Yemen. The oldest Arab country. For the past year, it’s been in the throes of an Arab Spring-born revolution that, on the surface, seems to have spiraled the whole place into violent chaos. Protestors and tribal leaders successfully overthrew a 33-year-long dictatorship, and into the void stepped Al Qaeda. What has followed—massive suicide bombings, intense fighting between the new government and insurgents and U.S.-led drone attacks—has some calling it a new Afghanistan or, worse, the most dangerous place on Earth.
Swedish-born explorer Mikael Strandberg, however, sees it differently. He’d visited the country in 2009 and found it to be one of the most beautiful and complex countries on Earth, one that’s inhabited by passionate, friendly people. So, when Yemen first started heating up last year (around the time a New York Times Magazine headline declared “Yemen on the Brink of Hell”), he had the idea of crossing the country east to west, all the while producing a documentary that would show the world what it’s really like at ground level. Well, slightly higher than ground level—Strandberg would ride a camel for the 800-mile journey. So far, he’s produced this short pilot.
In it, he hikes over mountains and across wasted deserts and explores the ancient souks of the cities, meeting average Yemenis—tribal guards carrying Kalashnikovs and jambiyyas (curved daggers), women cloaked in abayasand children who offer him ice-cold Coke—who treat him with warm hospitality and almost unerring kindness. It’s an eye-opening, raw view of a place the world has written off. Strandberg is still out there, and you can follow his progress here, on his blog.