Looking outside my window I see a lovely field, sundappled and windblown. The goats are browsing along its edge, wishing, I bet, for the fresh leaves they remember from summer. The children are working on a playhouse outside, the dogs running and barking, hoping to entice them to play. The gardens are mulched now, and I know that come Spring we will be harvesting rocks for days before we can plant a single seed. The Ozarks are beautiful, with a surface abundance that belies their rock and clay skeleton. A wild, beautiful place that reminds me of another land that I loved and called home for almost ten years.
I once saw an optical illusion, where if you looked at a drawing a certain way it looked like a young woman, but from another angle it appeared to be an elderly one. Yemen is like that, the old and the new juxtaposed, shifting, always giving a glimpse of one when you are looking at the other. I found this especially to be true in the villages, where life goes on in the same manner it has for hundreds of years, while the people are struggling to enter into the twenty-first century. Brightly colored clothing splashed against a backdrop of varied browns and tired greens, the heady fragrance of bread and spices at noontime, the call of the vegetable sellers unchanging, making time fluid, hard to hold onto.
The same things that draw me to the Ozarks drew me to Yemen, and, before that, to the Driftless Region of Southwestern Wisconsin. Place, for me, often echoes what I value in myself and others. Strength, for one, as shown in the trees that come up in spite of the bad soil and rocks that make up the land itself. Honesty, the knowledge that what you see is what you get, mixed with hope that what is there can be improved with hard work, attention, and love. Compassion tempered with fate, something everyone who raises animals understands. I have lived in many places in my life, but the ones I have truly connected to have lived for me, and taught me more about myself than I would ever have thought possible.
Yemen, right now, is a hotspot, an incredibly poor country being made even poorer by the war that is raging across it, the same war that caused me to leave it when the Arab Spring was in full bloom. I am guessing that even now, very few people could pinpoint it on a map, or list any of the major cities, yet alone speak of the rich history and culture of this ancient land. To me, having walked both it and my home in America with love, respect, and reverence, the differences between them are beautiful and soul stretching. Yet, it is the chords that run through both of them, holding them together even in their diversity, that touch me the deepest. My love of both lands will make my upcoming book, Yemeni Journey, a bridge that connects them, celebrating the richness of difference while at the same time showing that truly, the foundation that runs beneath them unites us, and keep us strong.