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Yemen: The Great Fraud of Danger!

Chas Smith

by Chas Smith

Interlude: A meandering diatribe on the truth of thrill.

(I am writing a series about Yemen because what is currently happening there is terrible beyond. My inaction disgusts me and so I am going to introduce you to to the country because… the place, people, culture all deserve to be saved. Catch up, if you wish, on the links right here… (Prologue, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7)

Stories that include bits and pieces of danger always feel fraudulent to me if the storyteller is still alive and relatively whole. Or at least this storyteller. Real trouble ends in death or dismemberment. Right? Real trouble leaves jagged scars. I have been in situations where I thought, “This is the end. This is it. I am dead.” Where things were going very sideways and very quickly.

But I have never died and the fact that I am sitting, typing, fully limbed (except for my one limb bending a nice glass of vodka) throws the exact nature of the danger into question. Was I really so close to a shallow grave or did my heart soar to hyperbolic conclusions? The only jagged scars I have are on my nose (from when I yelled a mama joke at a group of toughs) and on my chin (from when I did clapping push-ups in Cairo and my hands slipped on the dust). There are no bullet holes. No post-traumatic stress. Just my memory.

That evening we arrived at a hotel in Ataq, Yemen late and dragged our worn out bones to a room. It was standard Yemeni fare with an assortment of twin beds, one hanging bulb and a television with at least two music video channels. We watched for a while then fell asleep.

In the morning, we got up, maybe watched a few more music videos then pushed downstairs for breakfast. The modest lobby was packed with Yemeni soldiers. Dusty, bloody, tired. Some lay asleep on couches. Others lounged against the wall. They looked exhausted and they looked at us. Not menacingly or angry. Just studying. Some seemed vaguely amused. Others disinterested.

We asked a man who looked to be a commander what had happened. He told us in Arabic that a nest of Al-Qaeda operatives had been in the hill, had heard of our presence in the area and were coming to get us. The military had been alerted and met them some seven-kilometers out of town. They had killed them all and had not suffered a casualty.

I had no way of knowing if that was true. The soldiers were clearly spent. No one was in a joking mood. No one was asking us for anything at all. I felt guilty and elated. Guilty because what to us was a grand adventure put other people at risk. Elated because being in Yemen and having a pile of Al-Qaeda trying to ride us down felt like being in a movie. And because we had cheated the reaper.

But were we really close to death? I will never know because all I have is my memory. My damned rusted memory. If only we had been shooting video then we would all know for sure. Then we would all have definitive proof as to the precise levels of danger.


Ah but here is the rub. Video is as great a liar as memory. Three years later found J., N. and I in Lebanon “covering” the 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War. It is a long and convoluted tale that doesn’t need fleshing out and especially since we are smack in the middle of another long and convoluted tale but since this is an interlude and since we are talking about the Great Fraud of Danger allow me continue?

We were in Lebanon eating delicious baba ganoush, driving motorscooters because they were lighter than motorcycles and could be carried over bomb craters. J. and I had just driven them to Damascus in order to DHL video tapes back to America and returned to a real Israeli pounding. We decided it was a good time to head into a Hezbollah controlled neighborhoods, almost got hit by a bomb, almost got shot on the way out, crashed, got snagged by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, eventually got handed over to Hezbollah for a long, long interrogation and had the full first part recorded.

It looks like stupid shit.

So what is the point? Danger ain’t danger unless you die and I always feel like a fraud telling these stories.