There a certain magical hour at U.S. embassy in Sana’a that occurs exactly once a week. During this hour, the desks of the Americans are empty and hope and anticipation hover invisibly in the air. The Americans are gathered, like eager children on the first day of school, or like the feral cats perched on the garbage cans at the embassy on roast chicken day.
It’s booze day!
For one hour a week, the embassy sells beer, wine, and liquor to American employees thanks to a group of volunteers that call themselves the “employee recreation association.” From what I’ve gathered, the recreation they refer to is solely recreational drinking, and that’s fine by me. This group sells all sorts of beautiful bottles of booze, from single malt scotches, to dozens of different types of beer, to Argentinian reds to Australian whites. During booze hour, each dues-paying member of the employee recreation league (yes, it’s a club you must join) can generally buy a bottle of liquor, two cases of beer, a few bottles of wine.
Now I know some states in the U.S. have weird alcohol laws: like not being able to buy liquor on Sundays in DC, or not being able to ride a horse while under the influence in Colorado, or no happy hours in Massachusetts (is that actually true, Boston peeps?) but Americans, you don’t know how good you have it being able to buy a bottle of wine on practically every street corner.
But alas, I’m living in a dry country, and just getting liquor into a dry country is quite the feat, and I often hear stories about the maneuverings of getting these so-called “tea” shipments into Yemen from Mr.YemenEm, who, until recently, was the president of the employee recreation league. I debated packing wine in my luggage when I left DC but Mr.YemenEm assured me that I’d get my fill of wine here, no problem. However, shortly after I arrived in Yemen, the unthinkable happened: The employee recreation association ran out of wine. First, the red disappeared. And then the white. And then hope. A massive shipment of booze en route to our thirsty mouths was held up just outside of our reach someplace in the Middle East. I was worried that the shipment would befall the same tragic fate as a storied shipment en route to the Italian embassy years ago. Yemenis reportedly intercepted a big ol’ shipment of Italian wines and broke the bottles so wine ran like blood in the streets. All to protest those Godless, pasta-loving Italians boozing it up in this boozeless country. Point made, Yemenis, but at what cost?
Several weeks ago we received the happy news that our much-awaited shipment had arrived. The delivery of the alcohol was a total disaster, largely because the truck couldn’t fit inside the interior embassy gates. That meant that Mr.YemenEm and others were stuck unloading crates and crates of alcohol under the watchful eyes of our teetotaling neighbors. One crate broke, sending a mixture of beer, hard liquor, and wine running down the filthy truck bed and on to the streets. Locals ran toward the grimy pungent mix and…filled their water bottles up with it and ran off to drink it. Ugh, I haven’t heard of such a nasty mix since we used to combine whatever alcohols we could get our hand on in high school. (Avert your eyes YemenMom&Dad). Goldschlager, Absolut Citron, and boxed wine – yum!) But never dirt.
Disaster aside, our wine was finally here! And just in time, because I was thisclose to taking the wine-making advice of my Arabic tutor who informed me you can make wine from putting raisons in a bowl of water and letting it sit on your windowsill for a week. Anyways, that first bottle of red after what felt like a very long time was a Barbera, Mr.YemenEm’s fave. We came home after a long day, popped the cork, took a whiff….ew. Like vinegar. Taste: not much better. I guess when you’re a wine bottle and you’re in a hot storage area traveling across the world for months, your insides change. We received a fancy wine decanter as wedding present so we thought that might help us turn the vinegar back into it former state. So we decanted the wine, slipped on our silk smoking jackets, lit a few stogies and waited whilst reading the Paris Review through our monocles. Nope, the taste still teetered in gray zone between wine and cleaning product. But we drank it anyways because it seemed like a better option than rancid raison wine.
Since then, we’ve sampled a few more bottles — about half have been decent. We’re heading to Istanbul in a few days (yay!) and you can be sure I will not only drink my fair share of wine, but I’ll be bringing back some bottles, tucked gently in between many wedges of cheese. Obvi.