of unification, they worked to the best of their abilities to complete it at the stipulated time, a truly awe-inspiring achievement proving that “Where there's a will, there's a way.”

During the project's last lap, the city appeared to be wearing a new dress for a new era. From an aesthetic point of view, Al-Khour is the most beautiful spot in Mukalla, if not Hadramout in general. Located in the heart of the city, the artificial channel is considered a beautifying watershed. To those who've never visited it or moved away for a long time, the city appears as a bride wearing a diamond necklace around her neck.

Now, with the newly-constructed canal project, Mukalla is poised to become a dominant Yemeni tourist attraction, with popular opinion giving it precedence over other holiday hotspots around the republic. It also explains the growing number of tourists to the city in recent years. People agree that Al-Khour marked a cosmetic turning point in Mukalla's history.

Dr. Naji Al-Kathiri, getting a real kick out of watching the splendid view of Al-Khour, said the canal was a great project that had beautified and cleaned up the city as never before. “The city got rid of Al-Iga with fresh water from the Red Sea replacing the disgusting sewage. Now it's a place of tranquility and peace of mind. Previously, it was difficult for Mukalla residents to be comfortable for a picnic, but now Al-Khour provides the best spot for this and other forms of entertainment,” he added. Visitors can see on both sides of the canal as water falls still and placid into the channel. They also can enjoy a fascinating 15-minute ride in a traditional blue boat along the waterway.

An enchanting place

The charming view is enough to attract thousands of visitors to Mukalla. “In the past, we'd never seen residents of Sayoun and Tarim come to Mukalla with any frequency, but now they visit the city often, proving that Al-Khour is an attracting factor,” one citizen noted.

Another individual expressed his admiration, stating that Al-Khour is the crowing glory of Mukalla. Visitors from outside Yemen also detected the city's subtle changes with the new project. “I'm impressed by the pace of development that's taken place in such a short time period. I came here in February 2005 and found Al-Khour under-construction. It was a dirty, stinking place, but now it's a jewel of Mukalla, as well as the gateway to Hadramout,” a visitor to Yemen remarked.

The status of the whole area around Al-Khour has increased, both economically and aesthetically. “I hail the government and the governor for their efforts,” said Sheikh Ahmed Jamalulyl, head of English Language Unit (ELU) at Al-Ahgaff University and a Kenyan of Hadrami origin.

Overcrowded parks

On Friday nights, Al-Khour's parks are absolutely jam-packed with visitors. As the sun sets, a crowd of people trickles to the site, thinking it a good place for the weekend holiday. Sea corniches were forsaken after Al-Khour's inauguration, as many weekenders consider Al-Khour's calmness and beauty better than the huge waves of the sea.

The canal's mesmerizing park usually is overcrowded with individuals and families looking forward to enjoying a restful time after the work week. Some families stay up until the wee hours of the morning. The “early birds” get the better spots, leaving no room for latecomers who arrive with the same idea. Demand is constant upon local authorities to increase the number of parks with larger capacities as visitor numbers increase, especially as Mukalla is about to receive thousands of Yemeni expatriates during the upcoming summer vacation.

It's no exaggeration to say that Al-Khour has brought about a previously nonexistent social phenomenon. In a society with deeply entrenched conservative views, it was uncommon to see a couple walking in public, holding hands and exchanging words of love. However, such things exist in Mukalla nowadays.

Qat isn't allowed in Al-Khour's parks, but this isn't a handicap for chronic qat chewers with their own methods of enjoying Al-Khour's impressive view. Owners of deluxe hotels and buildings overlooking Al-Khour complain that the pavement has become a resting place for qat chewers.

Local residents' previous repugnance to Al-Iga made the price of outlying lands very cheap; however, with the first drop of Red Sea water that flowed into the area, prices skyrocketed to astounding rates, making such lands inaccessible to even mid-level businessmen. Prices for plots of land before Al-Khour's construction were approximately YR 6 to 8 million, but at the moment, they exceed YR 100 million.

A matter of priority

Hadramout University lecturer Dr. Khalid Belkhashar seems to be out of sync with the majority view. Instead of spending money constructing Al-Khour, he believes funds should have gone to more pressing projects “As a cosmetic project, I believe Al-Khour is fine. But is it a priority? The city needs survival projects in fields of health, education, water supplies, electricity and so on. After that, we can think of entertainment.”

He continued, “In other words, Al-Khour gives a false impression that everything is going well in this growing city. However, there's only one public general hospital in the city; 50 percent of our students study in the afternoon (second shift) because schools are insufficient in the one-shift learning process and there are summer crises involving water and electricity supplies. But who knows, probably tomorrow they'll build hospitals, schools and mosques on the edge of Al-Khour.”

All in all, the general impression is that Al-Khour has made a big difference in Mukalla which will last for years to come.