You may have heard that there is oil in Yemen. Although this country has vastly less oil than some of its wealthy Middle Eastern neighbors — and the oil reserves are expected to be depleted in about five years — Yemen is still a place where oil companies operate. Don’t worry, this isn’t a post analyzing the effect oil has on Yemen’s economy. I’ve been here like three weeks, c’mon.
Mr.YemenEm and I got an invite to a fancy oil party last night. And it was just what you are picturing: Sheiks and ex-pats lubing each other up with oil whilst taking turns at hurling themselves down a Slip ‘n’ Slide to land in a champagne-filled pool at the end. Little known fact: Nothing gets crude oil stains off your diamond bikini quite like Dom Perignon.
While an oil party wouldn’t be my first go-to for a Saturday (aka Thursday in Yemen) night in my former life, (because I wouldn’t have been invited to such an event) the options for socializing here are very limited, so getting to leave the hotel and getting dressed up was very appealing for me. But the number one reason I was stoked to go: I heard the food at these glitzy parties is divine. A buffet of lobster. While I’m a vegetarian, I figured any party with a lobster buffet could be expected to have some other tasty treats. A cheese platter, pretty please.
The woman who extended the invitation to us is South African and lives in Sana’a with her German chef/restauranteur husband. This woman is very pretty and stylish. I asked her how I should dress.
“You should wear a black cocktail dress,” she said.” You should never travel without a black dress.”
I might be inclined to agree with her, only this is Yemen, and I didn’t think I’d have much need for a black cocktail dress. I scanned the meager selection in my closet and decided I’d have no choice but to wear a colorful sundress, which is probably not sophisticated enough for an oil party.
Our household goods and clothes arrive in Yemen via several different shipments, all of which have government acronyms. Mr. YemenEm just had two giant boxes delivered to our hotel room that contained his “HHE” or household effects. These are things he packed up a year-and-a-half ago, when he thought he’d have a spacious condo here in Yemen. When the U.S. government workers got moved into this hotel, his shipment was halted in Amsterdam, where I suspect his posters and sweatshirts have been getting stoned off their minds on purple haze since 2010. Anyways, Mr.YemenEm tore open the boxes yesterday and said “Oh no, this is your stuff.”
Yay! My boxes of “UAB,” or Unaccompanied Air Baggage, were here! I pulled out my fondue pot, tons of board games, organizational containers, and lots of clothes, including a black cocktail dress. Score!
Mr. YemenEm and I got fancy. I tried on several rhinestone necklaces with my black dress and thought that some people at an oil party might be wearing real diamonds so I probably shouldn’t wear my fakeys. (Because in my head, this party was the party we were going to.) We met up with a few others and set off to the wealthier area of town. Upon arrival, I had to laugh aloud for a few minutes at the sheer weirdness of life. Was I really about to walk into an oil company party in YEMEN? We were greeted at the door by an oil executive and his son, who, I kid you not, looked exactly like the bored, long-haired, drug addicted son of the crooked Russian oil tycoon from the movie “The Saint” with Val Kilmer. Trays of champagne were passed. We declined. Ha, psych.
We chatted up a few people, including a guy who is helping to launch a news service aimed at expats and NGO workers. I had just finished reading a book called “The Woman who Fell from the Sky: An American Journalist in Yemen” by Jennifer Steil, who worked for The Week in New York, before moving to Sana’a to help run the The Yemen Observer newspaper, owned by a guy named Faris. I was hoping Faris would be at the party because I really wanted to get his take on the book, which didn’t paint him in the most flattering light. But this other fellow was starting a news service for Faris, and we had a good talk about the business model and a little about journalism ethics. (Faris was the spokesman for the former president of Yemen, while he headed The Yemen Observer).
Next we moved to an outdoor tent, took our seats with a bunch of Americans and Brits, and listened to the Lebanese oil executive speak about his French colleague and then the Frenchie gave a little speech too. What was interesting is that both men spoke in English, even though that was neither of their first languages. A day earlier, I had attended a reception for a bunch of rural Yemen teachers who were going to be trained for two years in a southern Yemen city as English teachers as part of a program sponsored by the U.S. government. A fellow American gave a moving speech about how not only is English the language of business, but it’s the language that brings people together. Even if the Lebanese guy didn’t speak French, and the French guy didn’t speak Arabic, they both spoke English, and everyone at the dinner party seemed to understand English (granted, they’re were a ton of Westerners there). I feel very lucky to have been born speaking English and I’m am actually more motivated than ever to learn another language.
Anyways, the food at the party: There was indeed some sort of stuffed lobster, many good salads, A CHEESE TRAY!!!, a deliciously creamy vegetable Florentine, and a really good baked penne pasta. And there was red wine, which we haven’t had in a month, so that really hit the spot.
After dinner, we moved to oil executive’s basement, which apparently was the predecessor to an after-after party in the sub-basement, which reportedly has a hot tub and a pool. (Because you know, “After the champagne its the lobster buffet/and after the lobster buffet its the basement party /and around 4 you gotta clear the basement party/and take it to the hot tub lair and freak somebody”).
Tipsy oil executive commented to me that he didn’t think this crowd was rowdy enough to make it down one more level. Probs true.
My favorite conversation of the night was with a beautiful and vibrant Yemeni woman (who spoke perfect English because she studied in Canada for four years) who invited me to hang out with her and her girlfriends. “We always get together for tea and to talk, so you should come if you can.” Sadly, I probably cannot come because of security reasons, but I would love nothing more than to befriend some Yemeni women here and get a glimpse into their culture.
My least favorite conversation was with a socially awkward and seemingly smug very young American journalist. He totally gave me the brush-off, literally turning his shoulder on me mid-conversation. Bitch, pleaze.
My weirdest conversation of the night was with a trim and dapper Yemeni guy who explained his new business venture to Mr.YemenEm and I: A franchise of American-style doughnuts as well as little pizzas. In Yemen.
“Because you know when you eat a big pizza, it gets all over,” he said, pantomiming a humongous piece of pizza destroying his expensive jacket and along with it, the universe.
“But a little pizza is neat,” he said, daintily nibbling the edges of an invisible teeny pizza.
His plan is to sell them on planes as well, to business class customers.
“Because the coach passengers deserve no tiny pizza!” I said in a dictator voice.
He didn’t think that was funny. I meanwhile, I found his idea of of doughnuts and tiny pizzas hilarious — or maybe I had too much wine — and proceeded to chuckle about it for part of the ride home.
Anywho, ’til next time.
Cheers to champagne, oily parties, and, of course, wee little pizzas,