27-Mar-2006 -- The governorate of Ibb has a reputation for being the lushest and greenest in Yemen: a recent article in the Yemeni Times proclaimed that, 'every Yemeni's dream is to buy a house in Ibb'. Ministers have holiday homes there, and agriculture generally thrives. The governorate lies on the north-south mountainous backbone of Yemen, approximately mid-way between the commercial capital, `Adan (Aden) and the actual capital, Ṣan`ā'.
Adam Taylor, a friend working for Care International, and I were making our way south on a field trip to Abyan to look at water projects conducted in partnership with the British Embassy. On the way, we stopped in Ma`bar, where a recent flash flood (sayl) had wiped out the dwellings of the local ikhdamāt (Yemen's 'servant class', made up of desperately impoverished people who suffer great hardship, including discrimination, in their day-to-day lives). The Red Crescent and Care International have worked hard to help those affected to relocate, and we wanted to see if there had been any progress in their situation.
We then took the slow road to `Adan to revisit 14N 44E. We took the same route as the previous visitor, Rainer Mautz: turning right at Ibb towards the village of al-`Udayn, then carrying along the road north towards al-Ḥazm. This took us through beautiful green scenery - a rarity in Yemen. At around 650 m from the point there is a gravel track that goes up to 209 m from the target, where there are a few houses at the base of a series of terraces up the hillside upon which 14N 44E lies. A very steep climb up the terraces took us as far as the house of `Abdu l-Waḥīd, the landowner. To my great shame, I had to sit down and get my breath back whilst `Abdul (perhaps 50 - 60 years old but well used to regularly skipping up and down his terraces without any apparent effort) waited patiently. He remembered the previous visitor clearly, and asked if I was also German. I explained that I wasn't, but had come to see the same place that 'the German' had come to see. `Abdul merrily trotted up a few more terraces, before pointing out the spot.
Unfortunately, I was having problems with the GPS and the best reading I could manage was 11 m from the point, with an accuracy of 23 m. A climb up a few more steep terraces might have improved the reading slightly, but (still catching my breath) this seemed like an unnecessary and unwelcome effort! However, I suspect that the 'real' point lies about three terraces higher than that on which we and the previous visitor took our pictures.
The climb was worth it, however, and there are great views to be had to the North and West. The terrace on which we stood to take the photographs continues to the East; to the South one can see how erosion has led to terraces merging. Terrace decay is a huge problem in Yemen: many have suffered years of neglect, and restoring them is no mean undertaking. One of Care International's projects has been to assist villagers in the reconstruction of their terraces: this is important not only in terms of improving agricultural capacity, but also because valuable water supplies are retained by terracing. Some terracing efforts in Yemen are monumental works of human endeavour: on a visit to the famous 'rock bridge' town of Šahāra, I saw terraces that completely covered the sides of 2,500 m mountains - an awesome sight indeed.
Whilst I took the pictures, Adam (a native Arabic speaker) chatted with `Abdu l-Waḥīd. His village currently had drinking water, but there was none for irrigation. To make things worse, the rains have not yet arrived this year, which explains the barren appearance of the terraces: a few qāt plants were growing nearby, but little else. As is customary, `Abdul invited us into his house for tea and lunch, but we politely declined because of the long drive to `Adan that awaited us. He followed us back down the terraces and wished us well as he waved us goodbye.
One final point of note: whilst writing the report, I noticed that Rainer Mautz had visited this point on 27 March at around 14:30. This (spookily, and by complete coincidence) was - one year on - the exact date and time of our visit too. So, perhaps this trip should be considered the first 'four-dimensional' visit of a confluence point...!
Note: For more information about confluence hunting in Yemen, or the involvement of the British Embassy Ṣan`ā' in the DCP, please see the visit to 15N 49E.