National Geographic : 1952 Feb
Yemen Opens the Door to Progress American Scientists Visit This Arabian Land at the Invitation of Its King to Improve the Health of His People BY HARRY HOOGSTRAAL* TODAY in walled towns and citadels in the mountains of southwestern Arabia several million people live as they have for centuries past. They dwell not in the Arabian desert of popular imagination but in teeming cities of architectural splendor; in deep, fertile valleys terraced from stream bed to lofty crags; or in great stone fortresses at the very peaks of the ridges or mountains. Only in the last few years has Yemen de cided to open, cautiously, its gates to a few official visitors, introduce the Machine Age to its younger generation, and cooperate with the United Nations. Today, the three main cities have small power plants, and several schools train their children. A few jeeps and heavily laden trucks travel the steep, winding mountain trails. Ambitious projects for improving health, agriculture, water supply, roads, and ports are under consideration. The Yemenis make no attempt to excuse their long isolation and the policy that has almost entirely excluded foreigners, for in a war-torn and avaricious world they have unified their tribes and preserved an ancient culture. They have long exported grain, hides, and, many agree, the finest coffee in the world. Now they are ready to import foreign experts and see what can be done for the improvement of the country. King's Guests for Seven Weeks As part of this new program, His Majesty Imam Ahmad bin Yahya Hamid al-din, King of Yemen, recently invited Capt. J. J. Sapero, Director of United States Naval Medical Re search Unit No. 3 at Cairo, Egypt, to send a group of specialists in different phases of tropical medicine to survey medical problems and to recommend controls. We who were chosen comprised an epide miologist, a parasitologist, an entomologist, a medical biologist, a bacteriological technician, and a medically trained Egyptian interpreter. For seven weeks we lived as the King's guests. We examined hundreds of his subjects, col lected thousands of mosquitoes, flies, ticks, fleas, lice, snails, and internal parasites, to gether with their animal hosts. We prepared large quantities of blood and fecal samples for studies in the naval laboratories at Cairo. We studied the way of life in torrid, sandy coastal plains; in luxuriant middle altitudes, where crops and carriers of disease alike flourish; and in cool highlands, where ancient Arabic culture preserves its most impressive monuments. A naval plane, loaded with laboratory and working gear, took us from Cairo to Aden, the tiny British colony at the southwestern end of the Arabian peninsula. There, in a sweeping harbor rimmed by old volcanic cliffs and craters, ships from around the world call to replenish oil and coal, to load Yemeni hides, coffee, and grain, and to off-load exotic souvenirs for the customs-free port. On the fourth morning in Aden we arose long before dawn and climbed into three jeeps that the King had sent for us. Our gear had gone the day before, up the steep and rugged trail to 4,600-foot Ta'izz.t Jeep "Coachmen" Ride the Bumpers Our reactions to the drivers that first day were mixed awe, fright, anger, and admiration, but later we were to know them as remark ably capable and enduring. All were Italian trained in Eritrea: tall, faithful Hattim, the oldest; fun-loving Ali, short and slight, quick to scream orders at frightened camels or dull-witted pedestrians; and another Ali, a wild racer but dependable. The drivers were assisted by "coachmen," dust-covered boys who rode rear bumpers mile after mile, day after day, always alert to move rocks, wipe windshields, pour gaso line, haul frightened camels out of the way, or pick up people who fell off their mounts when the animals shied. The rough, dusty trip of some 135 miles from Aden to Ta'izz took us about 10 hours. First we crossed a narrow strip of coastal des ert, then climbed gradually up rocky slopes. Several times we dipped into green valleys with swift little streams in their beds. At last we drove into the courtyard of a medieval fort in which Yemeni customs officers were examining a half-dozen heavily laden new American trucks. Thus we knew we had crossed the Aden-Yemen border (map, page 216). The officials smilingly waved us on, and a few hours later we arrived at Ta'izz. * The author is Head of the Department of Medical Zoology, U. S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. 3, Cairo, Egypt, and Field Associate in Zoology, Chicago Natural History Museum. t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Yemen-Southern Arabia's Mountain Wonderland," by Harlan B. Clark, November, 1947, and "Rock of Aden," by H. G. C. Swayne, December, 1935.