Monday, April 25, 2016


By Mansor Puteh

The Malaysian government issued a travel advisory discouraging Malaysians from visiting Sana’a and Yemen in March, 2011.

Someone called me to inform me of that. But I told him I was on the train heading for the airport and going just there.

I said I did not care because I knew travel advisories are for most of the time too general and vague as can be seen when some foreign countries issues them to their own citizens and not encouraging them to come to Malaysia.

A few things could happen as isolated cases and when they are reported by the international media, it seems that the whole country was affected. They are not.

And with this I did not feel I would be in any danger if I continued to go to Yemen. Also because I was not going to be alone; I had friends there, Malaysians and locals who were picking me at the airport and putting me up.

It is unlike the Malaysian students who were there studying who had to be on their own most of the time and they could be in a spot for not being able to move much and could also become convenient targets.

But nothing of that sort happened to any of them.

And a day after I arrived at the Sana’a Airport about 250 Malaysian students in the city and other parts of the country had gathered outside of the airport to wait for their flights to return to Malaysia.

I was detained by the airport security and brought into the terminal building as some of my friends were telling him I am Malaysian. They did not believe it because they thought I was Japanese.

Any way, March, 2011 was the start of the Arab Spring, Part I, and I was in Yemen. I still managed to say for twelve days and visited some major cities throughout the country and shot thousands of photos and ten hours of video.

I met many Yemenis who were pleasant because they lived simply, and I could relate to that.

I thought Arab Spring then would not last too long. Unfortunately, even now Yemen has been completely destroyed and some people who I met then have remained incommunicado; I fear they may have become casualties to the attacks launched by Saudi Arabia and whoever on the country.

The thousands of photos and ten hours of video that I had shot in March, 2011, may be some that show the country at a time.

I dread to think if I had indeed managed to preserve what it was then…looking at what it is now after the attacks that had killed so many innocent Yemenis and destroying even the Old Sana’a which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Anyway I never felt threatened the whole time I was in Yemen and was also able to travel to Taiz and then to Manakha and visited the Old Sana’a, which is a UNESCO Heritage site few times.

The people was not hostile; on the contrary they were friendly and received my presence well and even asked me to shoot photos of them when they see I have a digicam with me that I used to shoot anything even though they knew they would not be able to get the photos to keep other than to see them in the monitor. 

It is too bad that the situation in Yemen generally had become much worse and chances of the country getting its life back in the near future seems to be bleak.

All that I can find out of the country are from the media reports and also postings on FB and other sources.

My efforts to try and get some from the people I knew in the country proved futile; some used to reply the emails I sent them but lately there was silence. I feared for the worse for some of them.

Even their phone numbers have become dead.

It is too bad that the country that had caused the most damage is Saudi Arabia, a country that is land-locked with Yemen and where Nabi Muhammad, s.a.w. had visited as a trader.

One could not find any reason for the two countries to be at war with each other if not for Saudi Arabia becoming a proxy for some other countries such as America and the Zionist state of Israel.

It was the first time I ever visited Yemen and from what I had imagined it and having been to some other Arab countries, I can tell that Yemen is different. It is not a wealthy country compared to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which I would soon go to on my way back to Malaysia or Egypt.

But it has potential which unfortunately could not be utilized because its then leadership under Ali Abdullah Salleh was seen to be corrupt, who had to be replaced.

And the leader of the opposition, Sheikh Hamid has a house in the same area of the rented house of a friend of mine who put me up when I was in Yemen, but who did not have the means to overthrow him at the polls or by using guns.

From the window of the room where I stayed at I could see Sheikh Hamid’s house and the many guards he had all of whom had AK-45, as did the other security guards manning the whole area stopping anyone wanting to enter or leave it.

I left Yemen and not long later I learnt from reports how President Ali Abdullah Salleh had been attacked and in retaliation Sheikh Hamid’s houses were bombed with the one in the area where I stayed at bombed to the ground.

But he was not there so he managed to escape with Ali Abdullah fleeing the country to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia and my friend’s family too had to leave the country, with their house also attacked.

It will be a long time before peace returns to Yemen and the other Arab countries and no one knows when tourism in Yemen could return, so I too could make my return trip to the country and to see the devastation that it had experienced over many years since I was there the last time. 

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