After a minor delay at customs, I met with Assam (YIAL’s public relations guy) and I was escorted to my apartment. During the ride, I discovered that my “minor delay” at customs was Assam arguing on my behalf and preventing my deportation back to Jordan on the next flight. Since the Christmas Day Bomber, Yemeni customs have tightly regulated who comes into their country to study. Supposedly, YIAL had informed me that I was to tell customs I was traveling in Yemen as a tourist, not a student. Luckily, Assam knew a friend at the airport and after a financial gift was given to lull the agitation my arrival caused, I was allowed to proceed. In my first hour in Yemen, I unknowingly contributed to the rampant corruption plaguing the country. YES.
Assam also told me that some other students were going to travel during the approaching weekend (weekends here are Thursday and Friday), and that I was welcome to join. I did.
After my first two days of school I was eager to embark on the weekend trip. One student opted out of the adventure and our final number was three; Assam, Abdullah (a student from Thailand), and myself. The drive to Zabid would take 6 hours, so our journey began at dawn, and I dozed in and out of sleep for the first half of the trip. Military checkpoints were frequent, and I still can’t decide if the checkpoints are comforting or demand concern. About four hours into the trip, we began to feel the pangs of hunger and, democratically, decided to eat.
I’ll never forget the restaurant at which we choose to eat. There was no wall separating us from the nearby street, allowing the noise to carry into the restaurant and the fumes of passing trucks to float into my next bites of food. The restaurant workers added to the cacophony with relentless yelling and screaming, and being submerged in the new tongue, it sounded like no more than incoherent epithets. I'd sat next to the restaurant's sink, and when diners washed their hands and afterwards snapped them dry, drops of water would smack my face, hands and meal. There were two fans above us, each rattling violently but managing to do little to ease the oppressive heat. A large mud oven (which looked more like a big bee hive) was used for cooking the only item on the main course: lamb. Dozens of legs of lamb had been wrapped in aluminum foil and tossed into the hive containing heated charcoal, and, eventually, the lamb became edible. The three of us shared, along with a family of flies, two legs of lamb, fresh bread, rice and a hot salsa. The meal was excellent.
Energized, we continued to Zabid. Stomachs full, the remaining two hours cruised by and Zabid readily welcomed us.