A Yemeni Women Reflects on Ten Days in France

National Yemen

Wall of peace in Paris ” Peace written in 32 languages including the Arabic”

By: Elham Al-Oqabi for National Yemen

The best thing about traveling abroad is that before it teaches you about other people, it teaches you more about yourself. It makes you to know who you are, where exactly you stand, and where you want to go and what you want to be.

The best thing about travel is that it makes you to see many places; it puts you in many situations just to locate your place and situation exactly. It tells you how strong you are and how weak you are, how swift you move forward or backward, or for how long you stay running in the same big empty circle, fast or slow.

I got a chance to go to Perpignan in southern France to attend the 25 anniversary of Visa Pour l’image Festival last September. This was my first time in France or in any European country. It was my chance to see Paris, the Eiffel tower, the Louvre and the Mona Lisa.

Unfortunately, there was a technical problem with the plane, so I missed the programmed two days in Paris. But that gave me the chance to learn the Parisian train system. In my country there is no train system at all, despite our former president keep telling those who are against him that they missed the train. But this is another story.

The train station in Paris is huge, and what is scarier is that all the people know exactly where to go. Nobody asks anyone else. And if they are lost, I think, they will open their phones, consulting their GPS or Google. And to make things scarier there were no employees to buy tickets. Technology and Machines!

But I made it, thanks to all the kind French people who helped me and explained things to me “in English”. Thanks to all the Arab migrant women who upon just seeing their scarf and being able to ask them questions in Arabic relieved my soul. And again thanks to France for its diversity and acceptance of others. Through their help I managed to catch my group just before they took the train to Perpignan to start my journey and to attend Visa Pours l’image festival.

Visa pour l’Image is the International Festival of Photojournalism. It is an annual rendezvous for photographers, journalists, picture editors and press agencies. Thousands of those who share a love and passion for photography participate. The greatest photojournalist works from around the world are showed there. And you have to have a very strict schedule to see all the exhibitions, events, symposiums and conferences. It is also a good chance to meet photo agencies and manufacturers of photography and show them your work.

In the evening there was a big screen in the open air, which is a story in itself.  It is a four day trip of photos and music showing the greatest photos of the last year. There is story telling and meeting people from different parts of the world. There were people who were happy, scared, sad, successful, lost, hungry, raped, died or killed. My heart sank in pain when I saw the bad image of Muslims. My heart sank in tears when I saw photos of Palestinians seeking their freedom.  And my heart sank in happiness to see that there were many Arabic and Muslim names. They made it. And I can too.

But all the shows take us on a journey through history and the present and by the ends of every show a big question was asked; when would the world would be a better place for us all? I still hear the great music in my ears. And I know that it will stay in my mind for years. It reminds me of the great days I spent there. To the great people I met there who made my journey easy when it got difficult. One of the difficult things was losing my bags in the airport for four days.

But for me, going to Perpignan was not only a trip to learn more about photojournalism. It was more than that.

Many details filled my mind every day and every minute. I learned for the first time about Catalan cultural and tradition. I feel I know it as if they came from Andalusia of Spain and had mutual points with the Turkish.

The people walking on the street. The student going out from their school, the freedom,  the Arabic immigrants , the chick women, the genteel men , the lovely dogs, the adorable houses, the clean street, the trees.

Trees; this is a lesson of how things are different from one country to another. In my country we search for trees just to sit under. That is not what happened there, as dogs search and need trees more than people.

The comfortable hotel. The amazing breakfast with all those delicious different types of cheese and the best ever corwason. The lunch and the dinner, the complete respect of my religion, not only from the administrators of the workshop but also from my 12 fellows who came from different countries and with different religions… The old people in the light circle that showed me that there is life after your forties. And people who can speak more than four languages telling me that learning languages is important for the coming world.

Two months had passed away and I still can not write about what I saw there. And I cannot write about what I saw, and I still can not decide what to write and what to hide.

I noticed that French women are so chic and I think that their efforts should be appreciated and be admired, which is not an easy task. Ask me. We had a final assignment to take ten photos of French women, and my project focused on the beauty of their hands.

What I know, what I was sure about is that I was happy, so happy. The time to leave came. I had to take the flight to Paris early in the morning and then take the flight departing France in the night. But because there was a problem in my train reservation, I had only five hours to see Paris. In a swift visit I went to the Eiffel tower. It is a miracle constructed by humans. We should have a tower in Yemen. Yemeni people are miracles in themselves so I guess they can easily make miracles like that, just if……. . Long answer for the most difficult question.

I took some photos proving I was there and to tease others. I also saw the Cathedral on the Seine river.

Thanks to the organizers in the Catalan Union of Youth Homes and Culture in Perpignan. Thank you Mme. Christine Ruz, Yoann and my guardian angel from Spain, Balnka. Thank you to the French Cultural Institute in Yemen and Mme. Chantal. And thank you to my 12 fellows, especially my roommate Hannah from Luxembourg.

Thanks to all the people who gave me those good memories and thanks for everything I learned from your deeds, your words, your acts, your smile, or just your way of behavior or just sitting and watching you.

I like France because it taught me to like my country more. I love its adorable land and its kind people because it showed me how beautiful Yemen is and the Yemeni people. French people have a very warm heart, and they show me that Yemenis have the warmest hearts ever.

The best thing about travel abroad is that it teaches you that it is not about what our country needs to be like how we want it to be. It is more about what our country needs from us to be as we want it to be . The best thing about travel abroad is that it makes you love other countries just to feel how much your country loves you.

Edited by Kevin Davis