Scenes From Yemen
AUTHOR: MANAL GHANEM
*ALL VIEWS ARE THOSE OF THE WRITERS AND CONTRIBUTORS OF THIS BLOG
There comes a time when you question where you belong in this life. Is the nationality stamped on your passport the definitive answer to this question? Confusion about your place and identity can become more apparent when your country is not going through stable times. I come from Yemen, and I have struggled with my country up until I felt rooted so deep due to the current war raging and destroying my country.
Growing up I realized it is not utter devotion that makes you a good citizen. It is a mixture of rage and awe in the face of daily obstacles. Taking time to absorb the subtle beauty and pride in your country’s heritage. We are linked by lineage and rooted by shared heritage. Small scenes of daily life have given me the solace and sense of belonging I have always been looking to feel.
I wake up to the sound of kids playing soccer in the street shouting their lungs out before their first-class period starts. I wander aimlessly until I realized I need a cup of Yemeni coffee to start my day the right way. Yemen has always been famous for it is coffee. In recent months, Yemeni coffee has found a community among Yemeni people who started exporting this precious bean to different countries. The ways they cared for the production has been unparalleled from planting to milling. After awakening my taste buds and bringing my mind into an order, I head to work. Glancing around, pavements and sidewalks are busy absorbing the early conversations of familiar silhouettes huddled together, chatting. Elderly people waking up early and meeting on street corners to drink their tea and discuss politics and life. Community life is a cornerstone of Yemeni society, and its persistence spreads a sense of intimacy that is lost in our digital world.
Walking around the narrow street of old Sana’a, having breakfast in the most traditional joints. Enjoying the fresh air and the simplicity of life. You can never find kinder people than people residing in the old city. People who have managed to remain as pure and accepting remained untarnished by all that is going on in the country. While visiting the old market, roaming between different shops, shop owners enjoy telling and sharing the history of each market. Their stories are full of pride depicting the long line of ancestors who established their crafts and expanded them to reach their descendants with the same precision. Markets were divided by the products sold and were named after the merchandise.Whilst walking around you can’t help noticing the art that forms the city. The distinct smell of gypsum indicates that you are about to encounter the craftsmanship of Qamariya, a stained- glass decorating gypsum shapes and adorning window tops of Yemeni houses. Between the walls, you can touch and feel the lives of the ancestors gazing back at you, the buzzing beauty of what was created. Touching the heritage by your own hands, the culture, and the architecture; concluding every story, those who lived were great creators of art & beauty. The love unspoken is more profound and engraved in every corner of the city. A passion for aesthetics and precision that can never be explained but can be witnessed in awe and reverence.
The daily faces you encounter tell stories that are never spoken. Between the wrinkles in their foreheads and finger calluses, stories of hardworking men and women who are torn down and rebuilt every day in the hardship of life but never forget to tell you that the key to happiness is satisfaction. The tired smiles of grandpas and white hairs on their heads are the sum of happiness, sadness, and hardships that have found their way to them in so many ways documenting their journey. Prayers held in mosques and grandchildren running to greet their grandfathers after the prayers are scenes confirming that no matter what is going on in our lives, we still have a joining tether in our heritage.
Going home after a long day after work. Getting frustrated by the fact that the shortest path to home is blocked by a wedding party. The street is entirely decorated by lightbulbs that turned night into day, and a tent has spread its roots on the road. Music is loud, and the smell of cardamom tea and milk tea is filling the air. Dinner and traditional Yemeni backed cookies are distributed, and laughter and claps of joy can beat the music. You can see the groom standing and receiving warm wishes from the whole neighborhood. His Traditional Yemeni clothing marks with distinction his heritage. Yemen clothing legacies are reflected in beautiful popular costumes which are still very popular despite the progress of life and development, the aesthetic character and mastery of its industry will make this beautiful fashion treasure forever. Different music is played and is accompanied with different dances. Although tired but actually happy I turn back and head for the other street.
Hitting the road. Aiming for Aden, not for a visit but to be able to travel through its airport. The 7-hour trip to Aden has been stretched to be completed in 12 hours if you are lucky otherwise it could last for 24 hours. Taken sideroads that are not meant to be taken to avoid zones of conflict or areas closed by armed groups for one reason or another. Traveling gruesome road forces you to wonder how a three-hour airplane flight has been turned into several wasted hours and a rough ride. Sanaa’s airport has been closed on our faces for too long to hold the hope that it might be reopened for people any time soon. There is a pain that can never be described when you go through this experience. The breath of relief you exhale once you leave the country and set your foot on the foreign country’s airport mixed with bitter sorrow of Yemen’s situation. People always wonder how us, Yemenis, are still able to work and travel with the crippling conditions the country is going through. We usually smile before answering the question with the response that we are resilient.
I come from culture. From a country with deep roots dug into the history of humanity that can never be shaken. Yemen is a country that still holds many jewels inside its mountains and plains. Socotra, the most alien-looking place on Earth, has preserved its natural life and managed to avoid human tampering by remaining isolated. Recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site by being the jewel of diversity in its location, the Arabian sea. It encompasses nearly 700 endemic species, found nowhere else on earth. Being isolated by its location for a long time, and conditioned with a harsh climate have contributed significantly to its spectacular form of life.
Yemen is much more than the picture portrayed in the media. It has its kind people, their undying love and resilience to indicate that it will always survive. It has the flashbacks of a long heritage that can never be erased or denied. The bond between beauty, culture, and traditions is the bond that stamps every interaction Yemenis offer to the world. The country gifted with beautiful scenery, abundant nature, and persistent people is the one who will claw its way out of trouble.