Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Yemen Mukalla 3

The box with the buntings was missing. There seemed to be no one around to ask! The other passengers had left and we were the only ones waiting in the arrival hall.

A uniformed officer asked us what was wrong and I told him in my broken Arabic .

He asked us to wait and I saw him send two porters hack to the airplane

waiting for our missing box at Mukalla airport

They came back almost an hour later without the box.

I had some experience with lost baggage since Abang Long lost a bag when we landed in Dubai .

Dubai airport is a sharp contrast to Mukalla. In Dubai the workers and officers were super efficient and everybody knew their roles . There were even employees moving around with a T Shirt on which was written Ask Me! When we reported to a porter a bag was missing they immediately asked for the baggage tickets , noted the total weight and weighed the rest of the baggage. They noted the serial number of each bag to find out which bag was missing . The bag was returned to Abang Long the next night.

So now I told the officer I wanted to make a report on the missing bag and we checked the serial numbers on the bags that were there to find out the serial number of the missing box.

By then somebody who seemed to know what to do arrived on the scene.

His name was Lotfi.

I told him we were very late since we were supposed to be at the exhibition hall of the University of Hadhramaut.

Upon this explanation he seemed to brighten up and mentioned that some people from the University had come earlier on to the airport and he had some specific instructions for arrivals from Malaysia.

He wrote a report , asked me to identify the shape and color of the box and gave me a report which I placed in my sling bag after giving it a cursory glance.

We were all set to go and went looking for a taxi when Lotfi , came to us to tell us to wait. He said the officials from the University are sending us a car to take us to the University .

driving to Mukalla from the airport

I was getting a bit suspicious and did not think that anybody would send a car to get fetch us. Maybe they were thinking we were some other people.

I became even more apprehensive when the car arrived complete with an important looking official who greeted us . I am not a person who notices car makes but the car was a beige MPV . A man took our bags from us and soon we were off .

The important looking man called up Hotel Holiday Inn , asked for our passports and said something about a room booking.

He then said that we should check in first before going to the University.

Mas insisted that we go to the University first.

I took out the report that Lotfi made and the words VIP jumped out at me.

"Mas, Syifa , I think they think we are some kind of VIP s and I am sure we are not!"

I am pretty sure Mas and Syifa did not understand that I was beginning to suspect a case of mistaken identity.

There were two groups of Malaysians in Mukalla at that time. One group was part of Tun Dr Mahathir's entourage and another was from the International Islamic Fair and we belonged to the latter .

When we got to the exhibition hall, everybody was moving out because in Mukalla everything moves to a standstill between 1 pm to 4 pm , it was siesta time!

Hadhramaut University Exhibition Hall

It seems that the Yemeni Prime Minister had invited all the Malaysians from both groups to a banquet at Holiday Inn.

We therefore found ourselves in Holiday Inn and Mas checked at the counter to see if we were booked there because the travel agent did mention Holiday Inn as one of the possible hotels .

Without asking any further the reception clerk asked for our passports, made photocopies and somebody came over and signed for us.

When we were shown to the room , my heart began to sink. This could not be right , The room was far too luxurious and way beyond our pockets.

Holiday Inn Mukalla the hotel room that was not ours!

We placed our bags and went for the sumptuous feast . Our table was in front of the table with the Yemeni dignitaries and we saw the Prime Minister taking his lunch. He ate with his hands, did not appear to stand out from amongst his other ministers and I was awed to see how humble he was.

I dare not weigh myself after coming back from Yemen. I like Arab food , it always reminds me of my carefree student days and the two banquet lunches provided me with far too much calories for my own good! On top of which Yemenis seem to have the typical Arab custom of feeding their guests beyond dietary requirements!

By this time the growing suspicion of mistaken identity was growing stronger. We caught up with Fiona Abdullah the travel agent and discovered our group was booked at another hotel , the Arab Sea hotel and the group in Holiday Inn was from the Tun Dr Mahathir entourage.

Who was going to pay for our room? Fiona talked to Mohamed and that was the first time we set eyes on this young Yemeni man who seemed to know a few words of Malay.

