The (probable) first Yemeni to set foot on the sandy shores of this Dutch island describes his experiences with the natives.
Written By: Ali Marmaduke
Article Date: Aug 21, 2007 - 1:10:12 AM
In the three days I spent on the island of Schiermonnikoog, it wasn’t until the last five minutes I was there that someone brought to my attention that I was probably the first Yemeni ever to have set foot there. The gravity of that sudden awareness struck me like a cannon ball. I had suddenly joined the ranks of Cousteau and Columbus, Neil Armstrong and the crew of the Star Trek Enterprise. I had gone where no man (with a Yemeni passport) had ever gone before. ‘Is that possible?’ you may ask.
‘Has not one other Yemeni walked the vast sandy shores of Schiermonnikoog? Has not one other Yemeni ridden a rented bicycle past Schiermonnikoog’s historic red lighthouse, miniature versions of which are sold daily at souvenir shops all over the island? Has not one other Yemeni gone to one of those souvenir shops, decided to purchase one of those miniature lighthouses, but ultimately reconsidered because he realized it would not fit the décor of his home in Sana’a?’ It may be difficult to believe, but I cannot imagine why any other Yemeni would have gone to Schiermonnikoog, unless he or she was doing anthropological fieldwork or had a shipwreck and washed ashore on the island. Schiermonnikoog is one of many Dutch islands. It is also a national park and its own municipality.
The lush vegetation provides a natural refuge to many exotic species of birds. It is the Socotra of the Netherlands (without the malaria). But it is close enough and the water is shallow enough that during low tide one could walk from the mainland of the Netherlands to Schiermonnikoog. During high tide, however, one must take a ferry from the port of Lauwersoog on the mainland. Tour de Schiermonnikoog Cars are not permitted on the island. Tourists leave them on the mainland before being carted off on the ferry to their traffic-free holiday island. Bicycles are more ubiquitous in the Netherlands than Kalashnikovs in Yemen, and that is particularly true on Schiermonnikoog. Tourists rent big black bicycles with wide, soft seats upon debarking the ferry. I rented one for five euros a day.
The seat was extremely luxurious. Occupied territory A rainy island with a native population of 947 (as of January 1, 2007), Schiermonnikoog is in danger of being colonized by the well to do of the Dutch mainland, especially those from Amsterdam. Families dressed in boat shoes and striped rugby shirts have infested traditionally Schiermonnikooger hangouts, making the lone Yemeni explorer feel like just one of the many foreigners—albeit one who speaks no more than three Dutch words (lekker, meaning ‘delicious,’ gezellig, meaning ‘cozy,’ and leuk, meaning ‘nice’ or ‘good.’ Used in various combinations, they are quite useful in expressing one’s enthusiasm and absolute ignorance of the language).
One hangout remains for the natives of Schiermonnikoog: A hotel in the center of Schiermonnikoog’s village. There, the real Schiermonnikoogers gather to commiserate and lament their fate as a native population surrounded by loud, ostentatious tourists from the mainland who are as foreign to the Schiermonnikoogers as the Germans tousist—who swarm the island every summer—and I. Beneath the cordial interactions between natives and tourists there is a palpable tension—the islanders simmer with contempt. A bloody secessionist revolution on Schiermonnikoog is almost inevitable.
Yemen to the rescue Perhaps more disturbing to me than the tourist assault on Schiermonnikoog is the fact that Yemen receives a huge amount of development aid from the Netherlands without giving anything in return to help the Dutch people overcome their backward cultural traditions and cure their plague of government corruption, which I’ve been told does not really exist. But without corruption, how could the supreme ruler of the Netherlands, Queen Beatrix, manage to remain in power for nearly three decades? As a Yemeni, I encourage my countrymen to donate their charitable funds this Ramadan to the people of the Netherlands.
Why would the Dutch eat whole fish raw like savages unless they were on the verge of starvation? Why would they wear uncomfortable wooden shoes if they could afford the kind of shoes worn in civilized nations? Yemen has a wealth of human and natural resources that should be shared with the world. We cannot simply continue developing at such an astounding rate when the Dutch, who have been so generous to us, continue to live in substandard conditions. As the first Yemeni to set foot on Schiermonnikoog, I implore Yemeni readers to open their hearts and wallets to the Dutch because, as history has proven, abject poverty and rampant government corruption create a haven for extremist groups. Your munificence will serve the world.
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