Journal entry, written on a bus in The Yemen, aged 23 © Greg Cummings
Thurs Nov 7 ‘85
About an hour outside Sa'na, the earth suddenly falls away and plunges some five thousand feet into a sandstone valley. It makes for pretty precarious driving but, with a grooving Yemeni tune rolling round the bus, I feel quite comfortable. I've just noticed the rocks are green, not from moss or anything like that, just green. The weather is cold but the air, chocked with dust, and random twisters dance between the hills.
Entire towns are perched precariously atop towering rock promontories, two to three thousand feet above the saddle, leading one to wonder how the fuck the inhabitants of these eyries manage to say a neighbourly 'Good morning' to each other.
The bus was stopped just outside Sa'na at a military road block, and a young soldier carrying an AK-47 came aboard and scrutinised the faces of the bus passengers, presumably looking for subversives. He took one look at me and demanded, “Pazzpord.” I trusted my papers were all in order.
Climbing up the other side of the valley now, where the rocks are blue and the clouds roll between the sun and jagged peaks of the southern rift.
I want to escape into these mountains and wail a despondent solo, live in a clay tower with a veiled wife and goats, read the Quran every day and soar with the hawks, learn to play the harooz and weave silk with hennaed hands. Only then will I be able to write home and tell mother everything's just fine.
Down we wind, through a maze of jagged hills and passes, where more tropical vegetation clings to the river banks we cross. It’s certainly warmer and more humid in the valley below, and I see more women without veils, some quite beautiful. We’re still a ways from the sea, zigzagging our way up and down foothills. The boulders appear carbon-based and ready to issue wisdom. Their smooth wispy shapes evoke wild impression, a sense of madness in the geology.
We’re on the coastal flats now, where a thick haze of dust hangs over miles and miles of farmland, so thick the setting sun disappears behind it. For all I know in this murk, we could be nowhere, trapped on a doom-bound bus that's hurtling its way through desolate uncertainty towards the edge of the earth. No more farmlands, it’s now only desert. We're headed for world’s end. Hang on, there’s a town up ahead. Could it be - yes it is. Hodeida-by-the-Sea. I get it, what seemed a desert was really the world’s widest beach!
Alas, the Red Sea! The balmy, balmy Red Sea!