The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2021

88 JULY-AUGUST 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Kate Carr and her FSO husband, David, were posted for 18 years in the Middle East. During those years, they explored the countries that are presently in the news. Kate Carr’s earlier FSJ articles were “Into the Desert” (about Syria, April 2016) and “The End of the British Empire in Aden” (July/August 2015). David Carr retired from the Foreign Service in 1993, and the couple lives in Centennial, Colorado, near their daughter. T he Hadhramaut in southern Arabia has a long history. My husband, Dave, and I visited this fabled desert area, then administered by Britain, in October 1966. Dave, who was assigned to Aden, was going to meet businessmen in the ancient cities of the valley. From antiquity, the Hadhramaut was famous for its spices. Frankincense and myrrh, used in large quantities in pre- Christian religions, grew in South Arabia. However, many of the spices carried along the caravan routes came from the Far East. In Europe, South Arabia was referred to as the Spice Islands because it was thought that all the spices grew there. Actually, the Hadhramis sailed across the Indian Ocean in small sailboats pushed by the winds that blew east half of the year and west the other half. It was centuries before the European nations learned the secret of this navigation. Many of the Hadhrami business- men spent their whole working lives in Indonesia and the Netherlands East Indies. The greatest wish of those that lived abroad was to retire to their beloved homeland, build mansions and be buried in the cemeteries. The dead in these huge cemeteries still outnumber the people living in the cities. Going to the Hadhramaut BY KATE CARR s We flew in on a DC-3, one of the small airplanes of Aden Airways. Since we were going over mountains, the propeller plane was tossed all about. We shook our way down to the sandy airfield from which hot air blasts rose. That first night, we stayed at the guesthouse in Tarim. It was a beautiful old house in a date palm garden. There were lovely flowers and a swimming pool with one tree shading it. We slept in a cupola at the top of the house to catch whatever breeze might blow. The next morning, Dave and I were driven to Sei- yun, where he met the Sultan of Kathiri. Kathiri is one of the two major states that make up the Hadhramaut. Dave spoke to him and other sultans in classical Arabic because they were well educated, and well-educated people conferred formally in that lan- guage. Fortunately, he had been trained in Arabic in Beirut. s The high point of the trip was a drive to see Shibam, a city of high brown-and- white skyscrapers that rise before you in the desert. I learned these mud houses reach six to 11 stories, with some as high as 98 feet. The vertical houses have to be constantly maintained by applying new layers of mud. Built in the 1530s, Shibam is called the oldest skyscraper city in the world, even dubbed “the Manhattan of the Desert” in the 1930s by the noted British explorer Freya Stark. With 500 houses crowded together, more than 7,000 people cur- rently live there. Here, Dave visited businessmen who lived in the upper stories of their office buildings. I was invited to visit their wives in the harems located on even higher floors. Sitting on cushions, I spoke in colloquial Arabic with women who were fascinated by my Western clothes. These women all wore beautifully embroidered dresses and had their hair elaborately braided. Low coffee tables and painted cupboards to hold their many dresses were the only furniture. I answered as many questions as I could about the world outside. In one harem, the women were engaged in staining the hands of a young bride-to-be with henna. I watched in fascination as they cut the thin strips of tape to form the pattern on her hands. They then painted all the uncovered parts with red dye. REFLECTIONS A watercolor painting of Seiyun, where the author and her FSO husband went for meetings while assigned to Aden, then a British colony. COURTESYOFKATECARR