In Sana'a, A Souk With Personal Space

In Yemen, investigating recent events. But first, tourism. I met up with a journalist named Peter Willems, a tall, affable Texan with a crew cut (or is he from New Mexico?) He’s been here three years, after a spell in Lebanon, and pretty much has the American-journalist-living-in-Yemen market cornered. Pete’s also full of useful backstory on the country, and he knows his way around the fantastic souk in the old city. We hurried through, but I'll need another morning there, if just to sort out how to describe the smells. Except for the Tang on the shelves of the grocery stalls, and the motorcycles whizzing by, the whole experience felt a couple hundred years old. I know from my Lonely Planet guidebook that Sana’a has one of the largest completely preserved old cities in the Arab world, and that UNESCO helped restore it, to the tune of several hundred million dollars.

“Look at the room,” Pete said, gesturing to an imaginary line to his left, as we walked next to the street where they sell the qat, the national stimulant. Then he explained. No one had bumped, hassled, or tried to aggressively sell us anything. The souk in Sana’a comes with personal space.

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