Friday, February 11, 2011


Bite-sized adventures, like my stint as a faux reporter, have kept me sane through the monotony of study. Regardless, this past week of Arabic was particularly strenuous and Sana’a rendered no remedy for the stress; the tedium of academia awakened my travel vices and forced me out of Sana’a.

My friend had read of a town called Gahana, 20 km outside of Sana’a, which had a market full of assorted fruits, vegetables and light weaponry. Aching to flee the city and curious as hell, we decided to investigate this “weapons” market.

We signaled a cab, and with a mixture of broken Arabic and misguided sign language (miming the firing of weapons) we relayed our destination to the driver and were quickly en route.

Leaving the confusion of Sana’a ushered in a calm as we made our way toward Gahana. Clustered buildings transformed into small countryside homes separated by great distances and ancient land rights.

The road into Gahana slices the city in half, and small shops line both sides of the main street. About a stone’s throw beyond the stores, houses dot the landscape, all the way to the base of distant mountains. The grey houses are built with local earth and, being so, fade seamlessly into the mountains on the horizon.

Entering the city, our curiosity was satisfied in seconds. Shops hugging the road colorfully advertise the arsenal of weapons they carry. We hopped out of the taxi and approached the nearest storefront. Ironically, sharing a building with a weapons store was a candy shop. I imagined the conversation:

“I’ll take a Snickers.”
“Anything else?”

“Ummm … you know what? I’ll take that AK-47 too.”

We discovered that buying a weapon here was free of paper work, waiting periods, and registration. My friend asked if he could fire some rounds and, to my surprise, if he was willing to pay, they would allow him. I thought this would mean relocation to a shooting range tucked away somewhere in the city … Nope. The shopkeeper grabbed an AK-47 hanging from the wall, slammed a magazine into it, jumped the counter and handed the rifle to my friend. The man pointed up, indicating sky as the direction of fire.

As my friend lifted the rifle, pedestrians, cars and motorbikes maintained a steady flow in the street. My mind raced and I almost had a heart attack imagining any number of terrible scenarios that could be mere seconds away. Thankfully, four rounds were safely fired at a forty-five degree angle into the distance (I don’t think the bullets could have reached the mountains). My friend forked over the cash and we proceeded to another store. Craving more rounds, my friend appealed to another shopkeeper with guns on display. The man agreed, and, this time, better precautions were taken. We followed him behind the shop to a clearing that left nothing between us and a distant mountain. After my friend fired a few rounds, we walked to a candy shop, which happened to be the last of the stores lining the road.

Suddenly, a fight broke out in front of the store we first visited upon our arrival. I asked a local standing nearby if this was a problem, and he assured us: “no problem.” More men rushed to the scene, but not to settle the dispute. People in the crowd engaged in heated exchanges, and two men began to fight over a rifle. Tugging, pulling and yelling, they fought over the rifle while the others continued to trade heated words. We watched until we heard the crack of rifle fire from within the angry crowd. We dipped behind the store. “Small problem,” said the local.

Our taxi driver had been attentive to the situation, and seeing our position, quickly drove our way. We dashed across the street and jumped into the safety of his car.

Returning to Sana’a felt like coming home—a sharp reminder that things are quite different outside Sana’a.

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