At 7am my phone alarm jolts me awake. I sleepily scroll through the notifications (they can wait until after my first espresso), until I see my favorite alert: Horoscope of the Stars. It was introduced to me by a magical jewelry designer in Oman, and I’ve enjoyed the daily predictions ever since. Today it reads: Your wanderlust will be stronger than ever. Instead of travel, you will need to expand your mind.
My thoughts immediately jump to Yemen, a faraway place very dear to my heart. I close my eyes and suddenly the smell ofbun, brewed coffee made from coffee shells, inundates the room. I catch the delicate touch of cardamom that makes the flavor so unique. I can see elderly women in colorful patterneddresses. They arered and blue dots flowing down ancient streets. I have always admired their delicate way of walking. It is as if they float, never touching the ground, as they caress the streets on tip toes. A seller in thesouqcalls me over. When I approach his stall, he offers me a handful of raisins. “It is not wedding season yet!” I joke, referring to the tradition of throwing raisins to bless newlyweds.
Yemen was my wonderland, and even now, six years after I left, the country still has the power tomesmerize, to make me dream, to make me feel alive. The memories also can put me on high alert, my body tensing as adrenaline rushes through my veins. Yemen is a place where things don’t always go right. Despite the dangers, as Emma Duncan said in her interview with Expat Magazine: kindness wins above all the scariness you face in a new country, as far as you are open to discover the kindness of strangers.
My debut novel, Little Adventures in Yemen, tells stories of this kindness, and of strangers who became close. It is about resilience, both the resilience of a woman living through the adventures and misadventures of expat life, and the resilience of a country. The tug-of-war between culture, and modernity, kindness and survival, selfishness and love, play out through characters like a young local man caught between family and freedom; an expat engineer who struggles to keep up his strong man façade in a country that is slowly breaking him; a mercenary looking for a second chance; and a soldier fanning flames in a country already on the brink. In the end, all must choose between life and love, going or staying.
Expats will see themselves in these stories, which are interspersed with short essays about the cultural traditions and quirks of Yemen, illustrated by emerging Yemeni artist Sarah Al Joumari. Though they are inspired by my own experiences, I still find my escape and return in these tales, which I turn to whenever I feel a tug at my heart, pulling me back to a place that was never home, but somehow felt something like it. Days like today. I look back down at my screen:Today your wanderlust will be stronger than ever.Instead of travel, you will need to expand your mind. What better way to do just that than with a book in hand? I invite you to come with me, together we can discover and rediscover the dark, but mostly the bright, sides of Yemen one little adventure at a time.