FOLLOW THE TRAVELS OF AN ADVENTUROUS BUSH PILOT ON A SOLO EXPEDITION TO THE SEVEN CONTINENTS OF THE WORLD
|19 Feb 97 - Sanaa, Yemen, Arabia
In Djibouti, a little girl comes up to me to say good-bye. I lean down to kiss her, and she puts her arms around my neck. As I stand up, I notice that her eyes are filled with tears. She wants to know when she will see me again. She doesn't like "good-byes" her mother tells me.
I have just taken off from Djibouti, and I am carrying 1,080 pounds of fuel that Mobil has kindly given me. This is a lot of fuel - enough for 15 hours - but I am not sure where I will find any again. I am climbing slowly and thinking mostly of that little girl's eyes. I don't like good-byes either. I prefer to avoid them. She is too young to mask her emotions and to pretend that things don't matter. I wonder if I have become too good at leaving. I think, in many ways, that when I leave a place, I have already left it. Instead of "good-bye", I prefer "take care" or "see you later". Good-bye seems too permanent, too certain, too painful, and the emotion begins to hurt if I let it in.
Eritrea hands me off to Yemen, and I can see the Red Sea beneath me. To move from one large geographic mass to another is like moving one's finger across the surface of a map. Ahead of me, I can see the town of Hodeidah on the Yemeni coast. I look one last time back to Africa. I realize that I am leaving a place that has become a part of me - like one's parents - and that has taught me so many things about life and about myself. My forehead rests lightly against the window as I look down, and I hear myself quietly say, "Good-bye Africa."
The mountains rise abruptly and soon I am buried in clouds. Sanaa Control is calling me every five minutes, and they want to know my position. I am tempted to tell them that I am five minutes further than I was the last time they asked, but I am distracted. There are holes in the clouds. Down beneath me there are castles. I circle down through the clouds into a world of steep valleys, mountainous cliffs, and towering castles of clay. It feels like I have flown back through time. The structures cling to the sides of mountains surrounded by lush green terraced boxes of sorghum, and across the empty valley the light streaks down through a hole in the clouds onto another tiny mountain village. I start to juggle cameras, airspeeds, and the microphone, and Sanaa wants to know where I am again. The mountains rise to a vast plateau, and I find myself in a very different place.
Sanaa is over 7,000 feet elevation on a plateau. The whole city looks like a collection of fortresses and minarets. I can feel that the air is hot and thin. I approach at a high speed because I am overweight, and I need to keep my tail up, but my groundspeed seems much faster than expected. I feel like a jet as I touch down; then I notice that they have landed me with a stiff wind behind me. There are a lot of Russian and American fighter aircraft on the side of the runway, and I am wondering what kind of a place this is.
Over the radio, I hear the transmissions from other aircraft. They keep using this word inshallah. After each position report, they will say their estimate for the next reporting point, followed by "inshallah". I have never heard this radio term before, and I am confused by it. Djibouti is hot, and I am still wearing shorts. As I walk into the terminal, there are men with guns and dark pointed Arabian faces. Some of the men are wearing uniforms and hats, others are wearing cloths tied on their head and Jambia daggers around their waist. I don't have a visa, so there is some discussion about this. Very few of these men speak English, and the rich flowing gurgling sounds of Arabic wash through my brain. At one point, I am led up to another office to see the man who will hold my passport because I do not have a visa. He wants to charge me $100 for a visa, but I explain that I am a pilot in transit, so I don't need one. In the airport lobby, I notice that I am being stared at by many men. They are smiling, and I feel like a fresh piece of meat amidst a pack of dogs. They do not wear shorts here, but long light robes called tobes that fall to their feet. I quickly return to the plane to dress for this different culture.
