September 2013

Dear Friends,

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.

Happy Austrian couple

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.

Dr Sameera enjoying the beach
Ghoson tries her hand at bread making

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.

Heather grows in Wales too

Welsh Highland Railway

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.

Yemen, not Wales

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 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

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March 2013

Dear Friends

Looking towards Dolgellau from Cader Idris

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 by Peter CrooksYou can purchase copies of Peter’s book

“Yemen: Heartbreak and Hope”

online HERE.

Price $14.45

Yemen - Heartbreak and Hope by Peter Crooks

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