When I arrived at CALES, the school I am attending here in Yemen, I discovered that my stay here was going to be more of an adventure than I’d bargained on. When Mohammad first showed me up to my room (which is on the top floor), he showed me the bathroom on the fourth floor on the way up. I was a bit surprised to discover that it did not have a toilet, by Western standards, but only a porcelain hole in the ground like I’d seen and mostly managed to avoid in Greece and China. As Mohammad left me to settle in that first day, I realized that I had a lot to adjust to here.
You can see the toilet from the pictures. It weirded me out the first couple of time I used it, but now, after two weeks, I’m pretty much used to it. However, getting back to western toilets in another 10 weeks is something I look forward to. You can also see that there is no separate shower. The showerhead extends from the ceiling and gets nearly everything wet. This has made it tricky actually taking a shower. If I’m careful I can mostly keep my towel and robe dry that are hanging on a nail on the back of the door. However the nail is not high enough, so I have to tie the robe up with the belt to keep it off the floor, which is definitely getting wet. I’ve mostly gotten used to this, though I plan to buy some stick-on hooks that I can hang above the door so that I can hang up my robe and towel more easily.
My room is very nice. I like it. When I first entered it, several things surprised me. The first was its size. It is about twice the length of a regular bedroom, extending nearly the whole length of the front of the building. The next surprise was the bed, because all there is (as you can see) is a mattress on the floor. The pictures on the school’s website showed regular beds so this surprised me a lot. Apparently, most rooms do have regular beds, so I’m not sure why mine does not. However, it doesn’t bother me at all, so I haven’t asked.
The third surprise was all the windows. I have eight large windows in my room, taking up most of the wall space with the exception of where the door is. I soon learned that traditional Yemeni tower houses (called this because they are all 5 – 8 stories tall) are always toped by a room called the mafraj, literally meaning “room with a view.” The mafraj was reserved for use as a sitting room for when guests come over and is designed to provide the best views of the city. It’s something of a privilege that I was assigned the mafraj. I suspect that a possible reason why the beds in the room are only mattresses is because if the school is not full, they may leave the room open to be used as a mafraj by the students.
However, this room does have its disadvantages. First, it’s at the top of 73 steps, and not just regular American standard steps. Some risers are a normal height, but most are higher and some are as high as two feet tall. The first few times I climbed to the top I felt like I might faint from the exertion by the time I got to the top. While not in athletic shape, I think I am in decent shape, but the stairs are really killer. I could feel my leg muscles complaining the first few days. My legs are certainly going to be very strong by the time my three months are up. Having to climb so many steps is a great deterrent to coming and going. Once I’m in my room, I don’t want to leave again for a while to make the trip worthwhile. Likewise, once I leave I don’t want to have to go back for anything.
Another disadvantage is the windows. While they afford a great view and I can get good cross ventilation no matter which way the wind blows, I am awake at the crack of dawn every morning because as soon as the sun clears the tops of the buildings I am blasted with the light through four large east-facing windows despite the thin curtains that cover all the windows. Maybe I will adjust to so much light in the morning, but so far two weeks have not been enough. On the plus side, the stained-glass windows at the top of each window are pretty, though I kept wondering about all the stains on the carpet until I realized they were actually just the colored light shining in.
The kitchen is also an adventure here. Like most shared kitchens in dorms, the dishes are an odd assortment of this and that. All the pans are warped and bent and wobble when you try to cook in them. I made my first attempt at real cooking yesterday (since it was Friday—the Sabbath—so I didn’t eat out.) I discovered there are no measuring cups or spoons. I made my best guesses with a tea cup that I guessed was equivalent to half a cup and with a soup spoon that I tried to use to guess amounts of the spices. (This can be difficult when trying to measure ¼ tsp.) Besides the fact that you can eat out just as cheaply, the state of the kitchen has definitely convinced me to avoid cooking on a regular basis.
There is a laundry room about half way down the building with a washing machine. It is very similar to the ones I used in Greece and has the advantage of being in Arabic and English (unlike some in Greece that had pictures and German, for example). There is a clothesline on the 4th floor balcony/patio area to dry your clothes. I, however, bought some rope and hung it up in my room to dry my clothes there (avoiding possible rain storms and having to dry my clothes in public).