A woman from the American Embassy comes out to meet me. I usually try not to rely on the American Embassy in places where I go, but I was advised to call this woman upon my arrival, and the customs here seem different enough that I feel I must be careful. She is very surprised to hear that I am here. The last American aircraft to land in Sanaa was full of supplies for the US Embassy, and it was charged a $60,000 landing fee. The plane departed again without discharging its supplies and without paying its landing fee. The control tower wants me to report there. It seems I have arrived on the wrong day from my flight clearance. They tell me that they could have shot me down. I explain that I confirmed my flight date by HF radio and telex from Djibouti and then again by VHF radio while crossing the Red Sea. This does not seem to matter. I am to report to the department of Civil Aviation the next day. A lot of things come from a lot of different directions, and I start to talk to myself and to laugh at myself a little. Perhaps, this is a nervous reaction to pressure and a lot of unknowns. I know I am in a place where not many people go. I can feel that the generous woman from the American Embassy is not quite sure why I am here. I have the name of someone who I might be able to stay with. His name was given to me by some friends in Ethiopia. I am very concerned that all these people not think that I am a spy, or an arms smuggler, or a drug smuggler. My concern lies in the fact that I know I could quite easily be any of these, so I think the best defense is to attack. Again, I have learned that you live by your face, and you don't have to have a good memory if you always tell the truth. I am not clever enough to do it any other way.
An officer from the American Embassy escorts me down to the Department of Civil Aviation. I do not have much experience reading Arabian eyes, but I am not very comfortable with the ones on the man we are sitting with now. He is short and aggressive. Things happen fast. My American escort is trying to follow the line of the conversation between the Arabs in the room. I am told that I have arrived on the wrong day, so I must pay a $1,000 fine. There is silence, and I am being studied. I produce the stamped piece of paper from Djibouti which is a copy of the telex with the revised arrival date for Sanaa. The information is very clear. There is more rapid Arabic discussion followed by telephone calls. I am not really sure if there are any rules here; this all seems a little arbitrary. Then the man says to me, that he has a proposal for me. I can pay $100 to him, and they will overlook the incident. Slowly, I become very aware of the game we are playing. I know this game from Africa. It is a little like Russian Roulette, and I decide to pull the trigger. I explain that the piece of paper is very clear and the arrival date was confirmed from Djibouti. The short man is visibly not pleased. He says he gave me a chance, now it is out of his hands. He was trying to help me, but now he has done all that he can. He takes my piece of paper and puts it into a fax machine. This is followed by a phone call to someone to refer to this piece of paper that is arriving by fax. Now, we wait. I look across to my American friend, and he isn't quite sure that what I have just done is the correct thing. I am not either, but I was trusting my instincts. There is more discussion and waiting. The polite conversation has become strained, then there is a telephone call. The short aggressive man hangs up the phone then tells me that I do not have to pay any fee. The uncomfortable troubled looks are gone, and we are all smiling. "Welcome to Yemen," he tells me. He wants me to enjoy my stay. I can see that he is a little surprised by my intransigence, but I also feel that this whole affair may not be completely over yet.
I meet American Embassy staff in many remote countries, and I am amazed that the rougher the place, the closer the sense of community amongst the staff. In the faraway places, these people only have each other, and they stick together. I am invited in. I have never received such a warm welcome by an American Embassy community. One invites me to stay with him; the International School invites me to speak to their students, and the Ambassador's secretary offers to take me to Babel Yemen. This is the gateway to the old city souk (market). A few years ago, you could still find human hands or heads nailed onto the large arched gate from those who had recently been punished. There are women here, but you don't see them. They are like ghosts that drift silently through the streets. You don't touch them, and you don't speak to them. It is almost as if they don't exist. They cover themselves with their black sharshaf when they leave the house, and there is a black veil or a black mask which covers their face. The Ambassador's secretary walks with her hand bag in front of her and me behind her. I am not sure why, but then I hear her yell at someone lost in the crowded street who has grabbed her in a place that he shouldn't have. This happens often to foreign women. If you dress in their clothes, they don't respect you. But if you dress conservatively in the clothes from your country, you get pinched. The longer I stay in Yemen, the more intrigued I become by these black shapes that move through the streets. When they are uncovered, you can see them; it is over. When they are covered, you mind races. I find myself looking at their ankles as they walk and trying to imagine the shape of the woman within. These are not evil thoughts; they are just thoughts. I can't see it, so I must imagine it - and strangely, it makes it all the more alluring.
In the old city, I climb up inside of a tall stone building to look at some paintings. There are three young women there whose faces are visible beneath the black, and they are speaking English. I politely ask where they come from, and they tell me Iraq. There is a slight pause in my reaction. I want to talk to them more. They can tell I am an American by my accent. I want to ask how they are, or what the war was like in Baghdad. There are a hundred questions I can think of; I have never met Iraqis before, but they must leave. I am left feeling stupid and ignorant. I am very aware that I have been judged by the place from which I come. I don't mind this, but I wonder how much we all miss in our lives because of it.
