Yemen has been on my mind lately with the recent intercepted mail bomb, the attack on the USS Cole and the book, The Woman Who Fell from the Sky in the news. I was scheduled to travel to Aden, Yemen, in 2001 as senior assistant Cruise Director on Renaissance Cruises 50-day sailing from Athens to Bangkok. Prior to our sailing, the USS Cole was bombed on October 12, 2000.
We changed our itinerary and did not go to Yemen, however, our ship did have two ports of call in nearby Oman. Being in Muscat and Salalah during Ramadan was amazing; the gorgeous sand colored 16th century Portuguese forts high on the cliffs, listening to the call of the mosque and trying not to get lost, and the intricate blue tiled mosques with the azure seas made for amazing contrasts. We sailed with a pod of over 100 dolphins, one of the most memorable days in my seven years at sea.
During the port talk about Oman, I stressed the importance of respectful dress, and not drinking or eating in the souks in front of Moslems, during their month of fasting.
When CBS World News reported on November 10, 2010 that British police said “a mail bomb intercepted last month at an English airport could have exploded over the East Coast of the United States,” Yemen was again front page news due to the potential devastation.
On that same cruise, we also canceled a port call in Colombo, Sri Lanka due to the civil war. This summer, George and I spent six weeks in Sri Lanka and I read Jennifer Steil’s The Woman Who Fell From the Sky about her work in Yemen as a journalist.
In the book, Steil remarks that “in many parts of the country, people are living exactly as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. They herd goats and cows; they grow wheat, pomegranates, and grapes; they travel long distances to fetch water. They live in simple square mud-brick homes.”
It is amazing in this time of jet planes, smart phones and speedy internet connections that parts of the world feel like you are traveling back in time. In the hills of Viet Nam, in Steil’s Yemen and a few other pockets of the world, it can feel that time has stopped.
For many people who will not personally visit some of these places, Steil comments that , “Books are one of the few ways in which we can truly get into the heads of people we would never meet in our ordinary lives and travel to countries we would otherwise never visit.” Steil’s book and relationships with her co-workers at the newspaper really enlightened me on the people of Yemen. When I was briefly in Oman and Dubai, I wondered about the veiled women and the woman only shopping line at the market.
During her time in Yemen, Steil was able to rent a house, shop, travel with locals and really explore what it was to be a foreign woman. Her observations on the freedom allowed by wearing a veil surprised me. Steil says in her book; “I thought of the veil as an oppressive practice that kept women from being who they are…These women consider their coverings a statement of identity, an important defense against men, and a source of freedom.”
This reminds me that until you walk in someone elses shoes or wear their veil, it can be challenging to understand their perspective. But in the end, no matter where you go, you bring yourself and the traveler is the one most changed by the experience.
Every journey has ups and downs. My 50-day cruise long ago always made me wonder about Sri Lanka, which was an amazing place filled with friendly people, many elephants and great discoveries. I know that someday we will go to Yemen and explore great ancient sites, meet wonderful modern people and discover many things, mainly about ourselves.
Lisa Ellen Niver, M.A. Education, is a science teacher and is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 101 countries and six continents. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she worked on cruise ships for seven years and backpacked for three years in Asia. You can find her talking travel at KTLA TV and in her We Said Go Travel videos with over 1.3 million views on her YouTube channel. As a journalist, Niver has interviewed an Olympic swimmer and numerous bestselling authors and has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. She is the founder of We Said Go Travel which is read in 235 countries and was named #3 on Rise Global’s top 1,000 Travel Blogs. She was named both a Top 10 Travel Influencer and a Top 50 Female Influencer for 2021 by Afluencer and is the Social Media Manager for the Los Angeles Press Club. She has been nominated for the inaugural Forbes 50 over 50/Know Your Value list due out in Summer 2021. She has hosted Facebook Live for USA Today 10best and has more than 150,000 followers across social media. Niver is a judge for the Gracies Awards for the Alliance of Women in Media and has also run 15 travel competitions publishing over 2,500 writers and photographers from 75 countries on We Said Go Travel.
For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded two Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards. From 2017 to 2021 in the Southern California Journalism Awards and National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards, she has won four times for her broadcast television segments, print and digital articles. Niver won in 2021 as Book Critic and in 2019 for one of her KTLA TV segments NAEJ (National Arts and Entertainment Journalism) award. Niver won an award for her print magazine article for Hemispheres Magazine for United Airlines in the 2020 Southern California Journalism Awards and a 2017 Southern California Journalism Award for her print story for the Jewish Journal.
Niver has written for National Geographic, USA Today 10best, TODAY, Teen Vogue, POPSUGAR, Ms. Magazine, Luxury Magazine, Smithsonian, Sierra Club, Saturday Evening Post, AARP, American Airways, Delta Sky, En Route (Air Canada), Hemispheres, Jewish Journal, Myanmar Times, Robb Report, Scuba Diver Life, Ski Utah, Trivago, Undomesticated, Wharton Magazine and Yahoo. She is writing a book, “Brave(ish): It's All About Perspective 50 Adventures Before 50,” about her most recent travels and insights. When she's not SCUBA diving or in her art studio making ceramics, she's helping people find their next dream trip.