Bread and Henna

My time with the women of a Yemeni mountain town

by Maclagan Ianthe 

£9.99 £8.99

Bread and Henna: an engaging travel narrative relating a social anthropologist’s experiences of eighteen months living among the women of a small mountain town in Yemen during the early 1980s. Through insights into the life and cuisine of a remote community, Ianthe Maclagan offers an authentic window on a world that has gone – an intimate portrait of a country typically in the news for reasons of war and humanitarian disaster.

49 in stock

ISBN: 9781784779757

Published:  07th Apr 2023
Size:  130 X 198 mm
Edition:  1
Number of pages:  352

About this book

An engaging and authentic travel narrative, Bread and Henna relates social anthropologist Ianthe Maclagan’s experiences of eighteen months living among the women of a small mountain town in Yemen during the early 1980s. After a gruelling road journey, she is initially taken in by a family who provide support and hospitality – but charge extortionate rent. Maclagan then sets up on her own, struggling with isolation and practicalities such as getting water and cooking. One day, female neighbours establish contact by offering cuttings for her rooftop garden. Then, by throwing pebbles from their roof down Maclagan’s stairwell, they invite her to run errands for them.
Gradually Maclagan is drawn into the life of the town and, in turn, takes it into herself. The women she gets to know have hard lives and limited choices, but prove friendly, warm, welcoming and curious. After initially attending community feasts as an honorary man, she later witnesses the hard work of women that lies behind spreads of delicious food offered to guests. As she learns the local Arabic dialect, she joins local women in long, enjoyable and sociable afternoons chewing qat. She is invited to attend weddings and other celebrations, joins visits to the sick and participates in mourning.
As she integrates, Maclagan hears what the women say about their lives, about marriage, pregnancy and families – when asked how many children they have, women always include the ones who died – and about the struggle for girls’ education. Maclagan learns how women seem to have more freedoms after marriage than before, leaving their husbands in protest or to teach them a lesson. This extended encounter with women of a remote community furnishes detailed descriptions of a different approach to life and cuisine.
Bread and Henna offers a window on a world that has gone – an intimate portrait of a country that is typically in the news for reasons of war and hunger. This memoir will enthral lovers of travel writing, people interested in the workings of different societies and the lives of women, and those who have travelled to Yemen – or have yearned to do so.

About the Author

Ianthe Maclagan lived in Jebel Hufsah, a small town high in the mountains of Yemen, during the early 1980s, conducting fieldwork for a University of London doctorate in social anthropology. Enchanted by her experiences, she returned several times until conflict put a hold on such travel. Maclagan’s research publications include a chapter on food and gender in a Yemeni highland community within a book on culinary cultures in the Middle East. Her subsequent professional career includes a role as Children’s Rights Commissioner for Oxfordshire, set up in response to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. She lives in Oxford, UK. Bread and Henna is her travel-writing debut.

Additional Information

Table of Contents

I Early Days
Come in
A mountain town
First lodgings
More cooking
Visiting with Katiba
Hosting an afternoon
II Being a Household
A day’s exploring
Children and photos
Missing Katiba
Meeting the neighbours
Afternoon visit
Getting to know the neighbours better
Women come to our place
My mother visits
Baking bread
The school
Amina’s kitchen
Afternoon in Meruwagha
An afternoon’s entertainment
A German visitor
Post, and an enemy
Tim and the boy
Death of an old woman
III Living in the Town
Hamda’s cow
Two visits to the health centre
Outing with Amina
An afternoon with men and women
Behind the scenes at a wedding
Outings with Khadija
Exchanges with the neighbours
A visit to a village
Taking photos
An afternoon with Na’ma and Fatima
No periods
Long pregnancy
Leaving in protest
‘I never loved him…’
After divorce
Walking around
An evening in Meruwagha
Photographs: a row with the sheikh
Big men
An afternoon’s talk
IV Going Back