The jewelry here is beautiful. "Don't worry about the price," I am told. It is old silver crafted by Jewish artisans with red coral. The pieces are made from larger ethnic pieces which come out of the Hadramout. In that part of Yemen, your jewelry is your wealth. You don't keep your money in a bank; you wear it, and for a woman who becomes divorced, this is her insurance. The "Yemeni silver" is sometimes called "Bedouin silver" and it is not pure; it is made from the Mother Theresa dollar and is about 85% silver. The Jewish silversmiths that used to live in Yemen had three main styles of design. The Badihi style of working silver was principally a succession of six raised dot groupings that were presented on the jewelry like bunches of grapes. The Bosani style was a very fine and intricate filagre work, and the Monsuri was a process by which the design in the silver was engraved or cut out. All of this was for a purpose. Many designs were used in creations for the delicate Koranic reading holders that were worn around peoples necks to bring them good luck and to ward off evil. I am amused that every time I inquire from the shopkeeper how much a particular piece costs, he tells me not to worry about the price. The price simply isn't important. If you like a piece, you like it. The price can be negotiated later on. I had never been aware of how clever a sales tool this could be. If you are told the price in the beginning, you block the item out of your mind as being too expensive, but without the price, you begin to feel strongly that you like it. The price is then less of a factor once you have decided you want the necklace.
The shopkeeper has a cheekful of qat. It is still Ramadan, so just after sunset, the streets in the souk are alive and everyone is stuffing qat in their mouths and drinking glasses of strong tea and coffee. Yemen grows the highest quality coffee in the world. Coffee originally comes from here, and the Dutch carried it with them from here to Indonesia and Colombia. The term Mocca used for coffee comes from the Yemeni port city of Mokha to the south. At one time, much of the world's coffee came from here. Today, coffee earns far less money in Yemen than qat. I am driven through fields of qat with medieval towers scattered along the boundaries to guard them. Dogs are used to patrol the fields and the guardians are armed with automatic weapons. The fields are harvested a day at a time. You want the young shoots that are soft, but that still break. Qat is a weak drug, so you need a lot, and you have to hold it for 5 hours. "Last year, Yemen was running without a budget," I am told. "You can double the price of fuel or bread and not have a riot, but don't take away the qat. Qat keeps this country clean; no one needs alcohol." When the Saudi King Fahd was on his deathbed in the 1940s, he said to his sons that the prosperity of Saudi Arabia depends on the misery of Yemen. The Yemenis are mountain people, and they are hardy warriors. In the past, this area was know as Felix Arabia (happy Arabia). This is the heart of Arabia and this is the true Arab spirit, as yet uncorrupted by too much money and western influence. This is also a country that has lived through war. In 1994, there was a civil war between the north and the south. It was not unlike from the civil war in the United States in the 1860s; the south wanted local power and the north wanted central power. The Arabs don't fight long wars though, and in July, after five weeks, the north had won. Cellular telephones have not yet returned. During the war, the spies from the south used to call in the strike locations for the scud missiles as they landed in Sanaa, so the phone system was discontinued. "If you ever get confused, just remember you are on the moon," someone tells me. "There are no rules, and the cost of anything here is whatever the market will bear."
Another shopkeeper shows me a ceremonial Jambia. It is made of finely finished silver with a handle of carved African rhino horn. It is worth several thousand dollars. All the men wear Jambias here. It is incredible to think that the demand for the rhino's horn to make the Jambia has led to the near extinction of the black rhino in Africa. The color of the Jambia scabbard shows which tribe you are from, and it is worn in a most provocative way slung around the stomach and sticking out in front of you; the fatter you are the more it sticks out. This whole place reminds me of what the "wild west" in America might have been like. You carry your gun and your Jambia, and there are two laws here. There is the law in the books, but when that doesn't work, you revert back to the old tribal laws, and they still work.
