By – Hayat Al-sharif
The Sana’a Seventh Summer Tourist Festival, under the slogan: “Towards a safe and stable “,Yemen opened with 2,500 participants representing 23 Yemeni provinces and 8 Arab states, the foreign community, and 2 tents of African countries.
The Summer Festival of Sana’a has been changing the perspectives of many tourists about Yemen. The festival provides a variety of artistic performances, heritage presentations, and craftsmanship, and many Yemenis and foreigners came to the festival to share their experiences, knowledge, and cultures.
Al-sharif interviewed Monika Steinberger, Director of Program Management and Development Aid to Artisans. She said, “before visiting Yemen, my image on the country was negative as a dangerous place, hostile to people from Europe and America. The impression was that Yemen is poor with very little industry or handicrafts made in the country, with most things imported from China and India.”
“However, after having worked and interacted with the Yemeni people for the past week, my impression was much different: on a person to person level, politics and conflict between governments play no role, it is just people reacting to people.”
“Everyone has warmly welcomed me,” she said. “Yemeni people have a rich heritage and an old civilization that they are proud of, and they were eager to share it with me. In my job, I work with artisans all over the world who make beautiful things. But the Yemeni tradition is so unique, I feel overwhelmed by the richness of Yemeni colors, the opulence of their jewelry and the ingenuity and beauty of their architecture.”
Monika answered the question about Yemeni people who welcome foreigners and said, “all members of the CASH team and I feel very welcome in Yemen.”
“Public officials and business people greeted us and were open to collaborate with our efforts for the benefit of the people of Yemen. I received many gifts, which is very unusual for our culture, but everyone tried to share something with me just to show me that I am welcome here.”
“Foreigners want to come and appreciate the extraordinary beauty of Yemen, but they are discouraged by reports of political unrest. The recent Tourism Festival was proof that Yemen tries very hard to attract foreigners to their country. This event was organized very professionally; it celebrated Yemeni culture, natural attractions, craft and more. It was definitely on an international level, ready to receive tourists once tourism has rebounded in Yemen.”
She added, “Yemeni people are very warm and hospitable. The whole culture is one of close family ties and friendship. The people have strong creativity and a superior sense of beauty. It is my impression that Yemenis are also very resilient, they are used to hardship and have learned to work around it.”
“The people incorporate their aesthetic traditions into their every lives, with weddings being a central event. It is amazing to see how modern Yemenis celebrate such family events in traditional style. It was one of the strongest impressions of my trip, how eager the people are to show me this unique tradition, and for me to wear these prized artifacts and immerse myself in what it means to be Yemeni.”
“Women relax with each other and form a strong sisterhood. They do not worry about the veil or the Balto, they just wear it without complaint so that they can go about their daily work undisturbed and get things done.”
“I met many women who are successful businesswomen, designers, and photographers. They work, earn money and are successful, while still being part of the traditional culture. The women artisans I met in Yemen are prefect in their work with open mind for new things.”
“Once I started to wear the Balto and the scarf I noticed how easily women reach out and support each other; but Yemeni women face much greater obstacles on a daily basis compared to women in my part of the world. The more women are allowed to work and be successful, the better it will be for the country.”
“I am not here in an official function; my purpose for being here is to work with Yemeni women artisans on a person-to-person level. So I cannot speak to all Yemenis, but I can speak to the people I met. I want to tell them to continue to work; in the same determined way I have seen them do everything, despite the enormous obstacles laid in their way every day. I want to encourage them to have an open mind to new things from my part of the world and combine it with their tradition so that we can move forward together,” Monika said.
She continued, “I would like to work together with Yemeni women to open new markets for the beautiful Yemeni handcrafts. The change I would like to make is that famous Yemeni products, such as crafts, coffee and honey are compliant with international standards, so that they are accepted in international markets. I would like ‘Made in Yemen’ to become a source of pride and greater income for the people.”
Monika loved Yemen, though she was scared of the visit because of the security situation here. She hoped to visit the rest of the Yemeni provinces. She said, “I hope to return to Yemen and see the different sites and environments, from sea, to mountains, to desert. And over the next years, I would like to develop all the relationships with the Yemeni people that started during this visit and initiate many business contacts between my world and yours.”
I also met with Daniel Mulu|, Coffee Value Chain Specialist Coffee Quality Institute, USA and he talked about his image of Yemen after visiting. “My image of the country is now extremely different! I had the idea that Yemen is unsafe to visit and work in.”
“However after my week stay in Yemen and working specifically with the people in the coffee industry, my impression is much different. People are inviting, respectful and everyone including high-level officials at the Ministry of Agriculture have warmly welcomed me,” Daniel said.
“Yemen’s coffee industry is legendary. Farmers have been growing coffee for the international market for centuries. Yemeni coffee has a unique Mocha flavor, I love it.”
“In my experience, I have realized that foreigners are most welcome in Yemen.”
Daniel found similarities between Yemenis and Ethiopians. He said, “Yemeni people are very great, friendly and respectful. Of course, many aspects of culture, history, and many others are similar to Ethiopia.”
“Let’s all work together to develop the entire coffee industry in Yemen, aspects in coffee production, quality improvement, promotion and marketing.”
Finally, Daniel hopes to travel back to Yemen again to work with the coffee industry and to get a chance to visit the many historical sites.