I haven’t had chance to sit down and write about anything (London, Hull, Syria) since arriving in Yemen just over a week ago. In this dry arid land with the shadow of Al Qaeda supposedly lurking round every street corner I needed a drink, something to relax me, but there is only Khat, the hallucinogenic plant which (what seems like 60% of) the locals start chewing around 2pm.
As night falls a haze comes over the chewer and no matter what problems may exist, and currently I have many, everything seems just fine… But no, this is not enough for me, I need something stronger, something with a kick, I need a beer or two at the end of a lazy day, of any day really, and I’ve just finished the last of my duty-free.
So my friend and guide took me on a tour of some illegal beer houses to search for booze, but they were all closed and we ended up at a Chinese restaurant known for selling the odd bottle but at ridiculously inflated prices – I bought a half bottle of scotch for $25, annoyed, but pleased to have a drink, we drove back to my hotel.
I had the odd nip or two in back of the car, it was okay stuff, we stopped at the traffic lights and suddenly the doors either side of me are pulled open and two soldiers shove their way inside, Kalashnikovs digging into each side of me. Fortunately for us, my guide stayed very cool and he immediately got on to the phone and rang his brother, but, whilst talking in English, let the soldiers believe it was actually the British embassy. Meanwhile the soldier on my left has my half bottle of whisky open and is smelling it, saying, “Haraam, haraam” – Forbidden, forbidden.
But I was dying for a fucking drink and this man had my booze. Inside my head I was bravely cursing him, wildly telling him what I would do if only I got the chance… Luckily, in the real world, the call to the ‘British embassy’ had worked and both soldiers were now shitting themselves and asking that we ‘pals’ don’t mention their names, we agree.
The soldier hands back my whisky, and then his boss clambers in, first waving nicely then asking if I have any money I could give them, finally, the true reason for our meeting, I tell them I have money in the hotel if they wish to come, “No” they reply, and, as quick as they came, they disappeared into the night.
We drive away, my guide screaming with laughter, “Welcome to Yemen Mr Sean, you are very welcome, can’t you see, they couldn’t and wouldn’t dare ever touch a foreigner, and now even we are safe when we travel with you”. I had another slug and stared sweatily into the night.