The Woman Who Fell from the Sky

BOOK: The Woman Who Fell from the Sky
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Praise for
The Woman Who Fell from the Sky

“Offers the voices of Muslim women torn between familial concerns and individual freedoms.”


Newsweek

“A completely winning account of [Steil’s] adventures as a feminist mentor and boss … A riveting tale of a life’s journey that reads as if it will need a sequel.”


New York Times

“A delightful and straight-talking story of one American woman living, working, and finding friendship and love in a Muslim country. Highly recommended for interested memoir readers as well as journalism, Middle Eastern, and women’s studies students.”


Library Journal

“Anybody who has taken on an unfamiliar task, moved to a new place, or taken on a new role at work or at home without being at all sure about having the necessary skills should find a kindred spirit here.”


Post and Courier

“The image of Yemen that Steil paints is one of love, family, honor, and surprisingly, of women who are both powerful and liberated but, because of custom, unwilling to flaunt their beauty in public…. An antidote to stereotypes and blind prejudice.”


Sydney Morning Herald
, A Pick of the Week

“From the first page of
The Woman Who Fell from the Sky
, Jennifer Steil comes across as a person blessed with sensibility and sensitivity in equal measure. She is the kind of woman who’s not fearful of culture shock, danger, or the trials and tribulations of life in what is the Arab World’s rawest land. Her writing is an absolute delight—no nonsense, clear, funny, and sometimes alarming, as she threads her way through the ins and outs of Yemeni life. Steil has achieved far more than a simple description of a stint working at a newspaper in Sana’a. Rather, her book shines a vibrant light on the region, showing it how it is, with astonishing clarity from the inside out.”

—Tahir Shah, author of
The Caliph’s House
and
In Arabian Nights

“A fascinating read.”


The Age
(Australia)

“Steil puts humanity and color into her description of a country most Americans know only as a desert haven for terrorists. Her affection for Yemen and its people will make readers want to see it for themselves. A lovely book that offers a large measure of cultural understanding in a region that is too easily misunderstood and caricatured.”

—Nina Burleigh, author of
Unholy Business


The Woman Who Fell from the Sky
is that rare animal: a memoir which reads like a novel. From the exquisite detail to the passionate, poignant, and often hilarious story of one powerful woman immersed in centuries of patriarchal tradition, Steil takes us on a journey that left me exhausted and exhilarated. Hugely entertaining and vitally important to our times, the book tucks us under a veil and allows us a unique glimpse into a culture as old as Noah. Not only did I remember what it feels and smells like to live imbedded in the Arab world, I also relearned my craft of journalism along with Steil’s students in her dusty classroom halfway around the world. Veils and hats off to this winner!”

—Jennifer Jordan, author of
Savage Summit:
The Life and Death of the First Five Women of K2

“With intelligence, humor, and courage, Jennifer Steil’s book helps us see beyond stereotypes of male and female, East and West, conservative and liberal to appreciate the beauty and wonder of deeply rooted cultures—and the authentic relationships that can transcend them all.”

—Susan Piver, author of
How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life
and
The Wisdom of a Broken Heart

“Jennifer Steil’s voice recalls that of Isak Dinesen and Freya Stark: generous and observant, unabashed in her love for her home in exile, yet unafraid to speak her mind about injustice, and everything laced with wit and rich detail. This is an important book about a corner of the world we cannot afford to misunderstand, and Jennifer Steil is the perfect person to guide us.”

—Tom Zoellner, author of
The Heartless Stone
and
Uranium

While this is a true story, some names and details have been changed to protect the identities of those who appear in these pages.

Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Jennifer F. Steil

All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Broadway Paperbacks, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
www.crownpublishing.com

BROADWAY PAPERBACKS and its logo, a letter
B
bisected on the diagonal, are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Originally published in hardcover in slightly different form in the United States by Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 2010.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published and unpublished material:

American Institute for Yemeni Studies for permission to reprint a poem from
The Book of Sana’a: Poetry of Abd al-Aziz al-Maqali
, translated by Bob Holman and Sam Liebhaber (2004). Reprinted by permission of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for permission to reprint excerpts of the locust recipes taken from their website. Reprinted by permission of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00153 Rome, Italy.

The
Yemen Observer
for permission to reprint excerpts of articles from the
Yemen Observer
. Reprinted by permission of Faris al-Sanabani and the
Yemen Observer
.

Zaid al-Alaya’a for permission to reprint an excerpt of his note and poem to Jennifer Steil. Reprinted by permission of Zaid al-Alaya’a.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Steil, Jennifer F.
The woman who fell from the sky / Jennifer Steil.—1st ed.
p. cm.
1. Steil, Jennifer—Travel—Yemen—San’a’. 2. San’a’ (Yemen)—Description and travel.
3. Journalists—Yemen—San’a’—Biography. I. Title.
DS248.S26S74 2010
953.32—dc22       2009037172

eISBN: 978-0-307-71587-6

Cover design by
LAURA DUFFY
Cover photography by
JESSICA BOONE/GETTY IMAGES
(
pomegranate
); J
ENNIFER F. STEIL
(
city
)

v3.1

For Kawkab
,
and all the other feisty Yemeni women
who give me hope for the country

she was a woman
who fell from the sky in robes
    
of dew
and became
    
a city

CONTENTS

                             
Cover

                             
Title Page

                             
Copyright

                             
Dedication

                          
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

            
one   
FANTASIA IN GINGERBREAD
            
two   
READING, WRITING, AND ROBBERY
          
three   
AN INVITATION
           
four   
THINGS TO CHEW ON
            
five   
YOU’LL DIE OVER THERE!
             
six   
WHEN, EXACTLY, IS
INSHA’ALLAH?
         
seven   
MY YEMENI SHADOW
          
eight   
KIDNAPPINGS, STAMPEDES, AND SUICIDE BOMBINGS
           
nine   
THE FRONT LINES OF DEMOCRACY
             
ten   
HOMEMAKING IN THE HOLY MONTH
        
eleven   
THE TRIALS OF MOHAMMED AL-ASAADI
        
twelve   
TUG-OF-WAR
       
thirteen   
PILLARS OF RAYON
      
fourteen   
TROPICAL DEPRESSION
         
fifteen   
THE ARTIFICIAL MAN
        
sixteen   
THE POWER OF PEANUT BUTTER CUPS
    
seventeen   
A WORLD BEYOND WORK
      
eighteen   
DRAGGING DESIGNERS FROM THE
QAT
SHED AND
                              OTHER DRUG PROBLEMS
      
nineteen   
BRIGHT DAYS BEFORE THE DELUGE
         
twenty   
THE DELUGE
  
twenty-one   
BOMBS, BREAKUPS, AND BASTILLE DAY
  
twenty-two   
POMEGRANATE SEASON
twenty-three   
SHE’S LEAVING HOME
  
twenty-four   
REASONS TO RETURN

                               
EPILOGUE

                               
AFTERWORD

                               
About the Author

BOOK: The Woman Who Fell from the Sky
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