A Queen of Sheba in Ankara

Noria al-Hamami is Yemen's first female ambassador. She is also the only female Arab ambassador to Turkey.

A Queen of Sheba in Ankara

Al-Hamami is a strong woman and we talked about how to survive in a male-dominated environment.

Al Hamami admires the queen of Sheba because she knew how to say 'no.' Al Hamami developed methods to "survive as a woman" and she did not hesitate to share them with us.
But being a strong woman does not mean to be able to hide away from feelings or to act like man. Al Hamami likes jewelry collections, cooking, decoration and a touchy song can make her eyes tear up. She knows how to laugh, too. First, she laughs, and then thinks for a while. She does not look like she is surprised to be asked which character she would like to be in a fairy tale or an ancient story. Her features become strident.
- "The queen of Sheba," she says in a very decisive tone.
" I always like powerful, strong women, Especially those who are able to say 'no' when it is necessary," adds al-Hamami.
While she is speaking she stresses the word "no."
"It is just a dream, of course. But I admire her character, her personality."
Though a Biblical character, the queen of Sheba turned into a legendary personality in all the Abrahamic religions and countless of stories have featured, with little historical authenticity. Muslim sources say that she lived at the time of Prophet and King Solomon, son of David, and was invited to Jerusalem in submission to Solomon's god, Allah. Belkis, as the Islamic sources name the queen, does not subdue herself to Solomon directly, but discusses with her own people. In the end she comes to Jerusalem and sees her own throne brought into Jerusalem, "in the twinkling of an eye." Expressed with this show of might, Belkis and her people decide to join the monotheistic faith of Abraham.
Al-Hamami says being a woman in male-dominated diplomacy was not that difficult, but was not that easy, either.
"My father was a diplomat. We have been to the US, Somalia, Beirut, Moscow, and the former Czechoslovakia. We stayed abroad until my father was assassinated in London when I was 13. We have a fantastic mother. She is very wise. She tried to give us everything, especially after my father died. My family is open minded and educated. This helped me a lot. They always supported me."
"Why he was assassinated?"
"A political issue." Al-Hamami does not want to go into details. Her face does not comment, but she adds, "Politicians cannot be diplomats all the time, but diplomats are always politicians."
Al-Hamami was the second oldest among her four sisters and two brothers. She is the only one who became a diplomat.
"It was not a choice but a coincidence. I never thought about being like my father. I don't know why I or my family did not think about this. But when I joined the ministry, the minister of foreign affairs at the time was a close friend of my father. He encouraged me to join the ministry. I said 'OK' and went into diplomacy. I was lucky because when I went into the ministry most of the people there were my father's friends and I felt that they had adopted me."
Al-Hamami says that people in the foreign ministry are open-minded and ready to accept a female colleague, and this relieves some of the pressure. But when she went abroad alone to New York as a diplomat, it was featured in the newspapers.
"It is also a challenge, but I am the type of person who likes challenges. Either you get it, or stop half way. A year after I came, another woman from an Arab country came but she was not able to stay and later returned home. When I was talking with her I told her that she has to find a way to deal with the pressure, because if we don't have a sense of peace from the inside, nobody will give it to us. We have to fight for it. But she could not take it, the poor lady…"
It is obvious from her voice that even recalling the memory of the "poor lady" makes her sad.
"As women, we are in the minority. It may be because of the character of men, especially in our societies. Even if they pretend that they accept you, in reality they accept the challenge coming from you and competition with you in. But it depends on how you deal with it. You should be hard worker and be yourself and work in a way that shows you have the ability. Be confident about yourself because we are in a battle. Either you got it or…" she does not complete her sentence.
After a pause for a few seconds, al-Hamami starts to give secrets of how to be a successful woman in a male-dominated world: "Be calm/"
"Sometimes, you feel overwhelmed. Even if you appear calm in front of them, when you are alone you feel that it is too much."
What about other women? Does she feel sometimes women could be an obstacle for other women?
"Yes, I notice this. For instance women pretend that they like you, they are proud of you, blah blah blah."
As she says, "blah blah blah," Al-Hamami's features are the same as she displays when she is talking about the "poor lady" who could not able to stay in New York.
"Then they create problems behind your back. Maybe it is because of our education system. We are not able to understand that we are in the same group and we belong to the same minority. We don't know how to compete. Even if we quarrel in front of others, it is healthier than not to do so.
At the interview day, Al-Hamami is wearing a nice suit and small earrings. I remind her that I once saw a wonderful, very artsy necklace of hers.
"I like collections, like jewelry but not gold necessarily. I like colorful things, it reflects your mood."
Ms. al-Hamami likes to take long walks and she does not prefer to do so with bodyguards. She is not married. In  societies like ours, being single is always something to be questioned by others. Is it true also for her?
She says, "Ah" and does this with a "give me a break" gesture.
"It is an open issue, not only in my family, but among my friends and even in the international community.
But al-Hamami says when her singleness is brought up she doesn't get upset anymore.
"If you have confidence in yourself, then to answer this question is not bothering at all. But when I was young, I was saying to myself 'why they are putting their nose in my issue?'"
This is the second time she makes a reference to her age during our conversation. Then I asked my only non-answered question:
"How old are you?"
"How old do I look like?"
"Not more than 41-42."
"40 or so…"
We laugh.
But what about having a child?
She starts to answer by saying she loves children.
"It is not a problem for me not to have a child. I never thought time is running and I should get married in order to have a child. It is not one of my priorities to have a child."
But al-Hamami says when she retires she might a have a child. She thinks frequently about what she will do when she is retired. Maybe she will write her memoirs and might get married, not for romance, but for having a partner.
What kind of man does she prefer? Does he have to be Yemeni?
Al-Hamami thinks that mutual understanding is very important, and if the couples are coming from the same roots, it will be easier. So if she decides to marry one day, her top priorities are that he is a Yemeni and a Muslim.
"But Ms. al-Hamami, what about love?"
"We cannot live without love. You can have it anywhere, any time."
"You look like that you are trying to put a distance between yourself and love."
"This is the impression that most people have."
"Is it a true impression?"
"It is just an impression."
The queen of Sheba in Ankara smiles secretively. 



Anonymous requiem for the Turkish soldier 

"Sometimes, the old Turkish ladies, when they learn that I am from Yemen, they start to sing this song," Ambassador al-Hamami says.   
    The song she mentions is known as "Yemen song." During the Ottoman Empire, not only in Yemen, but the entire Hijaz was known as Yemen. In order to keep these holy lands, the Ottoman Empire lost tens of thousands of soldiers. More than being a song, it is actually an anonymous requiem of the Turkish soldiers' families who lost their sons. Al-Hamami says this song is not famous in Yemen, and she herself did not know it before arriving in Turkey.
    "It is touchy and sensitive. It gives me a strange feeling. This song is about soldiers who went to Yemen did not come back. But despite all these losses, I was wondering how come Turks have these good feelings about Yemen. It could have been just the opposite."

She answers her own question:
"But I realized it is another philosophy. All these young men went on a very honorable mission. And Turks don't take it as if they lost their sons over there. They took the pain in a very respectable way."
    She adds that not only the old women, but almost everyone that she meets -- from officials to ordinary people -- mentions this song. When she talks about the song, while she is trying to express herself, she reacts the same way that many Turks do when they sing the song: their eyes tear up.

 

AYÞE KARABAT/ANKARA

TODAY'S ZAMAN

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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