Lightning Over Yemen: A History of the Ottoman Campaign in Yemen, 1569-71

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If you disabled the car horns in Yemen, there would be an immediate nationwide car wreck. The horn is an essential part of Yemeni driving, and in skilled hands becomes an instrument of great subtlety.

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Everyone speaks car horn. Ali is a virtuoso on the car horn; driving with him is like sitting in on a session with Charlie Parker.

Famous Ottoman Soldier Yemen Song with Pictures - ایالت یمن, Eyālet-i Yemen

In an ominous bit of foreshadowing, we pass another couple of gas stations where the lines seem to have grown even longer overnight. I have yet to see anybody at a gas station dispensing fuel.

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The drivers just sit forlornly by their vehicles, waiting. When we reach the open road Ali cranks up the tunes, in this case a beautiful Quranic recital. We turn off after a few miles to visit the oldest mosque in Yemen, al-Janad, built while Mohammed was still alive.


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The rule of thumb with mosques is the older the simpler. This mosque is a large open courtyard surrounded an arcade of thick white columns, with a simple minaret at one end. No one is at the entrance, but we can hear the sound of classes taking place inside. Ali takes me through the courtyard and along the carpet-lined arcades along the perimeter.

The boys smile or stare when they see me. Many of the girls turn away, especially the older ones, lifting the corners of their headscarves to hide their faces. I do my best to play my part, nodding and taking photos like the distinguished foreign guest that I aspire to be. We almost manage a full circuit of the mosque before the imam intercepts me. He is a wiry, elderly man dressed in white, and when he speaks which he does almost without interruption I see that many of his teeth are missing.

The imam is a charismatic fellow with an air of immense authority and strong views about how the mosque should be visited, all of which I have flouted. We need to go back to the courtyard gate and start over again. He has me wash my hands in the ritual fountain, points out the several ancient stone carvings of Quoranic quotations inset into some of the columns, and turns my attention to the minaret the oldest part of the structure until I have photographed it to his satisfaction.

As we pass by the groups of schoolchildren again, he claps his hands and summons them to rise and recite with him. It is clear from the way the children react that they are full of affection and respect for this tiny man. We make a full loop, wreaking havoc on lesson plans, and finally circle back to the courtyard so the imam can get a shot of me standing in front of the minaret.

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I would give anything to be able to take his picture as he prepares to take mine. Two veiled teenage girls in black giggle over his shoulder while he inspects the camera. Settling on a low angle, he crouches down like a seasoned photographer to capture the shot. The mosque is rather pitiful on the inside, with detached chandeliers laying on chairs, headless water coolers, peeling plaster and artlessly strung wiring.

But he is not satisfied until I have taken a photo of the darkened interior through each dirty window. Our last stop on this surreal circuit is the Ottoman baths, built about a thousand years after the mosque by troops during one of the Turkish occupations of Yemen. The imam draws my attention to a conduit that used to bring water all the way down from the mountains to our north. After a brief financial negotiation that the imam indicates with his finger is to remain between me, him, and the Most High, Ali materializes from wherever it is he goes in these situations and we continue our journey.

As we turn back onto the main road, I see a gas station with the most formidable line of cars yet. It disturbs me that Ali has slowed down and started to mutter. My hopes have riding on the jerry cans tied to our roof, which I hoped contained enough gasoline for our entire three-hundred-mile circuit.

But Ali is clearly determined to make a pit stop. These are the people who for whatever reason think they deserve prority access over the suckers in the main queue. The rival queues meet at a big metal gate that protects the fuel pumps themselves. Guarding the gate is an extroardinarily angry military officer in a red beret. He has a very large wooden staff in his hand and is hurling it, along with torrents of abuse, at any car that tries to approach him.

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Ali drinks in this scene for moment, drives the car right into the junction where the two queues zip together, and leaps out of the car to confront the swarm of drivers who have leapt out of their own cars to confront him. In any other country there would be a wide, clear space around him and somebody in authority speaking soothingly through a megaphone. One of the queue jumpers tries to sneak his car in behind him, but the officer catches on and turns around, smashing enormous dents into the hood.

For an entire minute we watch the military guy obliterating a hapless Toyota before the line of cars can somehow all go into reverse at once and create enough room for the victim to escape. At one point I see him throw his beret down on the ground in disgust. Some lower ranking flunkie scurries over to retrieve it and place it back in his hand. He motions Ali away and resumes his attack on nearby vehicles.

Defeated by the military, Ali tries the civilian chain of command.

Lightning Over Yemen: A History of the Ottoman Campaign (1569-71) : Being a ...

He finds his way to the gas station owner and starts to speak, gesturing several times back at our car. My attention is still on the berserk Army officer when Ali rushes back inside, quickly starts the motor, and drives into a gap that has miraculously appeared in front of the gate just long enough for us to slip in.

The officer turns his full rage on us, but before he can mete out wooden justice the owner has interceded and opened the gate. He directs his anger instead on the cars and bikes that try to follow us through. An instant later we are in the much shorter, much happier queue of cars waiting to use the actual gas pumps. Boys run back and forth ferrying bottled water and messages, while the mechanical counters on the pumps spin and spin.

But for now, the ruse works and they fill our jerry cans with sweet, sweet fuel. We disembark into a tired-looking hotel that is a spiritual cousin to the place in Ibb, and I use the few minutes before the power goes out to charge my camera battery. Skip to content Skip to search.


  1. Lightning Over Yemen: A History of the Ottoman Campaign 1569-71?
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  4. Published London ; New York : I. Tauris, c Language English View all editions Prev Next edition 2 of 2. Other Authors Smith, Clive K. Series The Library of Ottoman studies ; v. Subjects Yemen Republic -- History -- 16th century. Summary "Lightning over Yemen makes this invaluable sixteenth-century Ottoman source document available in English for the first time. Here, al-Nahrawali vividly brings to life a vital period in the history of this far-flung province of the Ottoman empire which Clive Smith's exemplary translation fully conveys. It will prove essential reading and reference material for all historians and scholars of the Arabian Peninsula, the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East.

    Notes Includes bibliographical references p. View online Borrow Buy Freely available Show 0 more links Stock Image. Published by I. New Condition: New Hardcover. Save for Later. Publisher: I. About this title Synopsis: The military campaign of the Ottomans, when they entered the region of Yemen in the midth century, was chronicled by Qutb al-Din al-Nahrawali, a scholar charged by an Ottoman general to document his army's progress.