Sights and Sounds Around Yemen.

This article was initially published in Yemen Today in 2009.

by: Mahwash Ajaz.

Bir Ali Beach, Mukalla
Shanties at Bir Ali Beach, Mukalla, Yemen.

As the 10th of Dhul Hajjah arrived, Sana’a’s streets began emptying as locals began going back to their native cities. Clothing stores were shockingly empty, Shahrah e Sitteen (normally very fast and very crowded) lazily enjoyed only a few cars here and there as cabs and buses desperately looked around for passengers. And soon we’d be one of the ones leaving Sana’a merrily escaping the November/December chill entering the coastal humidity of Mukalla city.

Our early morning flight to Mukalla was a strange experience. While we had barely dipped our muffins into coffee, some airport official demanded that we board the plane 1 hour before takeoff. For a forty-minute flight, I’d think that as overdoing it but we’ve all learnt after the many airport security hassles post-9/11 not to argue with airport officials.

At the hotel breakfast buffet next morning, we entered the dining hall to find cornflakes and boiled eggs strewn all across the floor and a harried manager running here and there trying to seat loud children.

Being an expat, maybe I don’t understand the eating habits in the given culture or maybe I’m just being snobbish about this. But I always thought that the point of a buffet was that you could eat all you want – and piling forty buns in one plate and adorning the table for four with eight bowls of beans was kind of a silly thing to do. The food is all there. You can get it any time you want. And the buffet will go on for another two hours or so. What’s with the urgency?

As we recovered from this cultural shock at breakfast, we headed to Bir Ali beach which is two hours away from Mukalla. I wish I could say that the way to Bir Ali was as beautiful as the beach itself – but that wouldn’t be doing justice to Bir Ali. The beach made up for all the various security checkposts where we had to verify our foreigner status and move on after an exchange of rapid Arabic between our driver and the guards.

Bir Ali can put the Bahamas to shame. And if they constructed those middle-of-the-water resorts here like they did in Tahiti, Yemen could give all these fancy schmancy European beaches a run for their money. The water at Bir Ali makes you understand where they get the word “aquamarine” from and the white sand is a perfect middle color between the dark jagged rocks and the sea. The crabs that scuttle every which way and the small fish pools created naturally by the rocks not only take you one step closer to the true wonder that is nature but they actually make you wish you could build a home right in front of the beach and live there forever.

This Eid was all about pushing the senses beyond their capacities. Not only did we see one of the most spectacular coastal views ever, we traveled on a resident airline of the country that flew us to Mukalla and back 2 hours late. And. We also had the honor to hear a Yemeni wedding.

Not attend, mind you. Hear.

About five hundred yards from our window, a large tent settled itself three days post-Eid and from then on I spent the next four days trying to block the music, the drums and the various other sounds that began early morning and ended late night. I tried shutting down the windows, stuffing pillows over my ears and even went to the other room. Unfortunately the speakers hired by the celebrating household were much superior to my efforts – I had no choice but to endure.

Loud musical ceremonies are a-okay in my book – as long as they’re not disturbing the peace and quiet of the neighboring inhabitants. It’s great that people have the urge to celebrate, it’s only human. But it is also human to think about people around you – who might be ill or trying to study or have an early day the next morning and may not enjoy the music and drums as much as you are right now. They’re probably trying to stuff pillows in their ears and shutting windows and going into other rooms. They’re probably tired from a recent trip where they had to wait for the flight two hours before boarding and where they couldn’t go to the public washroom at the airport because it just wasn’t suitable for any human being to spend more than a second in.

It almost made me want to go back to Bir Ali and live under the straw hut with the crabs.

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