I am taken to the Johanna Gun Souk outside of Sanaa. This is a very good place to be kidnapped. In 1996, over 600 foreigners were kidnapped in 42 different instances in Yemen. It is a wonderful way to experience Arab hospitality though. Two years ago 17 French tourists were kidnapped in Shabwa, down near Marib; now, they are in the process of negotiating with the government because they want to come back and visit their kidnappers. Almost all of the people who have been kidnapped have received extremely generous treatment. One group was even fed meat which can be a rare luxury in some parts of Yemen. In Khawlan, 4 Dutch tourists were recently released. All the kidnappers wanted was for justice to be done. An Iraqi man had killed his Yemeni wife. He had been in jail for two years on a suspended death sentence. The kidnappers wanted the sentence carried out, so the government executed the Iraqi and the tourists were released. Eight days ago, a 50 year old American oil engineer was kidnapped by the Murad tribe in the southeast of Yemen. It seems like a good way to get the government's attention, and this time the tribe is upset about a valuable piece of land near the President's palace in Sanaa.
We drive down through a lunar world of rock and treeless dusty desert. The midday sun whips towering "dustdevils" up off the desert floor into ominous looming pillars of swirling dust. I am reminded of the Arabian tales of the Jinn who emerges from the lamp to grant its master three wishes. It is obvious to me that these dustdevils are the origin of the myth. We pass through several roadblocks of Yemeni army officers. There is some concern as to where we are going, but our driver skillfully avoids the question. We eventually arrive on a open street of a dusty town. There are dark shops on one side of the street. The shopkeepers are young boys, and they are selling machine guns, hand grenades, and rocket launchers. I watch two men walk down the street. One hands an automatic pistol to the other, and he points it upward and fires two loud shots into the air, before handing it back. He does this casually in a way that a horse trader might look into the mouth of a horse that he was considering buying.
Several Arabs gather around me to find out why I have come. This is another place where you live by your face. I practice my Arabic and get the young boys to hold armfuls of weapons in the doorways of their shops. I can't help but notice a form of honor in the faces of all the people here. It is almost an "honor among thieves" type of honor. These are people who could either kiss you or kill you. There is no law here, so they are the law. They are rough and we are dealing with weapons of war, yet their faces look so relaxed and innocent. I talk and move quickly to photograph these delicate faces. I don't want them to get the idea that they should charge me for my pictures, so I begin inquiring about various weapons while I take my pictures. The AK-47 is about $250. The hand grenades are $3 each, and they also have old German Lugers and Thompson's machine guns. They would like to sell me a Russian RPG-7 rocket launcher, and they suggest that I should try it first. The rocket part will cost me $30. I have never fired a rocket before, so we head off to the empty valley just outside of town. Abdul Alrahman cautions me to keep my mouth open. I lean back to support the weight of the heavy rocket while I listen to Abdul. He has those cool eyes of someone who has handled one of these quite often, so I listen carefully. If you close your mouth the shock wave can blow out your eardrum, he tells me. He shows me where to aim on a nearby hill. I ask what is on the other side of the hill in case I miss, but this doesn't seem to matter to anyone. I am shown how to position my feet and that there must be nothing behind me to block the fire that emerges from the back of the launcher. It is this feature on the RPG launcher that makes it recoilless; you just aim it, mouth open, and pull the trigger. There is a loud hazy thrushing sound next to my ear, then I watch this object leave from my shoulder and strike the side of the mountain. The shape charge at the end of the rocket is designed to blow up a tank, so there is a second explosion as my target is hit and rocks explode across the face of the mountain.
I turn around to many warm smiles. They want to know if I want to shoot some more things. It is obvious that they don't get many visitors like me, and I am a good source of income. On the drive back to town, there seems to be a question of the price. I had taken the precaution of writing in ink on the hand of the owner the agreed upon price of $30 before firing the rocket. I point out to him that the price we agreed upon is written on his hand. He still seems to be sure that I should pay more. It seems a little silly to argue, since I would then probably be kidnapped, so I ask if it is possible for me to come back again and bring many people with me to possibly fire these weapons. I can see little dollar signs swimming around in their heads, and the $30 is happily accepted without further discussion.
My companion on this excursion is an American named Mike. Mike used to be an explosives expert on the U.S. Navy SEAL mobile support team. Mike tells me that only 4 Seals have ever died in combat. "They are the most mellow characters," he says, "and they are the only unit in which individuals can refuse a mission for moral reasons." He explains that they only get to refuse three times before they are reviewed, but this shows the sensitivity of the characters who choose to be Seals. Mike has since moved on to working with electrical explosions for film studios in California. He tells me that Seals are never stationed outside of the USA and that units 1 through 5 are on the east coast, and units 7, 8 and 9 are on the west coast. "There is no unit 6," he says. "There is some myth that Seal Team 6 is an assassination team, but no one is sure."
