National Geographic : 1964 Mar
Mocha coffee beans are sorted in a ware house in Hodeida. Venetian traders brought Yemen-grown coffee to the Occident's atten tion; Venice boasted coffee houses as early as 1615. Today strong-flavored Mocha is used mostly for blending with other varieties. "Nasraani!" they shouted. "Christian!" I was quickly surrounded by a mob of the curi ous. A police officer shouted, pelting the children with clods. To my dismay he finally dispersed them with his rifle butt. After dark, Ibb-a city of 10,000-glowed like a page from The Arabian Nights. Tall houses, blue-white in the moonlight, reached high above the walls of the fortress city. Oth ers, newer, dotted the hillside below. Their stained-glass windows twinkled a thousand colors in intricate patterns-no two alike. The cool air carried the lonely strain of a dis tant goatherd's flute. That evening I called on the most power ful sheik of the area, Amir Mata Daraj. Age had thinned his beard and his teeth, but not 432 his spirit. Over tea and sweets we talked about Yemen's past and its future. "The waters of change are flowing in Yem en," he said, "and we are thirsty for them. What we need first are the channels. "In ancient times Yemen had good roads. The old road you saw outside the city was part of the frankincense highway laid out by the Himyarites almost 2,000 years ago. Our Queen Sayida binta Ahmad paved it 10 cen turies later." Now Ibb has a new highway. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is pushing a road all the way from Mocha through Ta'izz to San'a'. On the way to Ta'izz, 40 miles south of Ibb, I heard dynamite echo from terraced hills and met husky power shovels and bulldozers cutting a slash around the mountain. Most of the drivers, I noticed, were Yemeni-like young Mohammed Arsi. We talked while two Yemen mechanics greased his D-7 bulldozer. "For half a century my father tilled the ter races in this same valley," he said proudly. "Now, I move as much earth in a day as he did in a lifetime." Kat Replaced by Coffee Break Ta'izz was Yemen's provisional capital un der Imam Ahmad from 1948 until the revo lution. There I met the director of USAID in Yemen, a hearty, no-nonsense Wisconsin ite named James Megellas. "Before starting our training program, most of these workers had never dreamed there was anything more complicated than a well pulley," he said. "Now we have more than 1,600 Yemeni working for us-many of them operating trucks, bulldozers, graders, com pressors, and air hammers." Jim's house overlooked the city dominated by the graceful twin minarets of Al-Ashrafi yah Mosque (pages 424-5). The walls of Ta'izz that for centuries had kept its enemies at bay could no longer contain its friends. Smart modern suburbs had spread to the sur rounding hills. "The Communist Chinese built a roadfrom Hodeida, on the Red Sea, to San'a', but their technique was entirely different," Megellas continued. "They brought in 2,000 coolies and lived in tents. They left a blacktop road behind and a measure of good will. "We're working closely with the Yemeni people, and we've brought a little of the U. S. A. along with us for them to sample. We're building more than a road. We're train ing Yemenis to build their own roads."