Bread and Henna: My time with the women of a Yemeni mountain town
Maclagan Ianthe (Author)
DescriptionAn engaging and authentic travel narrative, Bread and Henna relates social anthropologist Ianthe Maclagan's experiences of eighteen months living among the women of a small mountain town in Yemen during the early 1980s. After a gruelling road journey, she is initially taken in by a family who provide support and hospitality - but charge extortionate rent. Maclagan then sets up on her own, struggling with isolation and practicalities such as getting water and cooking. One day, female neighbours establish contact by offering cuttings for her rooftop garden. Then, by throwing pebbles from their roof down Maclagan's stairwell, they invite her to run errands for them. Gradually Maclagan is drawn into the life of the town and, in turn, takes it into herself. The women she gets to know have hard lives and limited choices, but prove friendly, warm, welcoming and curious. After initially attending community feasts as an honorary man, she later witnesses the hard work of women that lies behind spreads of delicious food offered to guests. As she learns the local Arabic dialect, she joins local women in long, enjoyable and sociable afternoons chewing qat. She is invited to attend weddings and other celebrations, joins visits to the sick and participates in mourning. As she integrates, Maclagan hears what the women say about their lives, about marriage, pregnancy and families - when asked how many children they have, women always include the ones who died - and about the struggle for girls' education. Maclagan learns how women seem to have more freedoms after marriage than before, leaving their husbands in protest or to teach them a lesson. This extended encounter with women of a remote community furnishes detailed descriptions of a different approach to life and cuisine. Bread and Henna offers a window on a world that has gone - an intimate portrait of a country that is typically in the news for reasons of war and hunger. This memoir will enthral lovers of travel writing, people interested in the workings of different societies and the lives of women, and those who have travelled to Yemen - or have yearned to do so.
Bradt Travel Guides
7 April 2023
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