Gulf of Aden... sounds like Paradise
Trip Start May 01, 2008
92Trip End Ongoing
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The flight over Yemen, from Sana' to the Gulf of Aden, was incredible. The sun was just rising, as we passed over moutains, deserts, a plateau veined with deep canyons, a few villages, sand dunes, and eventually the shoreline as we reached Balhaf. We landed on the reserved airstrip, and made our way to the plant.
Entering the secure area we went through a checkpoint, where Yemenis have to surrender their weapons. There are 60 million firearms in Yemen, for a population of 20 million.
In the morning we had all our safety inductions, including a security presentation where the security advisor, a French ex-officer, showed us the map of terrorist and pirate attacks in Yemen and in the Gulf of Aden. His conclusion was that the risk was medium, and that one day or another there will be an attack on the installation. Great. A full bataillon of 800 soldiers from the Yemeni army is guarding the area, and evacuation scenarios were explained to us.
The "threat" was mostly internal for us, as a small incident can quickly degenerate into a demonstration which usually turns into a riot.
Some colleagues on site explained me later how they almost got lynched and/or stoned, they were very lucky to have survived when th totality of muslim workers on site (about a few thousands) started a riot.
Another funny story I heard on site was about that Yemeni clan chief from the north explaing he had a bulletproof truck. A tank, you mean? Yes, a tank! Mmmm, and can you fire with it? Yes of course, but we have only 4 shells... Then the Yemeni starts asking questions: what gun do you have at home? We don't have guns. How do you do when you want to kill someone then? We don't kill people. What do you do then when someone enters your territory? We don't kill them, we call the police. But how do you kill them if they lack respect? We don't kill them... and so on...
This is just a small example of the mentality here. You can see people without proper shoes but carrying their own gun and a kalashnikov. People are armed, and it is normal to kill.
This said, the Yemeni are absolutely adorable. They are very polite, smiling, and full of attention. Very nice people to be with, as long as you don't offend them.
Out of the 8000 people working here, there is a majority of Yemenis, but also many frenchies, Koreans, Japanese, Filipinos, Indians, and anglo-saxons. A good mix. There were some Pakistanis too, but they were evacuated on the morning of our arrival, as the heat was rising after the Bombay attacks and there was going to be some lynching with the Indians.
Apart from thousand of kilometres of piping and cables, and tons and tons of steel, there were huge equipments, very interesting professionally. More interesting though, was to climb on top of the LNG tanks and watch the surrounding landscape from there, and the sunset.
A flock of migrating bird was flying just meters above the water, there were thousands of them in a column over a kilometre long, which appeared from afar as an ant colony.
A dozen of Dolphins were hunting just meters from the shore, with schools of fish jumping out of the water in a desesperate attempt to avoid being eaten alive. It was easy to imagine how incredible this place was before. It took no imagination to see what it had become.