In 2006, American journalist, Jennifer Steil was asked to visit Sana'a for three weeks to improve the local English language newspaper. The paper was in serious need of upgrading and her initial three weeks eventually became a year's employment.
Although her presence was initially viewed suspiciously by the male staff, the women accepted her immediately. Dealing with the female staff involved finding ways around their restrictive lifestyles. They came from traditional families and wore the long dress and head covering. They could not travel in a taxi with a male driver and were required to be home before evening. The men, on the other hand, had problems accepting instruction from a woman and no concept of time-keeping. In addition, everyone needed considerable improvements to their use of the English language. Jennifer had to teach all the staff how to begin a piece, how to be impartial and not to write articles promoting the paper's advertisers. She than had the problem of getting eveything laid out and ready to go for a twice-weekly deadline. At first this was acheived by about 3am, but eventually she managed to bring this forward by nearly 5 hours.
Sana'a is a city that I visited for just 24hrs but it is a fascinating, ancient city and I loved Jennifer's descriptions of the place. She lived in a quaint old 'gingerbread' house and although she spent endless hours whipping the paper into shape, she also explored the city, both with colleagues and on her own. During her stay she also visited Soqotra Island and other areas of the Yemen.
One of the fascinating aspects of being female but American was that Jennifer was accepted into both male and female societies. She was able to visit the women and converse with them without the head covering, but she was also received into male-only gatherings as an 'honoury' male.
Although I loved the local flavour, I did find the detailed descriptions of the newspaper's problems and solutions a bit excessive. However, this was a good read and a book that I would recommend for those interested in a feel of Yemen.
It is worth taking a look at the Yemen Observer which can be viewed online. Even after Ms Steil's year of improvements, some amusing articles can be found. It is not hard to imagine the state of the newspaper when she began her task.
I loved this book. Getting to know the Yemeni way of life through a non Muslims eyes. I really liked the author and the people she worked with. I felt sorry for the way some of the women felt about themselves and about sex. This is cultural and not at all Islamic. As so many Yemenis are illiterate then who is teaching them these views? Is it their men? Or the mosques? This baffles me? Anyway it was a really enjoyable easy read but the end really put me off. I have to be honest I just thought 'what a cow!" and it's really made me dislike the author. Many people probably won't care but for me it has really changed my view. Great book but the Yemenis seemed to have more morals than her....