"Tiada Masalaaaah", he had said . A favourite phrase he had. He asked Mas to wait until he confirmed a room before checking out but I insisted on leaving immediately , knowing full well a night's stay at this 5 star hotel would break my budget!

At the counter I talked to the man who signed for us and told him I think there had been some mistake and we were not supposed to stay at Holiday Inn. He was gracious and allowed us to leave apologising and saying that they did not know the identity of the people who were supposed to check in because nobody had given them any names!

Mohamed came to talk to us later to confirm he had booked a room for the three of us at Arab Sea hotel and I breathed a sigh of relief!


The IIF, Yemeni people, Women Bosses, Mohamed, Wadi Doan, lost passport and more....

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Yemen Mukalla 2

At the counter in the lobby of Funduk Mattar

" Salam ! Oda ashan talatah ila bukra subh, be kam ?"

Translation: A room for three people until tomorrow morning, how much ?

The reception clerk said $USD 195!

The mind boggles! Here in Aden , of which we had thus far seen grubby money , men in Yemeni cloth( like pelikat) and shirts , battered cars , bare square stone buildings looking rather antique , actually has hotel rooms that cost like they were in New York!

A bit of play acting is called for under this situation! With the sternest face I had , I questioned the price and discovered that he quoted a price for a suite.
After a lot of arguments back and forth he finally quoted $USD 50.

I still did not quite believe that this shabby hotel cost that much per night !
I asked to see printed rates , which he did not have .
He finally understood what I wanted and pointed to the monitor .
Syifa knew how to read Arabic , so she went behind the counter and read out the available rooms and the rates for each room.
We finally settled for a room with two single beds and an extra mattress for $US 47.
It was still rather steep but we did not have a choice and besides, that was the rate Syifa read out on the monitor screen!

$US47 /day and the bare essentials

The room was reasonably clean and free from dust . My nose is a superb dust detector ,(when dust is present I sneeze nonstop) so I can vouch for that! It was about 9 pm and we were still jet lagged and we planned to sleep early .
I went down with Syifa to a grocery store across the road to buy drinks and on the way out , a Yemeni youth asked if we were from Malaysia. He spoke good English and we found out he was studying in Sedaya College in KL !

I adjusted my Sony Ericson P9901 to show Yemeni time and made sure I set the alarm to activate for the Fajr prayers.

One of the blessings of this journey was my ability to fall deeply and soundly asleep at all the strange places we had to sleep in.

In no time at all, Mas was waking me up . She said it is Fajr now , get up and pray! I looked at my mobile phone and it indicated it was only 4.30 am local time . I sleepily told her it is too early but she insisted it was Fajr because she heard the Azan. I reluctantly got up made ablutions and prayed.

15 minutes after praying I heard the Azan and said to Mas , look here , that is the Azan and now is Fajr! So I prayed again. 15 minutes after this , I heard another Azan and this time I was totally confused! I can understand 2 Azans, one to wake people up and another at the onset of Fajr but 3 Azans? I listened carefully and concluded the third Azan was the iqamah .

Mas was insisting that her watch showed it was already 6 am and I insisted it was 5 am .We found out later that there was an hour time difference between Dubai and Aden and Mas had set her watch to Dubai time while I only adjusted my handphone in Aden.

Our breakfast that morning consisted of biscuits and milk that we had bought at the grocery. I drank my Muz Bi Laban which Syifa commented tasted like liquid Banana Cake . I guess it was nostalgia for my student days which made me buy the drink. I used to take fresh Banana Milk Shake at the juice shop in Egypt during my student years.

The journey back to the Airport which started the next morning was uneventful except that it seems I paid only $25 instead of $ 40 , thinking the $5 was a 20 dollar note , US money being of the same color for all denominations! I paid the rest in Yemeni Riyal. I therefore settled the rest of the bill, to the relief of the reception clerk .

The taxi we got this time was a shining new taxi and for that we had to pay Yemeni Riyal 1000 ...for the two minute ride to the airport! This is nearly RM 20!

The one hour plane ride was over in no time and we found ourselves in Mukalla airport , needless to say it was even smaller than the one in Aden.

