Markets in Yemen with a Pentax MZ-5 – By Jordi Fradera

Yemen, an impressive country, with a rich folklore and good people but always immersed in problems. In the spring of 1999 I took a tourist trip that I will never forget accompanied by my wife Iselda and my son Jordi. Yemen came out of a civil confrontation and was in a parenthesis of peace, this provided an opportunity to visit it. Of course it had its risk but we decided to face it. Unfortunately, shortly after, Yemen returned to a state of conflict.

Much of what I saw was imprinted in my mind and I could tell countless anecdotes, four words define part of their culture:

Djambiyah: Ceremonial dagger that every Yemeni wears on their waist, it should not be used as a threat under severe penalty.
Burka: Black female clothing that hides 100% of the women’s body
Kat (Qat): Chewy fresh leaves with digestive and euphoric effect (not drug)
Kalashnikov: Worn by many Yemenis in the streets as part of their attire, in the markets we saw stalls selling bullets on the ground

Of course, many other things surprise foreigners, and here I want to show something that I always look for in my travels, the markets. The sounds, smells and colors take the senses to the limit, all imaginable products were offered, lots of kat leaves, utensils, camels, goats, meat, fruit, fish, legumes, spices etc.

Yemenis looked suspiciously at us as foreigners but soon their demeanor turned friendly. It was only necessary to tell them that we were Spanish and mention Al-Andalus. Al-Andalus = Andalusia is part of Spain, it was Arab territory and… they know it. I should say, we are not Andalusian but it worked.

In the days that the trip lasted we did not see other tourists. One night I was walking with my wife and a traveling companion through the narrow streets of the old San’a neighborhood, without realizing it we were in almost dark and we began to get worried, we soon calmed down when we saw that the few passersby greeted or asked where we were from and then continued on their way.

This was back when digital photography was in its infancy and I had my last analog camera, a Pentax MZ-5. The film used was Kodak Gold 200 and it was developed in my neighborhood store, on this trip I took more than 200 photos.

A few days ago I wanted to use the Pentax MZ-5 camera to make an article but after buying the batteries it decided not to work. From what I have found on the net the problem consists of a small worn gear in the mirror motor, after so many shots logically has died, RIP.

Later, I scanned all of my negatives in a Minolta Dimage Scan III scanner. The quality is not perfect but I think they will serve to illustrate my article.

Here you have some photos of the markets of Yemen with their geographical location. In the photo at the top you can see a kat seller in San’a, the capital of Yemen.

Dat Al Ajar / Two kat buyers with their djambiyah
Kuhlan / On the way to the market
Khamis Bani Said / Market at a crossroads with no town in sight
Khamis Bani Said
Khamis Bani Said
Khamis Bani Said
Al Hudaidah / Fish market in the harbor (hammerhead shark included)
Al Hudaidah
Al Hudaidah
Al Hudaidah

Bayt El Faqih / Endless market

Bayt El Faqih
Bayt El Faqih
Bayt El Faqih / I jokingly asked “How many camels for my wife?” and they jokingly replied “At least three wives for a camel. A familiar topic but it happened just as I tell it.
Bayt El Faqih
Bayt El Faqih
Bayt El Faqih / And … you also have to eat something
Bayt El Faqih / Repairman by djambiyahs
Bayt El Faqih / Let’s keep eating
San’a / Impressive market between alleys
Thula / Tent with djambiyahs for tourists

I have an authentic djambiyah with its belt that I bought but to a Yemeni man who wore it, he was kind and sold it to me.

Souvenirs from Yemen

My souvenirs of Yemen: Djambiyah, kat tree trunk, typical building, Saba sand, legumes and seeds and the cover of the photo collection.
I hope you forgive me for attaching this collage but I have not been able to resist the temptation, I have my house full of objects that remind me of the trips I’ve made.

One last consideration, you may have noticed that there are no women in the markets, as I said at the beginning of the article there are many things that surprise foreigners, the list would be endless.

Thanks for reading my article, I hope you liked it

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12 thoughts on “Markets in Yemen with a Pentax MZ-5 – By Jordi Fradera”

  1. Jordi, what a wonderful set of images which help tell the true story of Yemen.
    I visited Yemen (before it joined with the South) in the 80s and 90s and agree how interesting it was and how friendly the people were. But the whole place became chaotic in the afternoons when everyone chewed on the Qat and the whole country seemed to float ethereally at 35,000 feet.
    Pity you didn’t show any images of the building in Sana’a which I found beautiful and how they avoided 20 century air condition by using natural cooling with chimneys.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for your comment.
      Iemen = incredible country, I’ll look for what you tell me about ventilation.

  2. Hola Jordi,
    Fantàstiques imatges del Iemen, a l’altura de qualsevol reportatge del National Geographic. Els mercats tenen aquella cosa que engantxen a qualsevol fotògraf, tanta diversitat , colors..llàstima de les olors que no es poden transmetre! I veus, els qui pensen que per bones fotografies es necessita una camera digital amb super sensor aqui hi ha un bon exemple per rebatre’ls. A més a més, i això és subjectiu, el gra de la pelicula li dona un toc especial.
    Vas ser un turista pioner! No coneixo el Iemen però veig que està en aquesta llista de païssos increibles amb gent encantadora però amb una dura història que sembla que no s’ acabi mai

    1. Moltes gràcies pel teu comentari i ¡JA! pel de National Geographic, només sóc un turista aficionat a collir records i francament no tinc vena artística. Els problemes en Iemen són endèmics, espero que algun dia aconsegueixin pau i benestar.

      Thank you very much for your comment and HA! As for the National Geografic, I’m just a tourist fond of collecting memories and frankly I have no artistic streak. The problems in Iemen are endemic, I hope that one day they will achieve peace and well-being.

  3. Wonderful images of this faraway place of which I know little, except stories of conflict and rumors of conflict. Hope they get some peace.

    1. Yes, it is a despised and little known country and with you I hope they solve their problems and find peace.

  4. I enjoyed these very much, a window into a place we only hear of as a war zone.

    Also, another strong set of images. 35mmc and it’s contributors have been on a roll recently and the last few posts have been really enjoyable.

    1. Thank you, indeed the news from that great country are regrettable. I hope that one day they will reach normalcy; even if it is almost medieval it will always be better.

  5. Great set of images of a wonderful country. One friend of mine, who llives in Avila (Spain) like me, visited the country in the nineties, and returned to Spain impressed by the beauty and flavour of the country. Let us hope they resolve their great problems soon.
    By teh way, I ´m a pentaxian, usin digital cameraas, but I use my old MZ-5 from time to time

    Gracias, Jordi, por compartir otra gran selección de imágenes. Por cierto, yo sigo siendo pentaxero en digital conservo mi MZ-5 y la utilizo algunas veces

    1. YES, good country and like you I hope that one day they will have peace.
      I have had 3 Pentax in 20 years: ME (fantastic, disassembled and empty in my showcase), Z1 (heavy and changed for MZ5) and MZ5 (no longer working, in my showcase), then (2002) I went digital. Now I make articles with relics of the past and have a lot of fun. I keep the 28-50-200 lenses from the ME and have adapted the 28 / 2.8 for the Sony A37.
      I’ve seen your page on Pentax and I like it. I am only a fan but since 1950. Greetings and thanks.

      He visto tu página en Pentax y me gusta. Yo sólo soy aficionado pero desde 1950. Saludos y gracias.

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