In the land of the Queen of Saba

I visited Yemen in 1998 and recall it was quite an experience. It was a business trip and I only stayed a couple of days in Sana'a. The unification of North and South Yemen happened in 1990 but a short civil war erupted in 1994 which was won by the North. The country was, and still is, very unstable, and it appeared that the Government did not have full control, especially outside of the capital, where tribal leaders held the real power. These tribes were also behind the kidnapping of foreigners, sometimes for money and others just to obtain advantages for their regions.
Arriving in Sana'a airport, the first hurdle was to go through passport control - even with a valid visa it took quite a long time whilst officials slowly checked every single page of the passports of each of the people waiting in line. I arrived at the Sheraton Sana'a Hotel, which since January 2013 has been taken over by the U.S. State Department to house it´s diplomats. The hotel was advertised as 5-star though, in reality, it was more like a 2-star hotel in Europe. In a way it reminded me of the T.V series Fawlty Towers. The rooms were very basic, we had a reception hosted by the Swiss manager of the hotel to welcome us, the entertainment was provided by a Bulgarian group and the food was...well, not what you would expect.
Sana'a is a city of contrasts, where you would see the newest model Mercedes trying to drive through a herd of sheep; a city where a lot of people walked around with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and all the men wore a dagger called jambia; and where all activity slowed down from around 1 PM when the men engaged in the ritual of chewing khat, a plant that contains an amphetamine-like stimulant. The architecture of the city is very particular with multi-story buildings that look like mini-skyscapers. The markets in the city, especially the one for spices, are unmissable.


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