"The city is a woman's invention," Francois tells me, "because men are nomads." Francois is a pilot friend who has spent many years here. His father was the previous French Ambassador to Yemen, and he has a great interest in the Yemeni culture. I am taken on a tour of the city. The buildings in Yemen are unlike any other buildings in the world. These people are born stone masons. They use different colored stone and translucent alabaster on the roof to let the light in. The old city has over 7,000 houses and palaces in it which date from between 500 to 1,000 years old. Along the tops of some of the buildings is a zigzag pattern of white gypsum stone carefully crafted into the stone. Traditional Arab houses look inward to a courtyard, but Yemeni houses look outward. The bottom floor is used as a stable area for cattle and goats. The heat from the animals helps to warm the house and rises up to next level which is the kitchen. The women live on the floor above the kitchen, and the men live above the women. The top floor is the mafraj, and this is the most important and elegant room in the house. It has windows on three sides with cushions and woolen mats on the floor. In the afternoons, friends and family will sit in the mafraj to drink coffee and chew qat and discuss matters of importance while looking out across Sanaa's skyline. This similar design is seen all over northern Yemen, including one of the most famous castle structures, Dar Al-Hagar, which is precariously balanced on top of a huge rock along the side of wadi dhar.
Yemen is Arab Islamic, but it is different than most Muslim countries in that some of the major buildings carry women's names. This is very unusual in the Arab world. Yemen was maternalistic for a long time before Islam arrived. The Queen of Sheba came from here (although the Ethiopians would disagree), and she is mentioned by in The Holy Koran in the 27th Surah Al - Naml (the Ant). The best times were when the women ruled, I am told. Queen Harawa ruled 400 years ago and is known as the "great builder". There were also Queen Aliamama and Queen Bilquise. Today, there is an Arawa College, and many women are named Arawa. My friend Abdulla explains the reason that Arabic women are covered with black sharshafs (or abayas). "These are our mothers," he says. "They are the 'brothers' of the man, and we must respect them." Abdulla married a girl from his village who was covered at age 10. Arabian girls begin wearing this as soon as they have received their first period. "What is life without woman," Abdulla continues. "If we don't cover her, everyone will look at her and not respect her. If you lose respect for the woman, the whole life will break down."
A young Yemeni woman invites me to her home. Her father used to be the Yemeni representative to The United Nations in New York. He likes America, and he has given his permission for me to visit them in their house. This woman is 25 years old, and she has asked that I not mention her name. Their house is a beautiful traditional Yemeni house on the edge of the old city. We make our way to the roof where I photograph her in her sharshaf. The old walled city of Sanaa sprawls off in the distance. I am then invited to join her and her father for coffee in the mafraj. It is a very relaxing time, but I am aware that the only reason I have been allowed on the "inside" of this world is because I am from the "outside". I ask them about courtship. "If you want a pretty wife, you have to be nice to your mother and your sisters," this girl says to me. This is how things work in Yemen. The men never see the women. There are men's parties and there are women's parties. If your sisters and mother go to a party, they can see all the other young girls without their veils and talk to them. They will then come home and tell you about a girl. If you are interested, then you can discuss this with your father. Then your mother and sisters can then approach the girl and explain your interest in marriage. If the girl then says yes, the two families meet. This is called khudeba (engagement), and after this, there is a period from 1 month to 2 years in which you can fall in love or break up. During this time, you can see the woman, but never alone. The woman becomes your responsibility once the agt (contract) is completed and then after the wedding you can sleep together.
The most interesting part about this arrangement is the power that it gives the women of the house. They are the ones who choose the mates for the men, and they choose women who they like. The mothers also know the sons well, so they can choose a woman who will suit their son and who will make a good mother and in-law for the other members of the family. It happens quite often in Yemen that the brother and sister of one family will marry the brother and sister of another family. This can be quite convenient, however, if one of the couples becomes divorced, then the other couple must also get divorced.
