Compass Blog

Expedition By Camel - The First Week In Sanaa

Locations: Oman, Yemen

The Expedition Yemen by Camel blog series by Explorer-In-Residence, Mikael Strandberg, is a detailed account of his far-reaching and most recent exploration to understand the Arab World for himself. He passed through some of the most challenging terrain he has ever crossed and endured temperatures over 48 degrees Celsius. In a place that felt like the oldest place in the world with the oldest thoughts and habits, the only modern day luxuries available were a Camelbak and GPS. His companions included a fiercely determined expedition partner and for transport, a camel named Kensington. Follow Mikael’s quest to uncover the truth and explain through his documentary, the world of the Arabs, Islam, Muslims and the Middle East.

Expedition Yemen by Camel; The First Week in Sanaa

Published: January 2nd, 2012

Sanaa´s International Airport got shelled for the first time a few hours back in time, and the airport is once again closed. I think we just got in by pure luck the whole family! The hour I am writing this is just after the early sunrise prayer, because we just have electricity about two hours a day. At these dead early hours that is a challenge getting up! Today a serious bout of the runs got me going. Due to the war, as the locals call it, it is hard not to get a gut rot after having been invited for food at friend’s houses. Since there’s no electricity, meat and chicken is a gamble. What to do? Well, I will soon have my first shower since I arrived a week back from Dubai.

I don´t think I ever have been as nervous as getting on the plane in Copenhagen, since I had spent weeks researching the possibility to get any camera equipment inside this war torn city. Most people said: “No way you will get it in!”

I was hoping my contacts at high level I had nurtured the first time I was here back in 2009 would do the work for me, but the closer our departure, the more unlikely that seemed, that somebody would tell the security at the airport to let these guys through. When the three of us arrived at the counter in Dubai, we didn´t have a visa and weren´t allowed on board, so we were told that we had to get one in a few hours otherwise we would be put on a plane back to Copenhagen. Now, that would have been the same as economic ruin for the family, since we have invested everything we have in this venture. So we called our friends in Sanaa and as usual, nothing is impossible, so amazingly enough, one of them, Sabri Saleem, were flying out to Dubai a couple of hours later, with his new wife. The wedding we were aiming for, was already over!

So, a few hours later, we were woken by an announcement that the plane from Sanaa had arrived and our friend not only turned up with his new beautiful wife, our visas but also managed to argue in the typical Sanaa fashion, that it wasn´t our fault we didn´t have visas, but the airlines. So we ended up staying in a hotel with a free all you can eat in Dubai and next morning we caught the plane to Sanaa.

Sanaas Airport is a bit like a shack, but we were still worried whether we would get in or not and when I got stopped by a meticulous security officer who was in a bad mood, our friend with connections turned up and helped us through just like that! Can you imagine that happening in Sweden or the US?

It felt great being back in Sanaa! We did immediately see that areas were cut off, heavily guarded by armed police, there were a lot of armed tribes men in the city and things looked more run down than before, but otherwise it was still Sanaa and people cheered, greeted us and they all loved Eva!

So right now, we are studying Arabic again and my lessons starts in an hour and a half. Birds are singing outside the flat or big room that we have at the school and the girls are still sleeping. We have heard a lot of gunfire, some heavy bombs, since we arrived, but we are moving around pretty much as before. We live in a pro-Saleh area for good and bad, just a few hundred metres for Tahrir Square were his supporters are camping. If things change dramatically and Saleh will be removed, that isn´t the best for us at the moment, but probably the best for the people!

But of course the war has affected everything negatively. I have cried twice when meeting our old friends. They´re so thin, they´ve aged a lot and look really haunted by these new experiences. One has lost his brother, who got shot by a sniper whilst they demonstrated. Our friend walked next to him. One runs sick sack every morning and evening when going to and from work avoiding to get hit and he sleeps in his hall, like most other people who are caught between the warring groups, or tribal fighting which it really is. It is like a big cockfight between the president Abduallah Ali Saleh and his two former friends and now deadly enemies (same tribe, the Hashid) who is strongest. Nobody will give away and they just don´t seem to care a bit about their own people, which is really a disaster.

A lot of the infrastructure has come apart, but things still seems to work and it is actually far better than I imagined. No matter what, it feels great being back! But how I am going to get a camel or two, or maybe even a horse or two, or a donkey or two and start travelling, that seems impossible right now. I haven´t taken a photo or done any filming yet, just connecting, meeting people and assessing the situation.

Pamela and Eva are doing fine. Eva is adjusting to the day heat, which is high, even though Sanaa is located on 2200 metres above sea level, days a re warm and nights crisp. We are moving slowly with her and her mother is the greatest of mothers and breast feed her all the time now, since food is dodgy. Pamela is doing her Arabic, otherwise her research hasn´t moved forward yet. We are all adjusting. Feels great being back, one feels alive here, not dead and bored like in Malmö!

To see the pilot of the Expedition, click here.

To see more photos, click here

To view this posting on Mikael's blog, click here.

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