My Life in Yemen [Archives:1999/42/Focus]

October 18 1999

By: Judith Brown
A British nurse/manager working in Sana’a with ICD, managing the Refugee Health Project. She has been working in Sana’a since February 1999.
I was offered my present job in Yemen in December last year, which seemed to fit perfectly with my hopes and aspirations. I am a nurse and I have worked with refugees before in Burundi and South Lebanon, and I enjoy living amongst Arabic people. But just after I accepted the post in Yemen, some tourists were kidnapped and later killed in Yemen, and the British foreign office no longer recommended people to travel here. I decided to ignore the foreign office advice and this was supported by my very loving family, who knew how much I wanted to take this job.
With the support of work colleagues and new friends in Sana’a, I started to settle into my life and work. Press reports in England were of anarchic tribes and chaotic jurisdiction but I found a country trying hard to develop a democratic system. I was told that the health indicators in Yemen were amongst the worst in wold, and although I’ve seen much suffering here, I’ve also met many committed and knowledgeable health professionals and I’ve seen the beginnings of a sustainable health service in many parts of Yemen. I’ve seen much poverty amongst Yemen people, and I’ve also seen how many Yemenis work very hard and for long hours to try to improve things for themselves and their families. I see hope for the future of Yemen, which has many resources which could be used to give all Yemeni people the chance of a better life.
I’ve had the chance to travel to many parts of Yemen; Hodeidah, Aden, Taiz, and Hadramaut, as well as the countryside around Sana’a, and seen many fascinating places. The tourist industry which last year earned a lot of money for Yemen has now virtually collapsed, leaving many people unemployed and without income. I’ve met many people who previously worked in the tourist industry, who ask me why tourists no longer come to Yemen, as they have always treated visitors with respect. It’s a hard question to answer, but the tourist industry can only make certain growth if visitors think they will be safe. There are many beautiful countries in the world, and if Yemen is considered to be unsafe then holiday makers will go elsewhere.
In Yemen, like in every country, I have met a few people who have been dishonest and rude, but the large majority of Yemeni people have treated me with generosity, friendship and warmth. I take advice from my employers and friends, and I take no risks which would knowingly put me in a dangerous position. I’ve been made to feel safe and welcome here, and I enjoy my life in Sana’a.
On 26th September, I was driving through Sana’a with my husband in the daytime when we stopped at a junction on Fifty Metre Road, near Shahran Hotel. Suddenly and unexpectedly, my car door were thrown open, and I found myself looking at a face which I did not know, filled with venomous hate, and two Kalashnikovs were pointed at me. On the other side of the car, my husband had a similar experience. Our first thought was that we were about to be kidnapped, but it transpired that these bandits wanted our car. After a few confused minutes, it was all over and they were driving away with our vehicle. Since then, people from all countries have been extremely supportive, the passers by who helped us, my employers, our friends and neighbors, my work colleagues. If we needed to restore our faith in human nature, then the display of kindness and thoughtfulness following this incident left us in no doubt of how wonderful people can be.
The incident was reported to the police who took careful statements, but so far, the car has not been recovered, although rumors reach me of where the car is now located. But unless the perpetrators of this type of crime are caught and punished, the views of the West is that Yemen is a country where tribal criminals are above the law. This will mean foreign people will no longer visit Yemen and tourism will not recover, foreign investment in industries in Yemen will decline, and aid agencies and their workers will eventually want to leave. The people who will suffer will not be those from the rich countries in the West, but the people of Yemen, who deserve a better life for themselves. The men who committed these crimes do not have the well-being of Yemen and the Yemeni people in their hearts and minds. My husband and I are survivors of a vicious crime, but the whole country of Yemen in the suffering victim.
My message to the men who commit these crimes is that you need to think more deeply about the consequences of what you do, to your country, your tribe, your family and yourself. My message to the Yemeni government and jurisdiction is that whilst Yemen is beset with these problems, it cannot develop into a respected nation throughout the world. And my message to the people in Britain and the West is that Yemen is a wonderful country with deserving people, and I hope that one day you will feel confident enough to come to discover Yemen for yourselves. It has been a special privilege to be here, and I hope in the future I shall have many more happy times living and working in Sana’a.