They Say….. I Say [Archives:1999/39/Last Page]

September 27 1999

By Salwa Mohammed Sarhi

They say “when you are in Rome, do like the Romans.” I say, “when you are in Yemen, do not look for kidnappers!” The reason I say this is because of an event I attended few weeks ago at the Taj Sheba. The subject was ” Tourism in Yemen” and the presenter and his audience were non-Yemenis. The presenter had an enormous amount of passion for Yemen, its architecture and unique beauty.
During his presentation, he mentioned how the recent stories of kidnapping foreigners and tourists are hurting Yemeni tourism and how damaged the picture of Yemen has become in the eyes of the world. He continued to elaborate on Yemen’s beauty as a country and culture and concluded that he would like to think of Yemen as a “fully secure place.”
This ending didn’t set well to some in the audience. It created some mumbles and grumbles the turned into a harsh voice of a woman from the audience, “how can you call Yemen a fully secure place after all these kidnappings?!”The presenter calmly explained to her that yes, Yemen has kidnappings, but he also remind her that some of these stories happen in places well known to the kidnapped as unsecured, yet they more than willingly continue their pilgrimage to these places.
A hot debate was about to ensue when the presenter tactfully hopped down from the stage redirecting the audience attention to a film about Tourism in Yemen.
I was watching and hearing the quick, yet so loaded subject and I couldn’t help but wonder how a non-Yemeni could feel so much passion for Yemen and call it a “fully secure place”, while another non-Yemeni felt unsafe from such description.
Maybe Yemen shouldn’t be called fully secure place, but where in the world would you call a place so and be 100% sure?
I have traveled a lot and I have lived abroad for some years, and like Yemen, I have to avoid certain places. The first question I usually ask when traveling abroad is: “which places should I avoid?”
And even if I was oblivious enough not to anticipate danger, the highly publicized media news would surly catch my attention. I will not go in de tail to describe the daily killings I used to see on TV abroad, the daily reports of rape, battery, abduction, children shooting children, mothers killing their kids etc.
Some of these horrible incidents would happen in a very familiar place and in so-called “fully secure” places.
Who would think that a children’s school would be the stage of a massacre performed by a child? Who would even indulge in the thought that a church, the place for serenity and goodness would be instead the grave for its congregation when a lunatic marches in killing those peaceful souls?
Why do people still live in these places if so much dangers hangs around them? why do they still sleep, wake up, go to work and send their children to school? why don’t they label their country “not fully secure?”
I really want to ask which is more dangerous and less secure? Is it a place where you know where danger is and how to avoid it or a place where you can be the next victim not knowing it still?
I, by no means pretend to call other countries “not fully secure” just because I read about killings etc., on the contrary, I don’t call any place “fully secure” since there is no such a place.
However, my point is to let those accusing Yemen of being a dangerous place know hoe misleading and false their judgments are. Yemeni authorities and those concerned have made it their duty to spread information about unsecured areas in Yemen. Now, with this information easily obtained at embassies, tourism companies…etc., why do some still go to these places having full knowledge of the consequences? Are they looking for kidnappers?
If the case is not so, than I would really like to know what other reasons compel them to do so?
I am only referring to those kidnapping cases where the kidnapped knew well enough where not go, yet they recklessly ignore the safety measures and seek what they want it to be their version of Arabian adventures with the very boring scenario encountering desert and camel (as they assume all Yemen to be.)
I certainly can’t sympathize with those who still hold Yemen responsible for all the kidnapping. Why should it still be Yemen’s responsibility to free the kidnapped offer him/herself to kidnappers on a silver plate?
Of course the kidnapped are not losing much, but Yemen is losing its tourism income and the good image it carries as a country of good hospitality and generosity.
Those in the tourism business know well how bad the image of Yemen is from the drastic drop in the number of tourists coming to Yemen. And who is to blame if all they read about Yemen is news of kidnapped tourists? (which is about the only time Yemen comes to the spot light)
Some people do not even know about the existence of the country called Yemen, yet the media of these countries make sure they introduce Yemen within the kidnapping package.
Regarding all the bad publicity in the international press, I can’t help but ask: how prejudice that is to Yemen? And how far can bad in publicity?
It certainly reaches very far since the effect is more bad publicity and fear of being in Yemen.
Meanwhile, Yemen finds itself trapped in a very tight spot. Yemen feels obliged to free the kidnapped by all means, to avoid more bad publicity and to ensure those foreigners in Yemen, that Yemen does care for their well being and safety.
Thus, my question remains: Is it really fair to Yemen?