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Having been forced to fly out of Eritrea, I landed in the capital of Yemen, Sanaa, on a 2-day all expenses paid transit. After hanging about in the airport for a while I, along with the other transit passengers, were chaperoned to our hotel, near the city. I immediately hit the streets, and headed to the UNESCO-listed Old Town of Sanaa.
And it was amazing.
I was dropped off immediately in front of the Janbeya market. A Janbeya is a traditional Yemeni dagger, often ornately decorated, that all males strap around their waists and carry around proudly. In my two days in the country there must have been only a handful of men, usually dressed in suits, who werent straddling this small, elegant blade. I even saw two men fighting with one but wasn't sure if they were playing around or not because another man came out of nowhere, shouted at them and they cautiously walked away in different directions. I wanted to buy one but, without my main rucksack (I would get that back in Djibouti), there was no way I would have been allowed to take it on board the plane with me as hand luggage. A few of the shop owners let me try them on for a larf though.
After that I tried to find the infamous Kalashnikov market, placed side-by-side with every other good that one would look for on an ordinary shopping trip to the market. People werent sure what I was talking about until I motioned firing a big gun, along with sound effects. This was often followed by head-nodding acknowledgement of what I was asking about, followed by some muttering between the locals, followed by someone pointing in one general direction.
However, my search was continually hindered by discovering new areas of the town I wanted to explore further, and people accosting me to take pictures of them. In one area, for example, I was gleefully brought into a chicken slaughterhouse, where every staff-member/chicken murderer insisted I take a picture of them beheading a chicken with a standard kitchen knife. It was not pretty watching chicken heads flying about (they really did fly about), but they (not the chickens) kept smiling and thanking me for coming into their shop.
I loved this country and its people immediately and made the decision on my first day that I would definitely come back in the future.
I finally found the Kalashnikov market and after taking the usual touristy pictures I was on my way. I wandered around the rest of town, got some lunch and then went back to admiring the amazing architecture (which usually bores the hell out of me) of the ancient mud houses. It was an awing city.
The next day I walked around the city watching craftsmen busy welding, sewing and carving, trades no doubt passed on from one generation to the next for centuries. Being in Sanaa was like going back in time, something epitomised by watching a camel turning a grinder in an old-fashioned mill.
In a land dubbed a terrorist state I felt totally safe, thoroughly welcome and once again observant to the crap we hear in the Western news of how the Middle East is dangerous. I'm sure that those chickens would have disagreed.
I can't wait to come back here for a longer stint and have a look around properly.