01 March, 2007

Al Mukalla: the boom town

Before 1990 - Mukalla was a sleepy, slumbering town with few people and very little economic activity; with narrow, one lane roads. And so quiet that by 1.00 PM one could hardly find a restaurant open or a taxi; and after 8.00 PM, the same. The destructive psychoactive plant,  'qat', was prohibited. Construction of any kind was hardly visible. Socialist-Marxist songs could be heard from different corners of the town, from loudspeakers put up by the government. Men's hairstyles and dressing was right out of the 60s and before that. Then: Mukalla, as the rest of Southern Yemen, was under a Socialist-Marxist rule. Society and the economy was, then, state controlled. Come May 1990. Southern Yemen and the North united. And since, it has changed dramatically.

Ever since the unification, Hadhramout and the rest of Yemen have had rapid economic activity and development. No where else is that so apparent, than Mukalla. It has had the fastest and largest growth; and still is growing and expanding fast. Land and real estate prices have skyrocketed and gone up beyond unbelievable heights. It is the boom town of Yemen. Wherever one goes around the town, one sees construction of varying kinds and for varying structures. The town's population is swelling so rapidly that the social and communication infrastructures are being strained to their limits. Sewage and drainage bursts are a common site, flooding the streets at times. Electric outages and water rationing, are a daily part of life.

Most of the streets and lanes are now paved; and so are the roads. Wide two, three and four lane roads enter and exit the town. All streets are lighted. The streets are jammed; traffic is choking. Shops, hotels, restaurants, Internet cafes are springing up every where. And factories. And there is still more to come. With all these activities drumming Mukalla, it still has many and a variety of places for relaxing and recreation: the Khor, gardens, hotels - the Holiday Inn being the main one; restaurants, snorkeling, scuba diving; and one can swim out in the sea or go to any of the main hotels' swimming pools.

For many, the economic changes have been hard; for some, it has been easy. The positives for being and living in Mukalla now, overwhelmingly outweigh any of the negatives; swimming is just one of those many positives. And the sea.