We’d seen the wedding photos before, but sat captivated once again as they passed before us on the laptop on our kitchen table, where the bride and groom, Michi and Glynis, were seated beside us. The bride, Nancy’s niece, was stunning and her dress remarkable – the lower part an exquisitely made white sphere, the top, the neatest pale-green bodice, while the groom in long frock coat, lace cuffs and black calf stockings looked both elegant and radiant. The wedding was in the lovely Austrian spa town of Bad Ischl. It was a very beautiful day and Peter conducted the wedding.
Also watching the wedding photos with us were two very great friends from Yemen; Dr Sameera, who worked in the Christ Church medical clinic some years ago and her lovely daughter, Ghoson, herself newly-engaged to a friend in Yemen and currently over in Britain doing a placement in a dental practice near Bristol.
When we’d seen the wedding photographs, we asked after Ghoson’s brother – a gifted and popular singer, and in his songs, an often articulate and outspoken commentator on Yemen affairs. Ghoson then went online and in moments we were transported from pictures of laughter and beauty to carnage and grief – to pictures of a parade ground in Sanaa (Yemen’s capital) where a few months ago one hundred young servicemen were killed at their graduation ceremony by a suicide bomber. The contrast between what we had just been watching and now saw could not have been greater. Interspersed with pictures of the bloodied parade ground and a few dazed survivors, were clips of Ghoson’s brother singing a passionate lament for those killed, along with a haunting refrain asking what possessed the mind of the youngster who had killed them. It was the turn of the bride and groom – shocked and stunned to ask questions of the pictures now on the screen. They entered as readily into the grief and horror as Ghoson and her mother had moments before entered into their joy.
There was a significant wedding in Aden too a week ago, that of Dr Tahani, one of our two young lady eye surgeons and Ahmed Soufi, eye technician, also at the clinic. We would have loved to have been there though in reality only Nancy would have been allowed to attend. We were told that it was very happy, and today we have news that Peter Welby, who spent time with us in Aden as our volunteer, has just got engaged, which is great. His fiancée, Jen, is lovely. Nigel Dawkins, who with his wife Catherine were our successors in Aden has, we have also just learned, been appointed to a post as a Canon on the staff of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, which is very good news.
In Sanaa, a much more lawless place now than Aden, the National Dialogue edges along. It is due to present its findings in two weeks’ time and to deliver a new constitution for the country. Ghoson has some young friends who are participating in it. Invited to join as young, intelligent and articulate representatives of the South and its concerns, they have found themselves quietly assigned to a dull committee dealing with transport …Despite this and other disappointments, Ghoson and her friends still hold out some hope for the Dialogue, but her mother, none. However, we did not spend all our time discussing Yemeni politics. As both mother and daughter had expressed interest in riding a train we took a ride on the magnificent Welsh Highland Railway through Snowdonia and concluded the day sitting in heather overlooking the beautiful Cregennan lakes above our home here in Dolgellau. We listened to the lapping of the waves and watched the sun sink behind the hills. Asked how she was, Sameera replied, “Just too happy.” Cregennan is a far cry from Aden’s refugees with whom her life is largely caught up.
In the last newsletter we mentioned the conversations going on with others on the council of reference for Christ Church and the clinics, about the future of the work, and in particular of the finding of new good personnel for both. The correspondence between us has been lively and positive. One suggestion made by several was that we try to establish a working relationship with a Christian medical charity in the region. That is happening. Two months ago Peter was invited, along with Dr Edwin Martin, who is on the council, with his wife Peta, to attend in Beirut a conference sponsored by HOME (Health Outreach to the Middle East) a fine Christian Arab medical foundation involved in supporting work in, amongst other countries, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and interested in getting involved in Yemen also. It was an inspiring and moving occasion, though we English participants had forgotten just how enthusiastic Egyptians and others are for long, late-night meetings …
Two weeks ago a young lady doctor from Egypt, sponsored by HOME, went to start a month’s placement at the medical clinic at Christ Church. It looks like a most promising development for which we are very grateful. Also coming out of our council dialogue was the suggestion that clergy, ideally not westerners, from across the diocese consider going to do short stints of a few weeks in Aden to encourage both the congregation and our local medical staff. It was a suggestion taken up conscientiously by Bishop Michael, who wrote putting the need to all the clergy. Three have already expressed a warm interest in going at different times over the next six months, which is wonderful.
A few weeks ago Yemen and Al Qaeda got brief, very high-profile attention in the western media. It angered many Yemenis, who saw the situation very differently to the way it was presented by CNN or the BBC. A Yemeni journalist wrote, ‘For many Yemenis – hunger, a lack of electricity and water scarcity are urgent day to day concerns. More than ten million people, almost half the country’s population, do not have enough to eat. Al Qaeda is seen by most as an obsession of foreign governments; attacks on oil pipelines occur on an almost weekly basis. The travel-alerts announced for Yemen have been in effect for years and the country has long witnessed the capture of foreigners.
The English Yemen Times even had a semi-comic but nonetheless quite chilling article in it entitled, ‘How to Kidnap a Foreigner.’ You can read the article in full HERE. The journalist concludes, ‘While foreign embassies have a responsibility for their own security, Yemen’s international supporters need to demonstrate clearly their commitment to be mindful of the harmful effect, that some counter-terrorism measures, like extensive drone strikes and over-flights in particular, have on Yemeni public opinion, and on the vital peace talks on which Yemen’s hopes for long-term change, rest.’
We have included photos of the wedding and of Wales and hope you do not mind. We are short of new ones from Aden but will take more when next we return, hopefully later in the year – and after a move to Reading, which should take place very soon.
One or two kind friends have asked how the book, ‘Yemen: Heartbreak & Hope’, is going. The Greenbelt festival requested 20 copies for their book tent and a local heating engineer has just popped in here to buy a copy. In short, it continues ‘to go’. Reviews, apart from a slightly ambivalent one in the Church Times, have been most enthusiastic, one reviewer, who we thought might be particularly critical, describing it as ‘brilliant and beautiful’. It’s never too late to order (from lulu.com) and Peter promises to promote it no more.
We end with an e-mail received this week from the visiting Egyptian doctor mentioned earlier. ‘I like the clinic team, and have started to feel like they are my family. Today I went to Tahani and Ahmed’s wedding. The bride was very beautiful, the other girls too, and I enjoyed my time with them. Mr Mansour is doing a great job. He has a nice lovely family, and I have spent time with Ruba (his daughter) and her cousins. The clinic is going well, it has a good reputation. I like my patients too and also the accommodation is very good. I am blessed to share in this work.’ – So are we.
With our love and very best wishes in Christ.
Peter and Nancy