Tag: Yemen

Adventus

Saturday, 1 December, 2018

The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” and the central theme of Advent is the coming of Christ to earth. The Advent season begins tomorrow and it’s observed by Christian churches as a time of waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.

The Coming by R.S. Thomas, a 20th century Anglican poet-priest from Wales, centres on a conversation between the Father and Son about the suffering of humanity. Thomas invokes the hardship of life in a small farming community in rural Wales, but his “scorched land” could refer to any country torn by conflict: Syria, Yemen, Ukraine…

Thomas imagines the Son’s response to the suffering and pain the Father asks him to look at, but the decision is reserved until the final line. Looking at the “bare hill” and the “thin arms” of the hungry people, the Son finally responds: “Let me go there.”

The Coming

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.

On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.

R.S. Thomas (1913 – 2000)


Yemen: Arabia Felix

Thursday, 13 September, 2018

On a winter morning in 1761 six men boarded a ship in Copenhagen. They were the members of a Danish expedition to Arabia Felix, as Yemen was then known. The adventures of the group, which comprised a botanist, a philologist, an astronomer, a doctor, an artist and their manservant, are recounted in Arabia Felix: The Danish Expedition 1761-1767 by Thorkild Hansen. Translated from the Danish by James McFarlane and Kathleen McFarlane, the book features an introduction by Colin Thubron, and it’s a joy to read.

It took about six months for the Danes to reach modern-day Turkey, and on 8 September, 1761, with all the preparations for the journey complete, the expedition officially began. Snippet:

Dressed in their new Oriental clothes, the learned gentlemen took leave of their host von Gähler and went aboard the boat which was to take them to Alexandria. On this ship, a little Turkish vessel from the Adriatic port of Dulcigno, the expedition encountered quite another world from the one they had been accustomed to on the Greenland. The purpose of the ship’s journey was quite simply to take a cargo of young slave girls to the Egyptian markets. It is apparent right from the start how this curious cargo captured the interest of our travellers.

Peter Forsskål forgot his jelly-fish and marine plants for a while and noted in his diary: “We find ourselves in the company of a merchant who is going to Cairo with a cargo that would be highly unusual in European ports, namely women. He has taken all the safeguards of jealousy: a special cabin, which lies above our own, has been reserved for the young women, and he alone takes them their food. In addition, he has fastened a blanket inside the door so that the women cannot be seen when he lets himself in and out.” It would appear from this description that Forsskål had lost nothing of his power of exact scholarly observation; and Niebuhr too seems to have made a conscientious study. The young women, he says in his diary, “are generally very well treated, because when they are to be sold in Egypt it is very important for their owners that they should arrive at the market healthy and cheerful.”

Felix Arabia


Foreign

Sunday, 8 November, 2015 0 Comments

Egypt’s five million Copts, the last remaining major Christian sect in the Middle East, are fearful for their future in a hostile home. Yemen is now the biggest source of refugees in Africa, and at some 25 million it is as populous as Afghanistan. Talking of Afghanistan, what if the Taliban continue to expand their territorial writ, causing even more people to flee? And what if Islamic State terrorists extend their barbaric rule across Iraq and Syria? A Gallup Poll, based on data compiled from more than 450,000 interviews in 151 countries from 2009 to 2011, found that in Nigeria, which has double the population of Germany, 40 percent of the people would leave if they could. And the lesson of 2015 — for them and millions more — is that they can.

When they cross the Mediterranean or the Rio Grande, many migrants find life in the “West” comes with a price tag, and Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s Poet Laureate, looks at this side of the displaced experience in Foreign. As a professional user of language herself, Duffy asks us to consider the lot of migrants who are marginalized because of their lack of linguistic proficiency. The stress of thinking in one language and having to translate into another renders people inarticulate. The “local dialect” in the foreigner’s head is associated with the memory of a mother singing, while “writing home” is a desperate attempt to keep in touch with a lost world. Imagine that.

Foreign

Imagine living in a strange, dark city for twenty years.
There are some dismal dwellings on the east side
and one of them is yours. On the landing, you hear
your foreign accent echo down the stairs. You think
in a language of your own and talk in theirs.

Then you are writing home. The voice in your head
recites the letter in a local dialect; behind that
is the sound of your mother singing to you,
all that time ago, and now you do not know
why your eyes are watering and what’s the word for this.

You use the public transport. Work. Sleep. Imagine one night
you saw a name for yourself sprayed in red
against a brick wall. A hate name. Red like blood.
It is snowing on the streets, under the neon lights,
as if this place were coming to bits before your eyes.

And in the delicatessen, from time to time, the coins
in your palm will not translate. Inarticulate,
because this is not home, you point at fruit. Imagine
that one of you says Me not know what these people mean.
It like they only go to bed and dream
. Imagine that.

Carol Ann Duffy