Katmandu living

the van de Wiel/Schou Hansen family blog

With less than one week to go we are getting ready to take of for our yearly summer holiday to Europe. We will arrive in Amsterdam next Tuesday and are therefore also in full preparation mode. As a part of the preparation this year I have had to get a Yemeni driving license. Until now I have been able to use my Mexican license (to be fair, I have not used it much, as Lieke has done most of the driving whenever we have been to Europe, as I am still suffering under having learned to drive in a country where automatic transmission is the norm) but as my Mexican international driving license was running out, I had to get a Yemeni International driving license. This meant that I would first had to get a Yemeni normal driving license. It was with some reluctance that I started this whole venture. Just after buying our car we had to get the plates changed from normal Yemeni plates to diplomatic plates – to do this I had to spent two days at the Interior Ministry’s Police headquarter going to what seemed to be random offices getting signatures and rubber stamps. At the end of the whole thing I had a form with what must have been at least 15 stamps, signatures and comments (the Yemeni bureaucracy loves to put comments on paper), so the whole thought of having to return to this place didn’t appeal to me. However, I was very pleasantly surprised to find out how efficient the Yemeni driving license system has become. That is – the system is still distinctly Yemeni as I started the whole process by paying bacsish to avoid having to take a driving test as this had to be done with a car with stick shift – 1500 Riyal later I had passed the test! However, the place where the licenses were issued seemed to belong in another country. Besides the fact that sign for Highway on the poster of traffic signs was turned sideways (probably stemming from the fact that they do not have any highways in Yemen and therefore never use the sign) it looked more like an office in Europe (not Northern Europe though, as they did not have any design furniture). To get a license you had to go though a number of tests, including a test of your sight, and everything were automatic. In the end you were issued a small credit card size driving license. So all in all I was deeply impressed with the efficiency of the whole thing. However, it also makes me wonder – if they have such an efficient system why is it that I see 10 and 11 year old boys driving around in the father’s big Toyota Land Cruisers every Friday. Like most things in this county the law is good and so is the execution of the system, but the consequent implementation on the ground is non-existent. Getting the International license was absolutely no problem. For some strange reason the International licenses in Yemen is issued by one of the big travel agents! I guess they won the concession for this. Anyway, you should look out from next Tuesday onwards, as this whole exercise has give me the right to drive freely around Europe.

In connection with my job I (Henrik) visited Wadi Hadramout last week. As all the Danish implementation in Decentralization is in the Wadi area, it is a trip that I have been wanting to take for a while but something always came in the way (if it was not the Danish election, it was local security concerns). So it was with much anticipation that I finally managed to make the journey last week. Most of the time in Wadi Hadramout was of course used on work related meetings, but we also managed to visit Shibam, the Unesco World Heritage walled city that is known as the Manhattan of the desert, and some of the famous palaces and mosques of the area. With buildings of up to 10 stories made out of mud bricks Shibam is an impressive site. As we had to visit around our official program we only managed to go there at 2PM where it must have been 40c. The building style in Wadi Hadramout is stunning, with much detail going into the carving of the window frames. We had a chance to study this in more detail during our stay in Seiyun where we slept at the Hawda Palace Hotel, an old renovated Palace.

We are getting close to our Summer holiday down here in Yemen and will soon head home to Europe to meet up with families and friends. It is continuing to be hot here so it will be a relief to get home to the rain and cold weather of a typical European summer. Anne-Mette (my sister) and her family (John, Emilie and Kristoffer – Mathias, my oldest nephew decided to stay home in Denmark) visited us down here in Yemen for 10 days in the beginning of July. We had a great time and managed to make a joint journey to Ibb and Taiz where Lieke had a mission to visit some schools. We also visited all the sites in Sana’a and close to Sana’a and they managed to do some serious shopping in the Sana’a Suq (it was so serious that they had to buy a bigger suitcase to transport it home).

My sister and her family is down here right now and I will try to post some pictures of their visit shortly. In the meantime I am posting a story that I found in a newspaper the other day. It seems like Camel urine is in demand here in Yemen these days:

Camel urine, considered an ancient Islamic 'remedy' from the time of the Prophet Mohammed, has become big business for men and women in Yemen.

The urine has become fashionable recently among Yemen's young people, who claim that it strengthens the scalp, slows hair loss and promotes healthy hair.

According to the Arab TV network al-Arabiya, hair salons throughout the country are requesting this precious 'tonic' and selling it at four dollars a litre - a high price considering the income level of most of the buyers.

"I have been using camel urine since I have been going to elementary school," said Amal, a university student in Sanaa.

"The first time a neighbour told me that she had been using it (urine) for many years, because it made her hair more beautiful and shiny. Now everyone in my home uses it."

The use of the urine is not just limited to women. Men have reportedly also been using it to prevent or stop hair loss.

"Many young men use the camel's urine. I am forced to buy large quantities for my business," said Hasan, a barber.

A boom in the sale of camel urine has prompted people to begin breeding more camels, and they are constantly being given liquids in order to collect more urine.

Nomadic camel breeders have benefited the most from the sale of urine. The breeders are usually in the most remote areas of the country such as Hudeida and Mukallah provinces.

Some people also claim that camel urine is good for the liver, a claim discredited by the University of Sanaa that said it was harmful for the digestive system.

The use of camel urine could have its roots in Islamic religion. In the Prophet Mohammed's "sunna" (or tradition), it talks about the benefits of camel milk and urine.

In a "hadith" (or narrative), foreigners are said to have gone to the holy city of Medina with high fever and the Prophet Mohammed ordered them to leave the city and drink urine and milk from a camel to help them recover.

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