Swedish explorer Mikael Strandberg to the Yemen Times: "The biggest enemy of Yemen is Yemen itself"
Story by Sadeq Al-Wesabi Photos courtesy of Mikael Strandberg (author)
Ignoring all warnings about the dangerous security situation in Yemen, Swedish explorer Mikael Strandberg, 50, is determined to explore all Yemeni cities, tuning out any advice and forewarnings.
“The biggest problem is listening to others,” Strandberg said. “Many people were very worried that I would be kidnapped, but nothing happened.”
Although he has been to more than 120 countries, Yemen is one of the unforgettable countries in his mind. He truly enjoys Yemen, enough so that he named his only daughter after a well-known Yemeni queen, Bilquis.
Since he was 22, Strandberg made up his mind to be “different” and to dedicate his life to adventurous and exploratory expeditions all over the world.
Recently, Strandberg, who prefers to be called Ibn Battuta, has made his fourth tiring, long trip in Yemen with his “faithful camel” and obliging Yemeni guides. He is crossing over dangerous roads and Bedouin areas.
The most critical moment of his previous trip to Yemen was the oppressive heat—about 50 degrees Celsius.
“We had to drink about three liters of water every hour, so I had to carry 40 liters of water on the camel.”
During all of his prior Yemeni adventures, Yemenis regularly asked Strandberg three questions: Where are you from? Why don't you travel by car? Are you a Muslim?
However, he doesn't get bored with Yemenis' curious, constistent questions because he says Yemenis ask spontaneously, with no bad intentions and no motive to simply annoy him.
Unlike how he feels in other countries, Strandberg said he never feel bothered by Yemenis. He described Yemenis as lively, friendly, helpful and generous people.
In addition to his willingness to travel around all Yemeni areas, Strandberg has another aim: “I would like to portray the positive side of Yemen and give a different perspective to the world about Yemen.”
He added: “Yemen is not only war, Al-Qaeda, poverty or starvation. There are many nice things in this country. Unfortunately, there are many negative reports being published globally about Yemen.”
In response to such reports, Strandberg is eager to convey a positive message that Yemenis are nice, down-to-earth people.
“I love this country, and I see myself as an ambassador for Yemen because of that. That's why I'm fighting a big battle against everybody writing about war and Al-Qaeda in Yemen.”
In providing another perspective about Yemen, Strandberg has urged his friends and relatives to visit the country to get to know the land for themselves.
“There is a big variety of people and a big variety of scenery nature here,” he said, proudly describing Yemen. “Yemen is a unique country with fantastic people.”
Strandberg is armed with many documentaries, stories, tweets and photos to prove that Yemen is not overwhelmed with terrorists and wars.
“The biggest enemy of Yemen is Yemen itself.”
However, it's not enough for Strandberg to visit the most of the areas in Yemen.
“I'm waiting for permission from the Ministry of Tourism to go to Marib and Al-Jawf governorates. I really hope to visit these historic places.”
Speaking about his trust in Yemenis, he said, “I feel that I'm safe in Yemen because I trust Yemenis. Nobody has intended to hurt me and I've never faced any problems in Yemen.”
Good things and bad things
For Strandberg, the Old Sana'a is the best place in Yemen, and kebabs with bread and sauce are his favorite foods.
“I like everything in Old Sana'a: buildings, people, smells, noises.”
But Strandberg isn’t 100 percent pleased with everything he sees when he visits. What upsets him?
“The unnecessary poverty and the unnecessary inequality and injustice; there is enough money and resources in Yemen to be exploited for all Yemenis.”
It highly saddens Strandberg when he sees children who are willing to learn, but they cannot due to harsh circumstances.
He conveyed a message to Yemenis: “You need to interact with more people abroad. Open yourself to the world, educate yourself more, and open up.”