Two different edits on a story which really seems to have touched and resonated with people across the world. The Yemen cyclists story shows that people who read newspapers aren’t just interested in bleeding, misery and suffering. They are interested in colour, life and stories that they can relate to. The response i’ve had from the Yemen cyclists story has been immense and i’ll continue to follow Yusuf, Tariq, Coach al-Riashi in the future.
Way back in April 2012 I wrote about Ali Khousrof, the country’s judo champion who had been wounded in the Arab spring. Ali had taken to the streets to protest against the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh despite his training schedule for the London 2012 Olympics and been shot in the hip, ruining years of conditioning, training and costing him any hope of a medal. When I met him, he had pretty much recovered from his wounds and had just started training again. It was a wonderful story about hope, struggle and determination. Yet in reality his coaches confided in me that they didn’t actually think that Ali would qualify for the games thanks to the amount of time out he had spent out, (although this is something that I omitted from my original story in the Guardian!) Personally I felt that there was something in Ali which made me believe and for me that was enough.
In a cage built from lengths of rusting steel trellis, six African lionesses sit on the concrete floor. The bare skull of a donkey lies at the back of the cell as two male lions pace up and down patrolling their shared six metres of territory.
A village on Yemen’s scorched Tihama plain is an incongruous home for African lions. Set back several miles from the nearest road and reached by a rough network of sandy paths and thorny gorse bushes, it is home to one of Yemen’s newest and most unlikely businesses.
Lion breeding in Yemen seems as improbable a venture as salmon fishing. But rampant demand for exotic pets from collectors in the wealthy Gulf states has made this exercise in animal husbandry suddenly profitable.
This is the first of my series of coverage about a long investigation i’ve been working on about animal smuggling from the horn of Africa to Yemen; this is just a taster of things to come.
When I first filed my audio for RTE with this story, Sinaed who edits the World Report program came back to me to query how a small boy could be cradling a wild gazelle. I told her I had seen it with my own two eyes; the above image is a picture of the smuggler’s son I talk about in my piece. Its one of my favourite images i’ve taken so far in Yemen.
Over the last few weeks i’ve had a few people tweeting in my direction, asking why I live in Yemen.
It’s an honest question, yet my honest answer is that I don’t know and its something i’ve thought about for a long time. The world’s media doesn’t care hugely about the country. An interest exists in terrorism and security related stories stemming from the Arabian Peninsula, but its very difficult to actually offer any real reportage on events involving Al Qaeda. In fact I could probably offer as much of an educated opinion on events in the badlands of Yemen as a determined observer sat in London.
The vast majority of Yemen stories sadly break from Washington, leaked by embassies, diplomats and spooks to journalists on “defence desks” of the world’s great newspapers. Arab officialdom’s obsession with the power of television, has also vastly limited the amount of camera gear I can haul into the country which means my video work has suffered terribly; the vague lingering thought that I might be subject to deportation at any moment also menaces my mind during lulls in the day.
On top of that, the security situation isn’t great (A trip to the cash machine has begun to feel vaguely like a game of kidnapping Russian Roulette), I complain bitterly about my plumbing, my electricity, the speed of the internet and the food. I’ve lost very good friends to my determination to make a base here and on trips home often promise the rest of my beleaguered friends that I just need to make “one more trip” to tidy some loose ends. Then i’ll be home with them and be more responsible. Sometimes I even find myself bitching a little too bitterly about some of the eccentricities which make Yemeni people so kind and endearing.
Then last night, with a cheek stuffed full of Qat I sat on top of a friends roof. A rare silence hung over the Old City and I enjoyed a fifteen minutes of quiet ecstasy. I had one of the moments which reminded me why I wasn’t sat under a set of fluorescent tubes somewhere in Farringdon, watching the rain pitter patter on the office window whilst eating yet another fucking pret-a-manger sandwich. I was probably slightly flying from the mushy green wad of amphetamine in my cheeks, but it didn’t matter all the same.
So yes @lennon8t2 I am always looking over my shoulder and no to the others I’m not a lunatic or on a mission to be martyred. But hopefully, the above will serve as some explanation.
They also decided to publish a horrible picture of me on the inset page, with a little bit or a rant I had about Lance Armstrong; I like a little rant, its good for the soul.
As the sun rises over the mountains shadowing the ancient tower houses of Old Sana’a, seven men dressed in Lycra meet for early morning tea. They are accompanied by seven bicycles, which are carefully lined up on the pavement outside the cafe.
The riders prepare themselves for the day with mango juice and plates of fasolia beans, Yemen’s national breakfast staple. It’s a spectacle which most of the other customers are finally getting used to, albeit slowly, although one which still attracts abuse from passers-by. “The way you dress is Haram!” chides a passing motorcyclist, as the riders make the final checks and repairs to their loved, but tired steeds. The comment is ignored as inner tubes are patched for the umpteenth time and rusting chains are lubricated.
Yemen’s National Cycle Foundation members train three mornings a week and preparations usually begin this way. Their bikes would long since have been consigned to the scrap heap by even the most amateur of teams across most of the world. The oldest is over twenty years old and the newest a little over three.