Harveys Logbook

February 2000

Aden, what a place. The landscape is striking, the area was the site of some ancient violent volcanic activity. Aden port is behind a huge lava mountain range about 8 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide.  Not much rain here, no grass and trees, just rock and dirt, the heart of the city is an area called crater, the crater of the old volcano facing the Arabian sea, at the port on the other side is Al, Taliwah and in between is Muliwah.  Away from the volcanic headland is the huge suburban area of Korhmister, the airport and industrial area all around to the other side of the bay where there is another volcanic area called Little Aden, there is a huge oil refinery there.

My first impression as we anchored was yuk, not an attractive town at all. Most things look ramshackle, the buildings, the cars, the roads and it is teeming with people. The thing that strikes you most is that everyone is in business. No big shops at all, all small family business's and here there are just as many street vendors as shops around the town square, city markets and minibus depot as well as in many of the shopping streets. It's even difficult to walk along the footpath, vendors with clothes, fruit and veggies, eggs and all. Some just spread their wares on a blanket on the ground, others have little karts or booths. Still others have erected ramshackle make do shops on vacant land. Many have made their shops on a wheelbarrow, they add a couple of extra wheels to the legs and a table on top on which to spread their wares and do business.

Like every city in the world bumper to bumper traffic and the cars, cars and minibuses, not many motorbikes, never saw so many bombs in my life, mostly old Toyotas and Nissans, dings all over the bodywork and held together with bits of wire and welded patches.  The roads are potholey and the footpaths a mixture of nice pavement in front of some buildings, dirt and rocks in front of others. These people are just as addicted to plastic singlet bags and pet drink bottles as us. There are discarded ones blowing around everywhere in most streets along with cardboard boxes and papers, The exterior of the buildings is covered with a forest of phone and electric wires, I wonder how it all works, but it does, most of the time. The restaurants are equipped with very second hand looking tables and chairs and equipment and look very messy and untidy, no aesthetics at all. The waiters and cooks seem to make a point of yelling and shouting at each other all the time which at times gets on my goat. However it all works, soehow or other all the supplies get in and most people make a living although there are quite a few beggars on the streets. Everything is cash, I am astounded at the number of moneychangers, there are very few tourists and I see mainly Arab people in the moneychangers shops. There is a great mixture of people here huge minorities of Indians, Africans and Somalis, I even met a guy from Ethiopia in a café.

On my few days at the hotel in Crater I really get an opportunity to observe the place first hand. Lots of people sleep on the streets. One afternoon I am observing the huge vacant lot opposite the hotel. Amongst the piles of rocks and rubble I can see lots of shelters built everywhere with piles of rocks and cardboard boxes. The hotel does not serve any food, rooms only. They recommend a restaurant about 10 minutes walk away that has new looking tables and chairs and is spotless and tastefully decorated. The price seems much the same as the many ramshackle restaurants I have seen yet at breakfast I almost have it to myself. I even went to Pizza Hut one night craving clean aesthetically pleasing surroundings. Soon I am fitting into the Aden pace of life, work in the morning, close the shop for a long lunch and siesta in the middle of the day then reopen around 4 or 5 p.m.  and work in the cool of the twilight and evening. At the Sierra headland on the coast half an hours walk from the city center there are cowds of people sitting around chatting and smoking water pipes in the cool evening.

The national pastime is a leaf called Quat, you see bunches of it for sale in the markets everywhere. You also notice lots of guys with a large cheek that's chewing it. They put the leaves in and keep sucking it for hours on end gives them a lift. I tried some, awful taste, you have to suck it for a long time to get the sedation from it but couldn't put up with the taste long enough to get that far. Lots of people have offered me some. So in the afternoon and evening that's what the boys do instead of going to the pub. The other thing lots of people like is smoking water pipes. Like in all the Muslim country I have visited everyone smokes, cigarettes are very cheap.

Brother Chris visited here thirty years age and purchased his famous motorbike here. In those days it was a British protectorate, there are forts and fort walls all over the hills around here, the most spectacular is an old Turkish fort on Sierra Island. Many of these walls and water cisterns were built thousands of years ago and refurbished and improved upon by the British.  Must have been lots of tourists in Aden when Chris visited, all those ships on the way to the Suez canal, since the British left it has become a closed society for a long time the "Marxist" republic of south Yemen. That's a chuckle, these guys are such traders and wheeler-dealers, how could they ever have been Marxist brothers? But a few years ago they unified with North Yemen and the countries capital Sanna up in the hills. Their rich neighbor is Saudi Arabia but still they support Sadam Hussein and hate Israel. So there are very few tourists here these days, but most people are curious and friendly towards us. No more passenger ships hese days, the only tourists are the adventurous ones who are sick of the usual tourist spots.

The military is very present in the Immigration department and appear very smart and well trained and not corrupt. They have simple offices with lots of assistants and tea makers. There are several military bases around town and lots of soldiers. You see a few wells disciplined police in town. But society here is well ordered and even though by our standards it's ramshackle and run down looking everything works well.

Things are changing however, in the western part of crater you see lots of newer apartment blocks. In Mualla lots of very new ones and some huge areas being cleared for redevelopment. To the north of Kormister they are building New Aden another whole large suburban area with lawns and grass too, what a surprise.