In Yemen: Otherworldly Encounters in Socotra

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Since visiting the island of Socotra last December, I have managed to write a fair number of posts about my experience. There is one final story I would like to share, and this one is about the night that proved to be the most difficult to get through.

On this particular night, we were based in Homhil, an area that I had misguidedly proclaimed as ‘my absolute favourite campsite so far’ when we arrived in the early afternoon. While undeniably picturesque, Homhil turned out to be a hotbed for voracious mosquitoes. We found ourselves swarmed by hundreds, all because of a faulty zipper that did not allow our tent to close completely. It was around one in the morning and we were wide-awake, engaged in the futile exercise of ruthlessly crushing each mosquito. Despite our considerable efforts – and the blood-smeared (our own) interior of the tent attested to that – the numbers of mosquitoes remained insurmountable.

Our tent was situated above the shared shelter where we had dinner and where the guides were spending the night. Next to it, and down a slight hill from us, was the standalone bathroom facility. Quiet save for the buzz of persistent mosquitoes and some snoring from below, a woman’s voice suddenly pierced through the still of the darkness. We soon heard stirring and chatter in Socotri from the shelter, and I poked my head out of the tent for a look. Bassam, our guide, bounded up the rocks leading to the mosquito-infested clearing where we had the misfortune of placing our tent, and enquired with evident concern: “Are you okay?” We were about to launch into a self-indulgent tirade about our defective tent and its unwelcomed visitors, but he continued nervously. “There is an evil in this place.”

Piecing together different accounts the next morning, it turned out that there had been numerous stones thrown in the direction of the shelter, culminating in the woman’s shrill cry from behind the bathroom. She was the jin, or spirit, that inhabited the valley and we had angered her. The previous evening, the guides from the different groups had come together to buy a goat. The furry black animal had been presented to us and gave an inquisitive ‘bah’ before being whisked off to the kitchen. An hour later, steaming soup with gobs of goat fat and freshly boiled meat found its way to the shelter and our bellies. “When an animal is killed, a bone must be thrown into the valley to be shared with the jin.” Unfortunately, every inch of that goat was feasted upon, leaving none for the lady of the hills and leading her to exact her revenge. Suffice to say, we left in a hurry shortly after breakfast, bade the mountains good bye and remained close to the sea for the rest of our stay.

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