Exotic Cities, Part Seven: Ataq, Yemen
May 29, 2009
This is a favorite joke in Yemen: A car full of terrorists has to stop at a police checkpoint. An officer leans in and asks, “Where are you going?” They reply, “We’re going to attack.” So the officer waves them on.
Pretty funny, eh? That’s the Yemenis for you. Not just funny but kind of cracked. That’s why I like them. And the biggest wackos of all are in Ataq. It’s a place as old as the Bible. It was near here that Joshua slew Horam in the hills of Lachis. But Ataqers don’t hold a grudge. Forgive and forget, you know? We can all get along. Hey, smoke some qat. It’ll flip your wig! Even the pilots who fly into Ataq on the regional airline, Air Ghaban, are smoking or chewing qat. They swear it helps them fly better.
What makes Ataqers so weird is that they live in a B-movie bubble. The town is a popular location for low-budget movies because it’s incredibly cheap to shoot in, and there is a huge area north of the town where production crews can do anything. Practically all the locals are wannabe performers of some sort, so there is no shortage of extras. As soon as you arrive at the airport, you’re passing a corridor full of buskers and impersonators. There’s even a snake charmer with a broken plastic flute and a rubber snake, who pauses frequently to tell jokes from old American TV shows.
My host was Fadi (“Don’t call me Fatty”) Ayoub, who owns the Hollywood Joke Store. He claimed to be my biggest fan in Yemen. He swears there are readers in Yemen who remember me from my advice columns in Rustler, which are major collector’s items and almost impossible to find outside of Canada. It’s remarkable that any copies ever found their way to Yemen!
Fadi drove me around the town, which didn’t take long, because it’s a small place. He showed me the area where movies are made, and then we drove by the big amusement park on the south side of town. It’s modeled after what Yemenis have seen of amusement parks in the movies.
“We’ve got film people coming here from all over the world,” Fadi explained in perfect English. “Europe, Russia, Australia, Asia, and even Israel. So far, the biggest movie ever made here was a production by Golan and Globus called Die, Caveman, Die!, starring Hulk Hogan. It was never released in North America, at his own request. But now we’ve got something really big coming, and keep this under your hat for now, because Spielberg hasn’t made it official yet. The sequel to E.T. is going to be filmed here!” (Okay, so don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret. The E.T. sequel is going to be filmed in Ataq, Yemen!)
Fadi was eager to introduce me to another Crad Kilodney fan, Armin Schroecker, Manager of the Ataq Hilton, which is the only hotel in Ataq and one of the few buildings with flush toilets. (Yemenis regard flush toilets as strange. They wonder, “When you flush, where does it go? Does it just disappear?” Which is exactly what I wonder about the taxes I pay to Ottawa.) My room at the Ataq Hilton was comfortable, but it had an oddly institutional style. Armin explained why: “Everything is bolted down. Everything is unbreakable. With film people, you expect the worst. The ones we get here are crazy.” Guests in Ataq have to buy a TV at check-in if they want one. If they don’t destroy it, they get their money back.
Fadi took me to the Hollywood Diner for lunch. (Ataq is full of places called “Hollywood” something.) It, too, was modeled after what Yemenis have seen of American diners in the movies, and the only food served is hamburgers, french fries, apple pie, and coffee. Yemenis go there, but there’s no Yemeni food, because they don’t want to look low-class in front of visitors.
Speaking of visitors, there were two movies being shot in Ataq while I was there — a Latvian movie about zombies who terrorize a secretary on vacation in the Mojave Desert, and a Taiwanese movie about schoolgirls being kidnapped by aliens for breeding purposes (which has to be a comedy, because everyone knows aliens only abduct white people).
Fadi’s joke store stocks mostly masks and costumes, as well as toys and novelties related to movies. He is extremely fond of American sci-fi and monster movies from the 50’s, as are most Ataqers. They regard such movies as the pinnacle of culture. Their favorite movie is It Conquered The World. Their second-favorite is Them. Their favorite actress is Beverly Garland (good choice!). She’s a goddess in Yemen. Their favorite actor is — get ready for a surprise — Whit Bissell. As for comic personalities, their two favorites are Zacherley and Soupy Sales (incredible!).
I had to buy something from Fadi’s store just to be gracious, so I bought a box of toilet targets with a picture of Velupillai Prabhakaran. He gave me a good deal — $6 for a box of 200. “I thought they were targets for shooting,” he said. “But my customers said they were too small. I only realized too late that they were for pissing on.”
The one thing in Fadi’s store that isn’t fake is guns. Nobody sells fake guns in Yemen. The very idea is absurd to them. Why buy a fake gun when real ones are cheap and available everywhere? Every store in Ataq sells guns on the side. I saw guns in a bakery, a shoe shop, and even a laundry. In fact, when Fadi introduced me to the laundry owner and said I was from Canada, the man offered to give me a gun so I could shoot Indians. “You kill Indians! Make Canada better country!” he said. I had to decline politely. Fadi explained to me afterwards, “Yemenis think Indians are very bad, and they don’t understand why Canadians tolerate them. They’re all drunks, they’re good for nothing, and no matter how much money you throw at them or how much you kiss their asses, it doesn’t make any difference. They just go on being a big drain on Canada.” I said some Canadians would agree.
The amusement park that I mentioned earlier is strictly for thrill-seekers. The mechanical safety of the rides is, shall we say, hit or miss. They give you a helmet and a kind of protective vest, and you ride at your own risk. The Fun House is pretty cool, though. Instead of mechanical monsters popping out of the walls, real men with knives jump out at you. They’re all wannabe actors, so it’s okay. No one has ever been killed, although there have been a few minor injuries.
There is really not much else noteworthy in Ataq. Don’t try to talk to the women. They’re not allowed to talk to strangers. They can’t even work as extras in movies. And, of course, they’re all wrapped up like mummies because of sharia law. And they actually prefer it that way. As for other culture, there isn’t any — just what relates to movies. Come to think of it, if it weren’t for the movie industry and American influence, Ataq would be just another miserable Muslim shithole.
When I returned to Toronto, an immigration officer at the airport asked me where I’d been. I told him, “I went to Ataq, Yemen” — after which I spent two hours being interrogated by the RCMP. Fucking dumbass Canadians!
Recommended vaccinations: bubonic plague, Leishmaniasis, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura.
Copyright@ 2009 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org