If you’ve wondered what life is like for the veiled women of the Middle East, this book is a revelation. Author Audra Grace Shelby, along with her husband Kevin, were Baptist missionaries to Yemen for nine years. In Behind the Veils of Yemen, Shelby tells the story of that time. She describes in detail the friendship with her language tutor Fatima. She also tells about incidents that stretched her faith like the sickness of her husband and her daughter, and the birth of her fourth child.
I love Shelby’s creative non-fiction style. A skilled storyteller, she helps us experience Yemen and her Yemeni friends, their homes, celebrations, and customs through color, touch, sound, and smell. Using specific detail she recreates incidents in settings as varied as a hospital room, a beach-side vacation cottage, and the home of Fatima. Here we see a Yemeni market:
“We arrived at the suq, an open-air Yemeni market. On one side of the entrance women sat on the ground with round stacks of pancake-like bread. They wrapped them in newspapers and waved as we approached.
On the other side of the entrance four men displayed aluminum trolleys with mounds of glossy dates, pressed together in sticky cubes. They flicked swarming flies with rags tied to sticks and called to us to sample a date.” – p. 75.
Her recall of events and details is quite amazing (she must have kept detailed journals), as is her ability to analyze people and situations. Of Fatima she says:
“She had a manner that was both transparent and secretive, faltering and arrogant, all at the same time” – p. 50.
When she attends a women’s wedding celebration and is coaxed to dance with the women, she reluctantly complies. After she makes her clumsy way across the floor, the reaction of the onlookers surprises her:
“Applause thundered from the crowd of women around me …. They were beaming at me. I realized they were pleased more by my willingness to dance with them than they were by my skills in dancing.” – p. 68.