Dolgellau, the little town where we live in north Wales is beautiful but remote, and some days the internet connection is very temperamental. We are six hours’ drive from London and two from Liverpool. The Welsh language is widely spoken and when Wales beat Scotland last week in the rugby there was great rejoicing.
In this context it has been interesting to have a number of conversations with local friends recently, all of whom were asking about Yemen. One asked how long it takes to drive from Aden to the capital, Sanaa, another wanted to know if I had ever taken qat, the nation’s mild narcotic, which is chewed by most of the population on most days, while another expressed astonishment on discovering that Egypt under President Nasser lost thousands of military personnel in fighting in Yemen in the 1960s.
None of those people whose observations and questions I have quoted have been taking evening classes in Middle Eastern studies, but all, to our delight, have been reading Peter’s book, ‘Yemen Heartbreak and Hope’. We hope it will inspire further interest in the country. By popular request we even had a book party at home for people reluctant to order on line, or, more likely, eager for a warm log fire and a bowl of Nancy’s onion soup.
The party lasted all day. Some present asked for a reading from the book, which was refused, but a moment later, recalling recent e-mails, we found the following which we did read. It moved us and our friends deeply. We had had no previous contact with Graham, who sent it. It was addressed to, ‘Chaplain’, and entitled, ‘Memories’.
‘Just a line to let you know that in the now-distant past I probably owe my life to the clergy and congregation of the church: I went through a very traumatic time following an incident ‘up country’ during the RADFAN operations in Dhala. An Air Force colleague, who had become a great friend, was killed by a sniper and died in my arms. I somehow blamed myself. If it had not been for the love, help and prayers of Christ Church, I may have ended my life at that time. That was 1964 and I am still here in 2013. Thank you all and I thank God for your strength. God be with you all.’
Yemen has been through many convulsions and wars since the writer’s time there, but thankfully is faring rather better than other countries of the region just now. The leader of Tunisia’s main opposition party was recently assassinated and reform has stalled; in Egypt strident opposition grows towards its President, and Syria descends into ever greater misery and carnage as the world watches and wrings its hands.
And Yemen? The following comes from The Washington Post:
‘A year after former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in a deal brokered by the US and Yemen’s Arab neighbours, the country’s three most influential families continue to cast a shadow over the political transition. Unlike the leaders of other nations altered by the Arab Spring, Yemen’s elites were neither jailed nor exiled. They have remained inside the country, free to operate as they will… But the elites’ lingering influence has also impeded Yemen’s progress, say activists, analysts and western diplomats.
“We don’t want to be pulled back to the past and its conflicts,” said Yemeni journalist and human rights activist, Tawakkol Karman, joint-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize….
a long delayed national conference on Yemen’s future, including a draft constitution, is due on 20 March. Rumours suggest ex-President Saleh is packing it with his own supporters while groups critical of the political progress, such as the southern separatists, are threatening to stay away….’
Meanwhile, in Aden this week and next, the redoubtable Dr John Sandford Smith of Leicester is back operating in the Ras Morbat Eye Department at Christ Church. He will be joined next week by the able and delightful Dr Adel from Egypt. Together they will operate and continue the training of the two local eye doctors, Tahani and Randa.
In February we were invited to attend the Diocesan Synod in Cyprus. It was a very happy, constructive and hopeful occasion. It was good to catch up on news of congregations from Baghdad to Paphos, and we were grateful for the thoughtful and continued interest of many in the work in Aden. Afterwards we spent a few days at the Diocesan Retreat House of Katafiyio. It was wonderful.
Last week we received an intriguing request from the office at Christ Church, for ‘dog drug’. We asked for clarification and have purchased some boxes of Frontline to keep (we hope) ticks off the two guard dogs. They are already packed in our bags for our return to Aden in a few days’ time.
We look forward to being back with friends and colleagues, and especially to celebrating Easter among them. ‘No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life; Life is nought without thee: aid us in our strife.’
Thank you so much for your interest, your support and your prayers. We wish you too, a joyful Easter full of strength and hope
With much love in Christ
Peter and Nancy
“Yemen: Heartbreak and Hope”