Day 2 in Sana’a: Saturday, May 31, 2008

11 06 2008

This was my first day of classes. No one told when or where to go this morning, so I went to the other building, that I knew held the classrooms, and wandered around until someone directed me to the director’s office. There I took care of paying my tuition and worked out what curriculum I wanted to use. I also told Jameel, the director, about the problem with my baggage, that I’d given the airline his phone numbers, and that I expected a call anytime that morning telling me that my bags had arrive in Sana’a. He told me that such a problem was very common, and that I should come back to his office after my class to call the airline again.

I have two hours of private class five days a week from 10 am to noon. After leaving Jameel’s office, I had nearly two hours before my class. I set off walking down a main road that led away from the school. It was part of the large souq that the school is located on the edge of. Small shops lined the street I went down, primarily selling clothes and abiyas (the black over-dress that all the women here wear). There were also street vendors with carts or tarps on the ground, selling clothes, food, toys, etc. I went down the road until I came out of the souq and the old city into an area of more modern buildings.

Along the way, I found an ATM, which I was looking for because I only had about $10 worth of Yemeni money and needed to get more. However, it was for local bankcards only. Even though it said Visa on the side of it, it said it could not recognize the number on my card, and it did not display any of the typical affiliation symbols such as Plus, I would expect to see. Disappointed I turned back toward the school. Along the way I found another ATM with the same result. At this point I began to worry how I could get more money.

Just before 10 am, I went back to Jameel’s office where he introduced me to my teacher, Altaf. I was a bit shocked to find her completely veiled with only her eyes showing. (I probably should not have been because every Yemeni woman I have seen here is dressed the same way in public.) My first thought when I saw she was entirely veiled was that I wasn’t sure I could learn from a teacher whose face I couldn’t see. Fortunately, once in the classroom, away from male eyes, she did unveil so I could see her face. (However, it has taken me most of a week to learn to tell her apart from the other female teachers when they are all veiled.)

Class was good. It is a new experience having a private tutor in this way. It is good. My instruction is about 95% in Arabic, which is a challenge because I never learned all the Arabic grammar vocabulary very well in the past. Altaf does speak pretty good English though, so she can explain things I don’t understand in English. There is also a good Arabic-English/English-Arabic dictionary program on the computer that has been very helpful. During my classes, I came to the realization that there a lot of words I recognize when I see or hear them that I can’t remember what they mean. It’s very frustrating.

Around 11:30 am, Jameel came to the classroom to with a call for me on his cell phone. It was from the airline, which said they had one of my two bags and did I want it delivered or would I rather pick it up. I asked for it to be delivered and Jameel gave them directions. I was glad at least one bag had made it, but I was very worried about what had happened to the other one. I was also torn between wanting it to be my bag with all my clothes and wanting it to be my bag with my Arabic books (which I needed for my class) and all my electronic equipment, which would be much harder to replace.

In the afternoon, I went with Lauren (one of my fellow students who arrived at the same time I did) and Jerri (another female student who has been here a week or two) to the grocery store. Before going to the grocery store, we tried to find a gym that someone had told Lauren about that was for women only. Eventually we found the right address (this was a bit of an adventure asking people who tried to be helpful, but didn’t actually know the answer to our questions), but it was closed for the mid-afternoon until 3 pm. (There is the equivalent of mesimeri (Greek) or siesta here as well.) We had about 20 minutes to kill, so we found a little café nearby and ate hommus. After looking at the gym with Lauren, we went to the grocery store.

It is fairly similar to an American grocery store, but a lot smaller (though for Yemen it’s big), and with a fairly different selection. I was able to buy milk and cereal, peanut butter and jam, and also a can of an Arab bean dish. After looking over the selection a bit, I decided I’d probably be doing a lot less cooking for myself than I’d planned because couldn’t find a lot of familiar, quick-and-easy foods, and because it is as cheap to eat out (as long as you avoid the fancy places) as it is to buy food at the grocery store.

When we got back from the grocery store in the late afternoon, I went over to the main school building expecting to get whichever of my bags had been delivered. My bag was not there and neither was the director of the school to ask what was going on. Another man who works for the school was very helpful, and he tried to call the airline and the director but we couldn’t get a hold of anyone. I was very frustrated that I still didn’t have any clean clothes or a towel to take a shower with, etc. Fortunately, I had bought laundry detergent at the store so I put on my PJs (which I’d had in my carry-on for the overnight in Dubai) and washed the two sets of clothes I had, and hung them to dry in my room over night.

Day 3: Sunday, June 1, 2008

The next morning my shirts were dry but my pants were still damp. I put them on any way because I didn’t have a choice. On my way over to the school to try calling the airline again, I met Mohammad (who had picked me up at the airport) and he said my bag was at a nearby hotel and he took me to get it. I was so happy when we got there to see that both my bags were there. (I suspect they were both delivered to the hotel the day before but I had not seen the right people who knew they were there to be able to get them. Jameel probably told the airline to deliver them to the hotel because in the old city (especially, though it’s true for most of Sana’a) there are no street addresses. Things are near or next to other things and if you don’t know the landmarks you can’t find a new location. Thus, the hotel was a known location, while giving directions to the school would have been nearly impossible.) I was overjoyed to have all my stuff and to be able to finally take a shower.

My last problem was money since I couldn’t find an ATM that would take my card. Before my class, I used my online Money Gram account (that I had set up to send my deposit to the school here) to wire myself money. In the afternoon, I found a Money Gram location (though I had to go a lot farther then I’d planned to find one that was open in the afternoon) and got some money. Once these two stresses—missing bags and lack of money—were resolved, I was finally able to relax and start to enjoy being in Sana’a.

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