Noha Sadek on AIYS

Noha Sadek in AIYS office in Bayt al-Sammān, December 1997

Since I landed in Sanaa for the first time on a brisk early morning with Ed Keall and four other members of the Canadian Mission of the Royal Ontario Museum in Zabīd, Yemen became the main focus of my research and AIYS played an important role in providing a reassuring base, administrative support as well as contacts with fellow researchers. Located near the Tourism office on Taḥrīr Square, AIYS in 1982 was a small house whose director, Leigh Douglas, gave us spartan but reassuring headquarters. Gazing then at AIYS’s colourful qamariyas, I had little inkling that I would return to Yemen three years later for my Ph.D. thesis research on Rasulid architecture.

Thus, I deemed myself lucky to have been awarded the AIYS doctoral fellowship for 1985-86. I shrugged off objections voiced over the fellowship being given to a Canadian, and I spent most of my six-month research period in Ta‘izz studying its magnificent Rasulid monuments. By then, AIYS had moved to a house on 26 September street but I did not reside there during my trips to Sanaa as I lived in Selma Al-Radi’s house in ḥārat al-ʿAjamī, an alley named after the family that owned most of the buildings in it, and whose major landmark was the French Centre for Yemeni Studies (CFEY). I subsequently returned to Yemen to continue work on Zabīd with the CAMROM, and with the help of local historian ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ḥaḍramī I succeeded in mapping the town’s 86 mosques. Our common interest in Yemeni architecture made Selma and I decide to embark on a survey of Yemen’s painted mosques, for which we received an AIYS grant in 1993 that allowed us to hire a car and a driver that made travel to remote mountainous regions, where several of these incredible buildings were located, a lot easier.

Noha Sadek on the mosque trail in Zabid (Photo by Ed Keall)

Noha Sadek with Qadi Ismāʿīl al-Akwaʿ in Zabīd, 1988
(Photo by Ed Keall)

Once more, my non-US citizen status was overlooked when I returned to Sanaa in January 1995 as Resident Director.  By then, AIYS was located in the imposing Bayt al-Aʿraj house in Ṣāfīyah, but unfortunately, the building’s great need for repair and a steep rent hike forced us to move AIYS to yet another location. The house of former waqf minister, ʿAlī al-Sammān, on al-Bawnīyah Street provided another temporary base until it was relocated afterwards to the nearby Bayt Hāshim.

Following its unification in 1990, Yemen attracted a new generation of scholars with outstanding research projects in different regions in addition to Sanaa, in the Tihama, Yāfiʿ, Ḥaḍramawt, etc. The growth of AIYS’s erstwhile shoestring funding through different US bodies (largely USIA & CAORC) meant an increase in the number of fellowship grants to Americans as well as to Yemeni scholars. Liaison with Yemeni institutions (primarily GOAMM and YCRS), overseeing the AIYS translation series, holding lectures by resident and visiting scholars, coordinating fellowship applications for Yemeni researchers, co-preparing the setup of the Arabic language training with YLC, answering queries, the running of the hostel and the library: these were some of the many tasks that occupied my three-year tenure. Moreover, AIYS signed in 1995 an agreement with the government of the Netherlands to administer Dutch funding allotted for the restoration of the 16th century madrasa al-ʿĀmirīyah in Radā‘. Undertaken by the tireless Selma Al-Radi, this colossal project received an Aga Khan award in 2007.

I must add that it was also thrilling to witness the introduction of internet in Yemen in 1996, which needless to say, made communications more rapid despite its early glitches. I will conclude these random thoughts by stating that my administrative tasks, and no doubt those of my successors, were considerably facilitated by the great skills and good humour of Ria Ellis who was appointed Executive Director in the US in the same year I became Resident Director in Sanaa.

Street flooded after heavy rain, Mac Gibson in front of AIYS Bayt al-Aʿraj, Spring 1995, (photo by Ria Ellis)

Mac Gibson and Noha Sadek trying to figure out how to divert the water in front of AIYS, Bayt al-Aʿraj, Spring 1995 (photo by Ria Ellis)

AIYS Bayt al- Sammān 1995, main building with office, mafraj and hostel, library in separate annex (photo by Noha Sadek)

Lucine Taminian giving a lecture in AIYS mafraj in Bayt al- Sammān, March 1996 (photo by Ria Ellis)

This post is part of the anniversary of AIYS at 40. Click here for other reflections.