I woke quite early and well before my alarm, and lay in bed feeling a bit sad about leaving. I read my book for a little while and when Penina woke up we went for one last swim in the ocean. The water was luxuriously cool and we floated in the pure, blue water enjoying the view back inland. It was very difficult to get out.
After packing our bags we enjoyed breakfast of eggs, cheese and tea, and Wasa arrived from town wearing a crisp, white shirt. “I have some good news,” he announced, smiling. It turned out that the police had offered to guarantee to Wasa’s tour company the money owed to us by Abdullah, meaning that we needed only to pay the difference. Wasa said that the local police chief wanted to meet us before flew out.
Faisal drove us through Hadibo to the police compound which was busy with people scuttling back and forth across the dusty courtyard. We waited a few minutes in the car before a battered police vehicle pulled into the compound and the chief got out. We followed him into the building, past several machine gun-toting officers, and into his office. Wasa, Penina and I sat around the edge of the room on chairs, with about ten random people standing and watching. The chief began speaking to us, pausing occasionally for Wasa to interpret. He expressed his regret on behalf of the Yemeni people and government that we had been victims of crime, and wanted us to know that the actions of Abdullah weren’t reflective of all Socotrans. He hoped that we’d enjoyed our stay on the island and that we would take good stories home for our family and friends. After the chief had finished, I replied — through Wasa — telling him that we were overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of Socotrans and the Yemeni authorities, and that we were in his debt.
As soon as I’d finished, everyone in the room nodded to each other and the chief came forward to shake our hands. The machine gunners stepped aside to let us out of the room and we walked back to the car. On the way, Wasa received a call from his friend at the airport who reported that our flight was running a couple of hours late.
Back in Hadibo we visited the sole bank to sort out payment for the tour and then dropped into a travel agent to kill some time before going to the airport. Since mains electricity was on, Penina and I were able to use the slow, slow internet to check our email for the first time in a week. Just down the road from the travel agent a large crowd was gathering outside a store and getting quite rowdy. Wasa said a mainland trader was widely assumed to be jacking up prices which was having a knock-on effect along the street, and the crowd of customers had had enough. The police soon got involved and slowly dispersed the crowd.
At the airport we were the last to check in for the flight and the airline staff jokingly told us that we were too late and would be kicked off the flight. While they processed our passports and tickets, we were informed that since our flight had been delayed by a couple of hours we were going to miss our connection in to Sharjah. Luckily, there would be another Sharjah flight later that night but we would have a ten hour stopover at the tiny Mukalla airport.
Penina and I said our goodbyes to Wasa and Faisal, thanking them for such an unforgettable week, and the airport’s smiling tourist policeman held out his phone to me so I could take yet another lovely phone call from his boss, Dr Az-zahri.
The officer at immigration (a desk at the entrance to the single gate lounge) was a bit thrown by our lack of the normal visa paraphernalia and one of the Felix staff had to explain to him our unusual situation. Inside the lounge we were approached by a pair of BBC Arabic journalists who had been visiting Socotra who asked us informally about our experience in Yemen. They seemed surprised that we were positive and enthusiastic about our time in the country, and full of nothing but praise for the people.
Eventually, our flight arrived and we walked out into the hot wind towards the plane.
At Mukalla airport we settled in for a long wait. After surrendering our passports to an official we chose one of the metal benches in the small area between check-in and the flight lounges.
A large pot of rice and fried fish was brought in for the 30 of us waiting, and served on plates to each individual group. It was simple but delicious, and Penina let me sit afterwards with rice in my beard for only ten minutes.
At dusk, we left the air conditioned terminal to sit outside in the fresh air for a while, even though it was very hot and uncomfortably humid. We bought a couple of bags of peanuts and some soft drinks from a little stall — the owner taking my wallet from me, extracting a US$1 note, and returning the wallet — and sat on the kerb listening to the call to prayer echo around the deserted forecourt.
A couple of young men joined us to practise their English. One of them was Socotran and had just started work at the airport as a trainee fireman. He spoke English with a distinct Aussie twang thanks to his Australian English teachers.
After prayers, an airline representative approached, apologised again for the delay, and told us that we could take a free meal at the small restaurant nearby. With the help of a friendly local to translate, we ordered a couple of plates of eggs and bread, and washed them down with tea.
Finally, at close to midnight, and close to falling asleep, we boarded our flight to Sharjah. As we walked past the cockpit door, out popped Captain Aiban from our very first day. He was so excited that we’d made it back to Socotra.