Friday 6 November 2009

Reflections and thoughts by Heidi Malmgren

My name is Heidi and I'm travelling with my husband Göran and the other guys on this "expedition" to mainland Yemen and Socotra. I’d like to share a little about how I have experienced things around us, beside the birds.

To be a lonely woman amongst seven men, travelling around in the country of the ancient Queen of Sheba is truly a wonderful and interesting experience. One would imagine that they would treat me like a queen, but, I m sorry to say, they don’t. They treat me like "one of the boys", I even have to listen to their dirty jokes! But I get some privileges, for instance me and Göran got the honeymoon-suite in Al Masirah. Anyway, we are a happy gang and we all enjoy the adventures we have had so far.

Our guide, Yousuf, is a very competent, pleasant and wise man. Everything has gone so smoothly, we just lean back and Yousuf arranges it so that we all get what we want.

Our two wonderful guides Ahmed Saeid Suliman & Yousuf Mohageb Photo: Heidi Malmgren

As you can imagine, having to do with male birdwatchers, there is no time planned for one of my other interests, namely shopping! But Yousuf arranged it so that we could get a little shopping in Taizz and he has promised to take us to the old suq in Sana’a on our last day in Yemen. I really look forward to it!

Yousuf has thought us a lot about Yemen, its traditions and culture (and birds of course). For example, almost all houses have windows with stained glass mosaic in beautiful patterns. This is called Kameria, which is the diminutive form of Kamr that means The Moon. The ordinary windows in the Yemeni houses are placed near the floor because Yemenis often sit on the floor and to get in some extra light in the houses they used to have round windows higher up with Alabaster instead of glass. These windows looked like little moons, that’s why they are called "little moons", Kameria. When the Dutch occupied Yemen in the 18th century they brought the stained glass with them and the Yeminis started to create their beautiful patterns like they still do, nowadays with glass imported from Germany.
Some of the beautiful Kamerias in our hotelroom in Hadibo, Socotra
Photo: Heidi Malmgren

The landscape of Yemen is very beautiful with breathtaking sceneries as you have seen on the pictures of the blog, and much more vegetation than I had imagined. There are green plants everywhere, except for the few desert parts where we have been.

One thing I was a little concerned about before the trip was the question of "The Ladies Room". It is so much easier for a man to find a place to "powder his nose". But one can always find a bush or a shed to hide behind. And when you can’t hide, like on the rock Sabuniah in the middle of the ocean, you just ask the gentlemen to turn around.... So it has never been a problem, just remembers to bring along some tissues.

This trip is not only a birding-trip, it is also a health-trip, we live so very healthy even though we eat a lot. We eat healthy food, for example a lot of yoghurt, fruits, vegetables, fish and hummus. And of course we drink a lot, at least 2 litres water (Maa) a day. We also walk much every day, how much depending on the ground terrain. (When we watch seabirds there is not so much walking, we just stand and look in our telescopes. Of course the photographers, Alf and Ulf, run around like Mountain-goats to get the best possible shot. They move around at least twice as much as us others!). So I think that we all have lost a little weight in this trip.

Did I mention that there are a lot of high mountains in Yemen? Well, there are. Very high. And with very deep canyons. And I am afraid of heights. (Or at least I was before this trip). So how can a person in her right mind go to a country that has so many, so high mountains (jabal)? When Göran asked me if I wanted to come along I had two choices:

1) stay at home

2) go for a trip that is a once in a lifetime experience.

So I decided to come along and take it as it comes, "go with the flow". The first days were an ordeal for me, when I thought that " it can’t get worse" the next road (or track) was even steeper and more rough. But one gets used to it and Yousuf and Abdulhamid, our second driver, are excelent drivers that make you feel safe and secure. And that goes of course also for Ahmed Saeid Suliman, our brilliant co-guide in Socotra. (Ahmed works as Head of the Conservation and Research Unit at the EPA, Environment Protection Authority, on Socotra and is a botanist and ornithologist.)
Narrow road at Al Mahweet. Photo: Niklas Holmström

We have even managed to pass a meeting car on a road not wider than two wheel tracks and with a high mountain wall on one side a a deep canyon on the other side. But that time I closed my eyes......:)

Something very common for Yemen and Socotra is goats. They can move around in any biotop and can climb up of the steepest mountain. You see them everywhere, and they seem to be able to eat anything.

The restaurant at our hotel in Hadibo on Socotra (Socotra meens the suq of sap, the sap market), where we are right now, is also a day care centre......for baby goats! On the evenings Mother Goat comes calling and the small goats, who have spent the day sleeping under the tables (outside of course), run to see Mummy. They even call "ma ma, ma ma"! They are so cute and mostly for keeping up appearances the staff will try to chase them away, but they are feeding them when they think no one is looking. And so is Ulf!
Ulf is feeding the goat Greta! Photo: Heidi Malmgren

The boat trip to the rocky island and then to the secluded and isolated beach of Shoúab was a magic experience. To take a swim at the long sandy beach in that crystal clear, soft, warm water under the hot sun. To take a rest in the fishermen’s shady hut. And at night in the velvet soft arabian night, to sit and drink sweet tea (chai) on a blanket in the sand under the stars and the moon and listen to the fishermen singing soft arabian songs around the campfire. Sigh...
Looking out for Socotra Cormorants, of course in a pink boat.
Photo: Ahmed Saeid Suliman

The people of Yemen are so very nice and friendly. When we have met the locals in distant mountain villages they have offered us of what they have, sometimes bread, sometimes fruits or crops. When we come to a place the locals come and greet us and wish us welcome and offer us of whet they have.
This friendly man climbed up in a high Tamarind-tree to get us some Tamarind-fruits, very tasty! Photo: Göran Cederwall

In Socotra people are very honest. That means that you can leave your car unlocked with cameras and computers in it, and walk away for a couple of hours. When you return everything will be as you left it.

Anyway, this approach to your fellow human is a part of Islam and the people here are really living it, not only talking about it. This is my experience of the Muslims, and it is a picture far from the one you might get when you read the news in the west.

All in all, this has been (and still is) a wonderful trip in a wonderful country and I hope to be back soon!
Heidi. Photo: Göran Cederwall

So, bye bye for this time.

Heidi Malmgren


Sandra F said...

Åh så spännande! Låter som en fantastisk upplevelse! Och du klär verkligen i turban ;)

Sabine said...

Fin bild mamma!:)Det låter spännande det hela,borde kanse åka dit.Och den smala vägen va verkligen smal....