svetlana baghawan maverickbirdHababa had been a short drive away from Thula and it had been a brief stopover before returning to Sanaa. An old historic village, Hababa had been both spectacular and heartbreaking. The architecture had been quintessentially Yemeni with old stone and adobe houses, broken cobbled lanes, magnificent rammed earth skyscrapers and beautiful qamariyas. It had been substantially smaller than Thula and it’s only highlight had been a beautiful still emerald green cistern.

It had been late noon, by the time we had reached Hababa and the sun had been getting ready to call it a day. A balmy spring breeze had floated over the ancient plateaus and hills and a kiss soft blue sky had smiled overhead. Yemeni spring evenings had a strange way of turning violet during sunsets and the warm gold of the highlands had already been tinged to light pink. Apricots had bloomed riotously all along the nearly deserted road and clouds had cast shadows over the ancient land. In spite of all the loveliness, a staggering amount of trash had choked the land and multi coloured plastics had strung from thorny branches of scrub bushes. A total emptiness had encompassed the whole region and Hababa had arrived without any fanfare.

A broken dirt track had lead to the entrance of the village and it’s much famed old water cistern had been located right there. The 1st thing that had struck me about Hababa, had been it’s antiquity and the ancient little village had been nearly resembled a ghost town. Even the sparkling green water had remained still and only the plaintive prayer call emanating from the village mosque had shown any sign of life. As if on cue, a handful of villagers had dotted the cistern for ablution and the calm mirror like reflection of the surrounding houses had rippled with life. Hababa’s old houses had been beautiful and comfortingly similar with their stained glass windows and white embossed window decorations. Veiled ladies had also huddled at another corner of the pool and their colourful shawls had clashed beautifully with the sparkling molten green.

Hababa’s highlighted cistern had been indeed lovely and the watering hole for the domesticated animals, had got it’s incredible colour from a thick bed of weeds. I had sat there for some time, enjoying a cool breeze and a cool liquid green reflecting on my face when a band of small boys had jumped in for a very noisy swim. I had stared at them in surprise as it had been a pretty chilly afternoon and Hababa had been known for pleasant weather. The water romp had soon turned too boisterous and we had escaped it for a walk around the village. A pretty medieval fortress village, Hababa had been a quaint little discovery and it’s dark, cool lanes had held remnants of Yemen’s Jewish past. Stained glass windows had prominently boasted of the Jewish star and here and there, Hebrew scripts had still been visible.

It had been an amazing sight to see leftovers of Yemen’s Semitic history and I had marveled at their existence in the heart of a country which was fighting over Islamic sects. Hababa’s charms had sadly ended there and after the initial loveliness of the oval shaped pool, the entire village had been a very dismal sight. Hababa’s lanes had been unpaved, muddy with protruding naked metal pipes and trash had crunched and heaved underneath our feet. Most of it’s old buildings had been abandoned and the medieval arches had been crumbling down. Small animal coops had stank of rotting waste and only beautiful coloured doors had stood out in midst of all the filth. It had been most shocking and sneak peeks into village homes had shown glimpses of dire poverty. The crumbling old buildings with decorative qamariyas and rainbow windows had been near skeletons from inside and tiny, dark rooms had contained meager belongings of the residents. A few pots, piles of clothes, bundles of firewood and shaggy goats had been heaped inside the dank rooms and heavy wooden framework beams had stuck out in odd angles.

Needless to say, it had not been a very pleasant or pretty walk and only vanishing traces of colourful chadors of rural Yemeni ladies down Hababa’s narrow sunlit lanes had soothed my shocked eyes. We had left the dilapidated village soon and for once I had been glad to leave Yemeni hinterland behind. Hababa had been a perfect example of neglected heritage and the village had personified despair in the most poignant manner. With no hustling shopkeepers, hotels or even restaurants, Hababa had the potential of being a very refreshing break, yet the reality had been quite the opposite. Although my visit at Hababa had been very brief, strangely it’s memories are some of the most sharpest ones from my whole Yemen stay. I don’t know if it had been Hababa’s forlorn despair, the sheer amount of neglect of a glorious heritage or the shock of coming face to face with Yemen’s poverty for the 1st time, memories of Hababa’s reflecting green waters simply refuse to fade.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

A beautiful

A beautiful

Desolate drive

Desolate drive

Through timeless

Through timeless

Land of Sheba

Land of Sheba

And masses of

And masses of

Masses of flowering

Masses of flowers

Had been very enchanting

Had been very enchanting

Hababa had arrived

Hababa had arrived

Without much fanfare

Without much fanfare

And I had been awed by

And I had been awed by

Yemen's Jewish past

Yemen’s Jewish past

Hababa had been

Hababa had been

Very pretty

Very pretty

In a quaint sort of way

In a quaint sort of way

And it's winding lanes

And it’s winding lanes

Had been very tranquil

Had been very tranquil

And despite it's

Strangely despite it’s filth and neglect

Had been very memorable

Hababa had been very memorable