By Mac (Houston, Texas)
Much to my own surprise, Sana’a, Yemen has gradually become like a second home to me. In July of 2007, I arrived to Yemen without knowing a single word of Arabic. For the next 10 months, I studied the language and eventually developed close friendships with my Yemeni friends and neighbors. When it came time to travel to the States in May 2008, I hoped that I’d have the opportunity to come back to Yemen someday.
Ten days ago I finally returned to Sana’a to study and work at the Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies. Since my arrival, I have been grateful to find that my old neighbors still treat me as a one of their own.
July 2nd was my first full day in Sana’a. In the afternoon I took a stroll over to my old neighborhood (called Bustan Al-Sultan or “Garden of the Sultan”) – the place where I lived during my year of Arabic language study. As soon as I turned the corner onto my street, all the little kids ran towards me with their arms open wide, laughing and shouting my name. I felt a bit awkward at first; many passers-by look over at me and the swarm of children with puzzled looks.
The kids proceeded to bombard me with all sorts of difficult questions in slurred Arabic, such as: “Mac, do you remember my name?” (I often didn’t, but I had a helper who assisted me with not-so-subtle whispers). One girl ask me, “Mac, would you like to get your ears pierced?” Her father – who happens to be a good friend of mine – overheard the comment and asked her to “Please apologize to Miiister Mac.”
The following day, several of the neighbors invited me over for a large welcome lunch. All of my favorite Yemeni foods were laid out. It was delicious. I thanked them profusely as I am used to doing back home in the States, but then I was reminded of my error. My host and good friend Hussein looked toward me and said: “Mac, there is no reason for ‘thanks’ (shukr) in your own house.”
Taken aback by his expression of friendship, I slipped again and said: “Thank you, Hussein.” As long as I live here, I will still think and behave like an American.