A week in Yemen
May 20, 2015 3:42 PM   Subscribe

Sana'a, Green Arabia, Ta'izz: Maciej Cegłowski long in coming three part travelogue about his week in Yemen. posted by zabuni (8 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for posting the new installment! I've been loving Maciej's writing about Yemen. This new piece lacks the more expansive history and contextualization that made the first pieces so strong, but then they aren't necessary given he's already written them.

I have a European friend who visited Yemen as a tourist, oh, 10 years ago. He found it difficult then too but way, way easier than it would have been when Maciej went. And unimaginable to visit as a tourist this year, sadly.
posted by Nelson at 6:03 PM on May 20, 2015

I've always loved his writing; thanks for the post. Here's a grim bit from the first link:
Sana’a is a city full of problems, but the biggest problem is hiding under our feet. That well in the basement is never going to draw water again. Sana'a is on the point of running completely dry.

There are no rivers in Yemen. Sana’a used to get by with wells, but back then Sana'a was a much smaller city. In modern times, the population has exploded, from sixty thousand residents in the nineteen forties to estimates of over two million today (the country is too broken for an actual census). The days when you could sink a well from your basement are long gone.

In the seventies, you might hit water after drilling a few dozen meters. Today there are wells going dry that are over a kilometer deep. The water table is dropping by two meters a year. The city is drinking fossil water deposited thousands of years ago, and what's worse, using it for agriculture. Part of the urgency in my trip is the worry that there won't be a city to visit for much longer.

In a less broken country, the water crisis would dominate every facet of public life. In Yemen, public life is a joke. The government is so corrupt and paralyzed by crisis that it can't perform the most basic tasks. The city's wells are completely unmonitored; no one even knows how many there are. Private owners will keep drilling for as long as they can, but at some point even the deepest wells are going to run dry. And then something awful will happen.

Old Sana’a may survive as some kind of a museum exhibit, but in a matter of years (not decades) the rest of this vast city will have to move or die. The situation is so dire that the previous government seriously considered moving the capital to the stifling Red Sea coast, or somehow piping desalinated water over the three kilometer high mountains that separate the capital from the coast, at inconceivable expense.

It's hard to look at a city this old and imagine it could just go away. But the numbers don't add up. There isn't enough water here for two million people. There certainly isn't enough water for two million people and agriculture. But how do you tell a desperately poor farmer to stop growing qat? And who is going to make him listen?
posted by languagehat at 6:04 PM on May 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

I need all his essays to be in book form. Why no book? Book. Book. Tidy little book with appealing type.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:52 PM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Maciej is a treasure. It's a shame his output has decreased in recent years, but he keeps the quality high. Hell, I'd be a fan even if the only thing he ever wrote was Argentina On Two Steaks A Day.
posted by echo target at 10:03 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Idle Words is one of my 'never delete' RSS subscriptions, and basically a justification for the whole idea of RSS. When this popped up in my feed reader the other day I actually whooped. I adore his travel writing.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:34 AM on May 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is so good. I wish I could visit Yemen.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:46 AM on May 21, 2015

The Hacker News thread mentions the changes in the region:

idlewords 17 hours ago

The post is about a trip I took in June of 2014. Agreed that what's happening now is horrific. For starters, pretty much every place I describe has been bombed.

posted by zabuni at 7:45 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

One afternoon in Sanaa last November...Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in the LRB
posted by adamvasco at 4:02 PM on May 23, 2015

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