Another country with an unenviable reputation which I found scarcely credible, as I found only welcomes; the local people we met took a real pleasure in encountering westerners who had come to visit their land. It is a very poor landscape and state, but incredibly strategic to world powers at the gateway to the Red Sea and Suez Canal.

Britain stuck its nose in and colonised Aden in 1842 for a coal refuelling station for ships to and from India. The country was split after the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WW1. The south in time came more under the influence of the Eastern bloc, education and development followed, though not to the taste of western governments, resulting in one of the more disastrous and disgraceful episodes of Britain’s military adventurism.

To the north the medieval rule of Imams continued untouched by the outside world. At the time of Imam Yahya’s demise in the ‘60’s, there was only one doctor in the entire country and one car, I have heard tell many times. The landscape is a mixture of high plateau with impossibly deep valleys and isolated communities; in the south, smaller mountain ranges and vast areas of sandy desert that have become known as ‘the Empty Quarter’. The medina of Sana’a, the capital, is probably the most intact medieval structure in the world. Despite Yemen being the only place where the language of the prophet Mohammed is still spoken, a gulf of mistrust has existed for generations between the Saudis and the Yemenis. Probably the most striking country I have known.

 

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