Irony Spotting In The Yemen
There have been a lot of reviews of the recent film Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, ranging from the adulatory to the dismissive. My own response to it fell somewhere between those extremes: I thought it was an enjoyable enough romantic comedy-drama. Clearly a lot of people enjoyed it, as is shown by this report of the interest being shown in the Yemeni Tourist board's website. (I'm not sure which is funnier: that people might actually think there was salmon fishing in Yemen, or the Telegraph's splendid misprint of Salmond Fishing.)
Hilary and I visited Yemen just over 26 years ago. In those days it was two separate countries, and the one we went to was the Yemen Arab Republic which was safe if remote. (The People's Democratic Republic of South Yemen was more iffy.) There may have been direct flights on Yemenia (Yemen's national carrier) but the cheapest way to get there was on Egyptair, changing at Cairo.
All of which is by way of scene-setting for an observation. A major part of the film's plot is that some Yemeni fanatics consider the Sheikh's plan to build a dam and make the desert bloom (and of course provide him with sport fishing) as importation of wicked Western ideas. Now then: there are plenty of Muslim nutters who might well take that view, but I doubt whether you'd find any of them in Yemen, despite its currently being the home of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Why do I say that? Well, Yemenis are big on national pride, and mostly consider themselves Yemenis first and Arabs second. And Yemenis are no strangers to big dams for irrigation of the desert. If you take a trip to Mareb, right on the edge of the Arabian Desert, you will see a very big dam indeed, built by Korean engineers and completed in 1986 (opened just after our visit). Not even the al-Qaeda types have complained about it.
But more to the point, about a kilometre downstream of that Mareb Dam is a much older one, often considered the eighth wonder of the ancient world and constructed by the ancestors of Yemen's biblical celebrity, The Queen of Sheba. Amazing as it may seem, the sluices of this vast edifice are still standing.
So it's deeply ironic that a storyline about dams being treated as wicked western imports has been tacked onto the country whose early civilisation gave mankind its first known dam, and which has been refining the idea of "making the desert bloom" for thousands of years. And surprising that nobody - not even the Yemeni Tourist Board - has drawn attention to that irony.