The fact that I have such a deep love for Yemen today is indeed a contrast to the way I felt about Arabs in the early part of my life. Growing up in the southern part of the United States, I grew up in a culture that could be described as "anti-Arab." I did not have outspoken opinions against Arabs, but I am embarrassed to say that I previously concluded that I was supposed to be against the Arab people. Certainly, not everyone from my culture was against Arabs; however, in my adolescent years, through the general influence of my community, I developed what might be described as a subconscious prejudice against Arab people. I was not ethnocentric to the extent that I was against all cultures because I was involved in community projects and activities that would be considered cross-cultural. However, it never crossed my mind to be engaged with Arabs or to be open to visiting the Arab world.
Despite my prejudice towards Arabs, I was still intrigued by the Middle East. I was fascinated by the history and the culture of the Arab world. So, when a group of friends invited me to go with them on tour to the Middle East—I agreed to go. I had no idea that this trip would become life-changing for me. Our tour took us to several countries; Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen. During that trip, I had many opportunities to meet Arabs and spend time with Arab families. And, as one might expect, I learned that Arabs were a fantastic group of people!
When the tour brought our group to our final destination, I found myself in Yemen. As a tourist, I learned many things about the country. I learned that the Greeks and Romans chose the name—Arabia Felix—because of Yemen’s pleasant climate and the abundance of agricultural products and spices. Arabia Felix means “Happy” or “Blessed” Arabia. I learned that Yemen is the cradle of civilization and that Sana’a is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. I learned that Yemen is an extraordinary land rich in beauty and culture. As a tourist, I saw Yemen’s breathtaking mountains, its spectacular deserts, its lush, fertile valleys, its magnificent terraces, and its beautiful beaches.
However, the breath-taking sights of Yemen did not compare to what I discovered when I met the people of Yemen. The Yemeni people overwhelmed me with their love and kindness. Yemenis are kind, generous, friendly, and without a doubt, the most hospitable people in the world. As I reflected on all that I experienced in Yemen—tears came to my eyes because I was ashamed of uninformed prejudices that guided my thinking for many years. Now, I was transformed into a man with a passion for celebrating the beauty of what I had discovered in Yemen. As a result of that trip, I fell in love with Yemen and I found the passion and desire to impact my American culture; to change people’s perception of Yemen.
I began to plan trips to Yemen. I started bringing Americans to Yemen so they could see, hear, taste, smell, and touch the unique beauty of Yemen and its people. I knew that if I could get Americans there—they would never be the same. Since the 1990s, I’ve taken hundreds of Americans to Yemen. The tours have included visits to every part of Yemen—Sana’a, Hajjah, Sa’dah, al-Mahweet, Manakhah, Hodeidah, Zabid, Aden, Ta'iz, Ibb, Dhamar, Ma'rib, Seiyun, Shibam Hadramaut, Tarim, Mukallah, Al-Gaydah, and the islands of Kamaran and Socotra. Every American I’ve taken to Yemen gained a new perspective. They too, were overwhelmed by the generosity, friendliness, thoughtfulness, warmth, sincerity, and hospitality of Yemenis. These Americans returned home as new individuals—and most importantly, they now love Yemen too!
Shibam Hadramaut, Yemen
Mike Griffin is Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies and he is Chair of the Intercultural Studies Department at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, FL. Mike has over 25 years of intercultural experience comprising over 50 trips to the beautiful country of Yemen. Mike enjoys teaching and mentoring students to embrace a love for people of all cultures, but especially for the people of Yemen. Mike’s current research interest is in the field of anthropology. His research paper for Harvard University focuses on persons with disabilities in Yemen.
Copyright © 2023 Michael D. Griffin, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.