Taking more pride to criticize and less enthusiasm to act – let alone set examplesKey to success is knowing yourself [Archives:2003/669/Opinion]

September 18 2003

Ahmed Abdul Ghaffar
[email protected]

I would like to start with the teaching of our famous Abbas Ibn Al-Ahnaf “There are 4 things in life which once gone never come back. The four things are Time, Words, Opportunities and Arrows”. Do we Yemenis really care for these things ?. In fact, we use our precious scarce resources of water to grow Qat which kills our Time, let Words and Arrows fly without restraint and in the process, let Opportunities go by.
I would like to mention here a famous quote of Scott Peck on importance of time – “until you value yourself, you will not value your time. And until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”
I refer to article “Let us save our Yemen from barbarians!” published in the issue dated 21st August, 2003 by Mr. Yazan Al Saghiry.
I would not like to delve into pros and cons of the incident involving diplomat as I believe that this is not an isolated incident as many such incidents may be taking place. This is because the image of common Yemeni as perceived by foreigners is very low. Who is responsible for this?. Now I would like to answer two questions the author has rightly asked, “Why and till when” i.e. why Yemenis are not respected and till when they will not be respected.
As a true Yemeni, even my blood boils when someone utters bad comments about Yemen. But it causes me equal anguish and embarrassment when I see my Yemeni brothers behaving in a very undisciplined manner which is witnessed by foreigners.
The fundamental principle of respect is one should command respect and not demand respect. And Character is the foundation stone on which one has to build to win respect.
Now let me try to answer the question “Why?”
The foreigners do not have to really examine us deeply to understand our instinctive dislike for observing rules and respecting others.
a- Foreigners get the taste of our behavior right from boarding the aircraft. It is a common sight to see the crew pleading with Yemenis repeatedly to take up their allotted seats, put on the safety belt and switch off the Mobile Phones prior to take off.
b- On arrival at the airport, the queues at the immigration and custom counters are commonly violated by people with influence. This rarely happens in other countries and if it does happen, it is met with strong resistance. I would like to quote one incident which happened in a foreign country. – Once, a very influential person bypassed the queue and approached the lady at the counter to attend to him first. The lady very politely told him to stand in the queue to which the man retorted “Do you know, who am I?” The lady politely said “I do not know” and immediately made an announcement on the public address system that here is a man who has lost his identity and needs help”. You will understand the embarrassment the gentleman had to go through.
c- The less I say of the traffic discipline on the road is better. Even you can see the people not respecting the policeman who is trying to control the traffic.. The sight of people engaging into conversation in the midst of roads holding the whole traffic to a halt is not uncommon. No wonder we have a very high level of traffic accident casualties. To add to this the air pollution from Dabbabs (minibuses) and noise pollution from Motor cycles will make visitors feel only worse.
d- The firing of the gunshots in the air and use of fire works during wedding parties shows little concern for the safety of the public.
This shows Yemenis love freedom to the extent that there is no respect for the freedom of the other people.
And the same Yemenis when they are abroad, are well behaved. But the moment they reach the departure counter, they are seen engaged in heavy argument with the airport staff. Does it mean that we will abide by the rules only by force? And if we do not change our attitude, may be one day we will be forced to welcome a foreign force to manage us, as has happened in other countries.
On the hygiene and cleanliness front too, we present ourselves very poorly.
e-. On coming out of the airport, the visitors are exposed to toilets with very low standards of hygiene and cleanliness.
f-. Another unwelcome sight to the foreign traveller is scores of people with blown up cheeks due to Qat. In fact, the first time visitors wonder if people are suffering from some mouth disease until they are explained the phenomenon of Qat chewing.
g-. Leaving aside the five star hotels, the level of service, hygiene and cleanliness is of very low order in the rest of hotels and restaurants. On our main cross country highways, there is not a single restaurant which will meet the hygienic expectation of foreigners.
h- Although the Garbage collectors are provided, one will always find garbage spread around these collectors because of lack of discipline of our citizens.
i- Although, the use of Mobile Phones has become a craze throughout the Arab world, I feel we have overtaken our Arab brothers in a very irrational and unnecessary use of this device.
Being witness to all above, will anyone expect foreigners to respect us. ! They will believe only what they see. As the author rightly says, we are a country of great history but we just cannot afford to bask in the glory of the past and expect outsiders to respect us because of our past. It is said “it does not matter if you can be proud of your ancestors: what matters is if they can be proud of you”.
Of the very dismal picture presented to foreigners, there is one area i.e. local manufacturing industry which tries to give a very good image of our country. The level of cleanliness, hygiene and manufacturing practices in their complexes is of a very high order, which draws words of praise and appreciation from foreign business visitors.

What needs to be done ?
We fortunately inherit great heritage and rich culture. However, this needs to be presented to the world in a proper way. What have we done to promote this cause. I strongly feel that the tourism industry should take the cue from manufacturing industry and start working on our positive points to promote tourism, which can be a powerful engine of growth for the economy.
I believe the problems are solutions in disguise and time is highly ripe that we as a nation indulge in severe introspection. The job of tourism industry is much more difficult than the manufacturing industry as every citizen in his own capacity should be involved to project a good image of the country.
On a long term basis : First and foremost it is imperative that tourism industry appraises the citizens of this dire need to project the country's good image. This is not a easy job and needs a holistic approach from all strata of the society.
A strong media campaign through Television to keep public constantly aware of this need.
The print media too should contribute to this image building activity by publishing articles on this subject instead of focusing on criticism in politics.
Through schools where children who are our future generation should be properly educated on behavior in public places. Even parents should take it unto themselves to appraise their children of this need.
Media or other social organizations should take the lead to organize social gathering of people from different strata of society where addressing of these problems can be discussed and implementation will have far reaching effect.
Also, I would strongly recommend that, people are advised through media campaign to restrict chewing Qat to indoors.
On a short term basis, we must undertake refurbishing of public places like toilets, restaurants, gardens etc. which are frequented by foreigners. The cleanliness and upkeep of taxies need to be enforced. Vehicle should be monitored for air pollution and motor cycles must be fitted with silencers. People undertaking foreign travel should be briefed about behaviour standards, etiquette and discipline.
It is my earnest desire that we should not be looked upon as a country of tribal and uncivilized people. We are known to be very warm and hospitable people and we should take care that this positive aspect of ours is not overshadowed by our behaviour.
I would like to end with the saying “The key to success lies in knowing yourself”.