As is the case with any good ambassador, Yemen’s Abdulwahab Abdulla al-Hajjri was many things to many people. Veteran diplomat, posted here almost 20 years, most of them as ambassador, with the cred of being related to the now (former) ruling family of Yemen; informed, intellectual, handsome, charming and social. His dinner parties at his impressive gated Spring Valley home were intimate and interesting, often introducing members of the Washington establishment to Yemeni foods and dining customs; the conversation almost always delicately walked the line of the troubled and difficult US relationship with Yemen. He made himself available to presidents, secretaries of state, and members of Congress. One could easily despise Yemen for its al-Qaeda connections, but it was not possible to feel ill will toward Abdulwahab. One sensed his professional and familial loyalty had to override his personal, silent political opinions.
If there is such a thing as social diplomacy, he was a master. Maybe that was always his plan, to woo Washington with exclusive parties, swag of Yemeni almonds, pistachios, coffee beans, books, and other delicacies. Once, in his car, I casually commented on how much I liked the music that was playing. He ejected the CD, put it in its new case and handed it to me. “It’s yours,” he said.
When Abdulwahab said he “loved” Washington and thought it was a “perfect city,” it rang sincere and essential. He’d gone to American University. He raised his children here. (And he knew how to throw a good dance party). He said that even when US-Yemen relations began to erode further over the last year, that he would hang on.
But then yesterday, unexpectedly, he sent out this e-mail to his Washington friends. It indicates a sudden departure. Because of what it says, and how it is said, it bears being quoted in full:
My tenure as the ambassador of Yemen to the US has finally ended after fifteen long years. I have already left the US, and I am now in Dubai for a couple of weeks, then Egypt for a month and then I go to Yemen. So, next time we meet, where ever in this universe, I will have no glamor.
Stop calling me “your Excellency”; I am not anymore. That beautiful house I once occupied and used to celebrate life with all of you will now host ghosts until a new ambassador is appointed. This will take time, since my president is in no rush, it seems. What a beautiful journey I had in DC, the most beautiful city on earth, with the most beautiful people. I am looking back at the whole experience and can only find joy, despite the tremendous challenge that came with the job.
If time can go back to the past and I have a wish, it will be serving in DC, in the same capacity, at the same age, and will definitely be hanging out with you, no one else.
I will be happy to re-live the same experience, maybe with just a little different last couple of years :-). I will miss you all. I am excited I am finally changing jobs, but I am really sad I am leaving behind the best friendships I have ever built. I am especially sad to leave like this, with out saying proper goodbyes to the many friends I love. A habit I need to change maybe. But then, I know I will see you again soon wherever. You will always have a room in my house and you will have to come and visit.
At the bottom he attached “Adioses” by Pablo Neruda.