"If you know how to bargain for carpets, you will learn everything you need to know about politics in the Middle East," I am told. This is the politics of compromise, and it is based on mutual respect. The next leg of my journey will be almost 11 hours across the Hadramout in Yemen and the Rub-al-Khali (the Empty Quarter) in Saudi Arabia and Oman. I have been trying to find out if fuel is available here for over a month. Finally, it appears that the military has a drum. I arrive at the airport and make my way out to the plane. Several military officers arrive with a drum of fuel. They are all wearing many more bars and stars than I would have imagined for people bringing me a drum of fuel. They present me with a piece of paper that I must sign. I ask how much the fuel will be; I am hoping to buy 100 liters which will add another two hours to my endurance across the desert. The officers don't speak much English, but I eventually hear, "Don't worry about the price." I have heard this before, and by now I know that this is precisely when I should worry about the price. I explain that I am not going to accept the fuel unless I know cum floos (how much money). Eventually, the number saba (seven) is mentioned. I ask, "Saba what?" and I am told, "Dollars." I am then informed that this is the price per liter. This is $26 a gallon, or $700 for 100 liters (2 hours) of gasoline. I begin to laugh almost hysterically at this price, and I thank them very much but explain that this is too much. All of the officers are confused. I think they can't believe that this is a lot of money for me. I think they may also think that I probably don't have any alternatives.
I remember a bush pilot I once met in Botswana told me that bush flying is only two things: Understanding, and always having an alternative. The understanding is of your aircraft's limitations and also your own, and the alternative is always having another way out. I think these rules apply as much to life on the ground as they do when in the air. However, there is another rule which I have only recently learned about in Arabia, and this is called inshallah. This word means "if God wills it", and this is used all the time by the people here. It means that we can try as hard as we want, but whatever happens will be the will of God. The more I hear this phrase, the more I like it. It takes the worry out of our hands and lets someone else worry about it. The other very important Arabic phrase that I have learned here is Allah wahad (God is one). Our Gods are the same, and every time someone asks me why I do not convert to Islam, this provides a very erudite and satisfactory reply. The books are different, but the God is the same.
However, I am still concerned about my fuel alternatives, and I have one more hurdle to cross. When I had first arrived in Yemen, I had inquired about the landing and parking fees. I had been told, "Don't worry about the price." This was before I learned that Yemen is actually like a real life version of "Alice in Wonderland" and that one must always worry about the price. I walk into Mohammed's office, and I don't like his shifty eyes. I can see that this is an office where people get eaten. I ask him casually how much he thinks my landing and parking fees might be, and he knows exactly how much they will be. He smiles at me as he tells me, "You must pay $1,700."
There is a Yemeni proverb that says, 'The hand that you can't break, you kiss.' I didn't really understand this expression before. It means that a strong enemy can become a strong friend and that you must know when to join them, if you can't beat them. This is one of the wild places. All you have to do is look at the International Regulations for Operations and Fees in Yemen to realize that there is no law here. It is easy to feel indignant about it, but it probably wouldn't be too difficult for my airplane to then be confiscated. I remember the camel that I stumbled upon in the basement of a building in the old city. It was harnessed to a grinding mill living its life by walking in circles extracting oil from sunflower seeds. I decide it is better to not to be indignant, and I return to my friends at the Department of Civil Aviation. They are glad to see me again, and they are pleased that I have been enjoying my stay. Fortunately, I have completed my usual rounds of "survival publicity", and in all of the newspaper articles I made sure to thank the Department of Civil Aviation for their generous assistance and warm welcome to Yemen. Now, I am back to ask for a discount. I can see that this is a highly unusual request, but I think they are amused by it. I know the routine now, and we sit down for coffee and talk about lots of other things. I am asked to write out my request on paper, and then several men begin looking through large books of Arabic text for some rule which applies to my special request. There seems to be little hope, but then a rule is found. I have been here for over a certain period of time, so I am entitled to a reduction. A paper is drafted and signed, and I am to present this to Mohammed. $900 is a lot cheaper than $1,700.
As I have traveled across the world, I have collected a number of pilot friends. I have discovered that pilots all over the world are like a band of brothers in the air. Many of them are now also on email. I find myself with a difficult decision to make about adding illegal lower octane car fuel to my fuel supply, re-timing my engine, and leaning the mixture at very high altitudes. I am most interested in not harming my engine. I begin to receive replies and advice from pilots in Alaska, Maine, South Africa, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and other parts of the world. They are real answers. They are not the kind of answers that tell you what you can't do; they are the kind of answers that tell you what you can do from people who have learned through the school of experience. I make the safest decision I can and say to myself, "Inshallah, we will make it."