Tupac Lives! (in Yemen)

You know how it seems that people all over the world listen to American music? Even if they hardly speak English, people are most likely jamming out to “Call me Maybe” in Budapest (and hating themselves for it). But that doesn’t seem to be case in Sana’a. Most of the music I’ve heard wafting from other people’s cars or from the radios of our drivers sounds to me like Yemeni music. Since I’ve arrived, several Americans have said to me that when they come back to Yemen, it feels like traveling back in time. And from what I’ve heard of the music, it does sound like what people were listening to since even before those heady days of the gramophone.

So when I got in the SUV yesterday and the driver was listening to Tupac, I was a little surprised, but pleasantly so. (Because what girl growing up near Detroit in the 1990s didn’t love her some Tupac? Sigh, I still remember when my sister skated over to me at Skatin’ Station in 1996 and was like “Omg, Tupac died!” Sadness on the rink that day. Giant skating rink pickles, baby tees, and sadness). The driver reached over to switch CDs and I was all like “No! Keep that. I like Tupac.” He’s all “YOU like Tupac?” To which I wanted to respond “YOU like Tupac?!”

Instead we listened to Tupac and drove through the streets of Sana’a and I felt inspired to jot down what I was seeing, in poetry form. Bear with me, I am no Makaveli. Obvi.

Listening to Tupac in an armored car

lil homies on the ride, down a busy street in Sana’a

putty-brown houses with pops of color on doors

tips of black beards bleached orange

young guys on motor bikes riding three-deep

passing never-finished buildings

pigment-rich tapestries, plush-lush settees and armchairs

full cheeks of qat belonging to afternoon loungers

by carts of carrots, pomegranates, grapes

constant horns, pressed boredly

by men whose expressions don’t match the intensity of the BLEEP

which says, “back the fuck up before you get smacked the fuck up”

one flash of true opulence – president’s mosque

lording over the poor city with its grandeur

houses now, etched details, a touch of stained glass

but built mostly of unyielding materials

that give no hint at what’s inside

sharp-edged mountains rising just high enough

to not feel trapped

to know there’s plenty of open air

and land

just beyond

Ain’t got nothin’ but love for ya,

YemenEm

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