The bags were out in no time and I was relieved to see my apple green bag . I had a nagging feeling that bags were easily lost by the very lax way baggage was handled. Afterall bags that should have been sent to Mukallah direct were taken out at Aden!

And then it happened.....the conveyor belt had stopped , and the box we were carrying with the buntings was missing!

We had a problem with this box earlier in Aden. Some people , maybe the customs people had torn it open to inspect the contents at which I gave them a hard glare and the same officer who had helped us earlier had said to leave us alone. They had then taped it up with a big cellophane tape that had the words, Resealed and an airport code SAH. Just maybe that made the box go elsewhere for the plane that brought us to Mukalla was going somewhere else after dropping some passengers at Riyan Mukallah airport .

Next : The wait for the bags, VIP treatment , Holiday Inn Mukallah, Banquet fit for Kings and more !

Monday, December 29, 2008

Yemen Mukalla 1

Mukalla Yemen

Where do I begin?

The lyrics of the song Love Story that I knew from long ago did not sound out of place as we were driven around Mukalla by Mohamed in his Toyota Hilux. The pleasant young man who seemed to be everywhere and who was indispensable to the Malaysians in Mukalla did not fail to catch my attention when we arrived at Holiday Inn Mukalla to have lunch as guests of the Prime Minister of Yemen .

The turn of events that made us end up with Mohamed in Mukalla would sound like a drama on TV.

It began when we boarded a plane to Aden from Dubai .

I was apprehensive as I boarded the plane to Aden from Dubai. I looked at Syifa Hana , the 15 year old daughter of my friend Dr Harlina. She looked excited with eyes shining and was totally oblivious of the anxiety I was experiencing. She did not know the Arab world and Dubai hardly counts ! I said to her, " You are not worried are you?"
I thought to myself , that is just as well that Mas and Syifa did not know what troubles they could be in for . Let me be the one who is ready for it and ready to deal with it , having studied in Egypt for seven years, some 30 years ago .

As we touched down in Aden , it felt to me like we had gone back in time . I was seeing Cairo or maybe Tanta 30 years ago. The airport was simple and bare , there were men and women , most of them in traditional clothes . The women in full burka .

There was some confusion as we went through immigration. The immigration officer told us to apply for a visa at another counter and a few seconds later another officer came and asked for our nationality. The minute he knew we were Malaysians he communicated to the immigration officer that we did not need a visa! If only I could give you a picture of the exchange . It was typically Arab , loud voices , a lot of gesticulations and we were done! He asked us for an address in Aden and with my broken Arabic I told him we were in transit and were to catch a flight to Mukalla in the morning and would be staying in a hotel." Funduk Mattar " he suggested. I brightened up immediately and agreed with his suggestion, " Aiywah quais, Funduk Mattar."
He had suggested we stay at the airport hotel and that was great news for us , that there was actually an airport hotel!

The first thing I saw as we left immigration and walked out of the arrival hall were our bags! We had asked that the bags be sent to Mukalla and yet there they were arranged higgledy piggledy by the side of the small baggage area.

I had to think fast . We did not have any place to stay overnight and staying at the bare airport with all the strange men around was out of the question.

I searched for currency exchange counter and found the only one there . I placed $USD 60 on the counter only to have 40 returned and was given Yemeni money to the equivalent of $USD20. I looked at the money incredulously. I have never seen such grubby worn out money since 30 years ago when I was studying in Egypt!

Armed with about 3900 Yemeni riyals , we asked for directions to the Funduk Mattar. It was within visual range and within walking distance , if only we did not have heavy luggage which included buntings for the Trade fair in Mukalla!

In the end we had to take a taxi for the two minute ride and were charged a whopping 600 riyals !Taxi with our bags loaded !

There was another little drama Arab style as I chided the taxi driver for overcharging because the porter at the hotel said it should have been only 200 riyals!
I saw his face turn red as he got ready to fight for his money.
I was not about to prolong the drama and I said in my most regal broken Arabic.
I keep my promise and we had a deal and I had agreed to pay 600 and I am paying it even though you have done us an injustice.
The man broke out in a smile and soon our bags were in the lobby of the hotel.

Another Arab drama was about to ensue....

to be continued.