Yemen – Chaotic and Beautiful Sanaa

Yemen’s capital city is lively, vibrant city with the old central area dating to the 11th Century.

Sana’a is probably no more or less difficult to navigate than any other Arabian or African capital. But the weaving and turbulent chaos of the streets here might leave your head spinning for a few days.

Old Sana’a is a Unesco world heritage site. They introduce it beautifully on their site: “Situated in a mountain valley at an altitude of 2,200 m, Sana’a has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years. In the 7th and 8th centuries the city became a major centre for the propagation of Islam. This religious and political heritage can be seen in the 103 mosques, 14 hammams and over 6,000 houses, all built before the 11th century. Sana’a’s many-storeyed tower-houses built of rammed earth (pisé) add to the beauty of the site.” Beautiful Sanaa indeed.

Thankfully we didn’t have to drive, we were driven by our hosts, the coffee exporters Sowaid. Senior Sowaid was calm and plodding by Yemeni standards (which would translate to completely insane on a US roadway). Ali, his son, was a menace to all, sheer terror when he found any open road. Then there was George M. George, transplant from India, driving the micro-micro-van plastered with ads for Karcher Power Washers (Sowaids other business).

And each night we retreated to the exclusive Sheraton hotel, which was awfully nice but the rooms rank between Motel 6 and Best Western. They had a swell pingpong table though.

Coffee, presumably from the area of Sana’a, is called Sana’ani coffee. Yet most coffee in Yemen is traded through Sana’a and with rampant mixing of different coffees in the commercial sector, it is hard to say what Sana’ani coffee truly is.

This trip was from way back in 2007 and so much has changed in the world since then, in particular the vicious civil war in Yemen funded by outside interests, yes sadly including US support for Saudi military.

The toll on average Yemeni people, those displaced, those already struggling to live even without the conflict, is so saddening. It is amazing that any semblance of normalcy, agriculture and trade, like the export of coffee, can even exist in such turmoil. Any yet with so little, families who rely on coffee as their sole income also need this trade to continue, more than ever.

I divided this travelogue into sections based on each leg of our trip back in 2007. -Thompson, Aug 2020.

Yemen Sana’a Gallery: