Posts Tagged ‘Yemen


Yemen Impressions: Shop ’til you drop… in an understated way

Yemeni are shopping… Oh you mean there are two upheavals going on!? Yemeni are also getting married, having babies, driving newer cars (bought in “dibei”), and if they have the mula attached to their household name then they are decorating…but in an understated way… Tariq Ali said there was wealth in Yemen but subtle in its use and careful in its presentation…

Says who!? Well the amount of department stores being built and used daily until the wee hours of the night, for one. Or better yet, the quality of the products being bought- take a stroll around “Turkish City” the Better Homes & Gardens Yemeni equivalent to Crate & Barrel, Bed-Bath-& Beyond, Macy’s, and Ikea rolled into one with a touch of Linens & Things, Sears, Spiegel and Home Depot/Loews… This store says “I know what I want and where it goes”…did I tell you that the female shoppers outweigh the male ones? In Yemen?! No!!! Yep…

So something is changing… I see it in the homes I visited in Sana’a – there is a distinction rising and its pretty interesting…

Guess its not all bazooka toting Houtis- by the way didn’t see one- the Houti nor the bazooka!

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Yemen Impressions: satellite dishes and hindi soaps

I got a chance to catch up on all my Hindi soaps- and as usual got the whole womenfolk of the household hooked! Never mind they couldn’t understand a word- the facial expressions and background music spoke volumes in any language. Those cliff hangers and “twists” are uniquely Indian! In addition, I was able to literally roll in unmitigated laughter, watching my mother-in-law duke it out with the villains of the movie Akkbar or screech with the unknown Bhool!

We drooled over the saris and the jewelry- always a favorite pastime of Arab women- gold!!!

And best of all we tried out some of the recipes from the cooking masters- I believe they have programmed in the up-coming Indian Master Chef challenge- no translation necessary…my brother-in-laws are more than happy with that last bit… Food is a good paver…

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Yemen Impressions: a man’s world and lopsided outcomes…

It’s a Man’s World… The song doesn’t do justice to what you see in some countries in the Middle East… Yemen where I spent all summer is by no means an exception- but it is an interesting location to see men interacting when and where they (sometimes) honestly believe women don’t exist, shouldn’t exist, do but should be ignored… And the interesting outcomes when they believe themselves the only gender:
Clothes from the rolled up pile
Dirty clothes unaccustomed to laundry detergent…what language is that!
Shoes unfit for the garbage (using Bostonian here- “gabage”)
Hair in need of a closer relationship with a pair of scissors
Skinny, not on a poor diet just eating poorly
Unfinished, uncoordinated everything, whatever for?!- finish, that is…

It’s a Man’s World… you can bleat that one to death- but only men who recognize their women look good when they step out into the street!

I am woman! Hear me roar!

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going home

So everything set. The tickets bought. The bags packed. All the conditions set by my healthcare providers, met.

We are going home for an extended stay during the summer months. We will celebrate our anniversary where we first met and married.

We have tickets for the shortest route possible with as many accommodations as our wallets will allow.

My daughters will stay in NY because both have classes and summer jobs to maintain. Each has a few heavy duty state-board exams that must be completed by August 1st. So vacation for them will be, well, limited to say the least. My son has been stationed on the Pacific side so he will not be here to keep an eye on things. The girls are a solid pair- they’ll do what needs to get done with flying colors, as usual.

Since I may not be in ‘internet’ range (my blackberry has its moments when taken overseas), I may not be able to answer your comments if you have never posted before. All other friends will find they will not be under ‘moderation’ mode. The first chance I get, or firm signal to hit the peaks of Yemen, I will post some updates. Maybe even some pictures.

I thank a very special people who, a few months ago, eased my anxieties about this voyage for two very different reasons. You know who you are- I send you tons of warm hugs and kisses. Thank you again for everything. You are the best!

So my friends, without further ado, we head for the airport in the early morning, and venture into a land I love and by turns want to pummel its oddities. Wish me luck, I’m going to need it. Pray and make Dua, for those are of utmost importance to my continued well being- Allah will reward you. Insha’Allah.

Ma’salaama -Have a great summer!


taxes, child marriages, and other stuff…

So Tax Season is basically over. We spent a few days gathering “amunition” that as every year gets misplaced or what not. We owe… Not a lot. Would have preferred breaking even!

On the various blogs I read and participate in, a few discussions (heated at times) have revolved around child marriages, women driving in KSA, guardianship, and rearing children.

When it comes to child marriages I oppose it vehemently! People should marry when they are intellectually, morally, physically, and emotionally ready. Also I believe that financially at the very least the couple should have some basics down- while knowing that not everyone can marry with all the trimmings in the bag. It boils down to marriage by two consenting adults! Children are children, not miniature grown ups!

With regards to guardianship- I honestly believe a grown adult, unless mentally and emotionally impaired, does not need guardians. Obviously, as a Muslim, many would object and say that women should always be under someone else’s guardianship- I beg to differ- but then, I’m just a drop of ‘negate-able’ water; because the minute I’m in the Middle East especially in my case Yemen I become my husband’s total responsibility… Sigh

Rearing children world-wide is an interesting endeavor. Especially during the years between Tween and Teen. Each child comes with its own personality and emotional health. They don’t come with instructions! But we do have tendencies to treat each of our children with certain broad strokes, amending where ever we encounter a raw surface. Muslims no less than most. Well.. No.. There are a bunch that give their offspring too much rope; enough to hang a whole tribe! Some because they have not gotten savvy or have solid help with their concerns. Others because they were reared the same way all of which can be good or really bad.

I’ve learned to go with each of my children’s personalities. One or two of them sometimes having multiple personalities when they have reached puberty, at least from where I’m sitting!

The last of the topics is about women driving- and because KSA is the only one (to my knowledge) that stops a woman from driving within its borders, I’m a little perturbed by this ban. Some say the ban is on its way out. Others don’t give much hope in the foreseeable future. I guess this last because of KSA societal structure- giving women autonomy would have to be primordial. She would have to be excluded from Islamic guardianship laws, she would have to become a consenting, sentient being. She would need to be safe, by enforceable law, against child marriages. She would need property laws protecting her, and giving her the right to own and distribute her money as she saw fit. She would also have to be given the right to an education- at the very least to the end of her highschool years regardless if she finishes or not. And she would need to be protected against abuse and neglect based on her gender.

That’s a lot of ‘would need to’. Is KSA prepared to give women all this in order for them to drive?

That remains to be seen.


Rainy Days and Sundays…

Like the Song – “rainy Days and Mondays” today has been a cold and dreary day in NYC. Even our dog Caesar was not up for a long run; probably still tired from yesterday. We’ve spent it in pyjamas watching movies and eating just about everything. That waistline isn’t going to go down at this rate. We have also basically congregated around the television our laptops, magazines , and newspapers as complementary fare. Reading blogs and answering in them during commercials, or parts of the movie we have already seen and want to skip over. Interrupting each other as we come across something of note. 

I have been worried about Susie back in Saudi Arabia, because her husband has undergone by-pass surgery. A frightening episode to go through by all means. Please send some good vibes and prayers her way. Her blog has always been of interest to me. She is not at the moment a high-powered multi-tasking woman, but stay at home like many of her counterparts in KSA – Arab or otherwise, after living most of her life in the States. And I can see the things that can delight or irk you when living in places like KSA. Her latest ‘moment’ with an interaction between her husband and his physician an example of when profession, culture and gender meet at the boxing ring. My husband certainly didn’t approve of the physician’s behavior, regardless of long-standing friendship. The ‘joke’ was in bad form. I agree and am truly sorry Susie had to face an issue that was unnecessary considering the outcome resulting in her husband’s subsequent surgery. 

At times I wonder if our world is less tactful because we see and know too much and can voice it; or because we have weathered down our parameters of what is prudent to say. Thought is free, but spoken words pay and demand a price. 


Earth Hour has come and gone. We didn’t even get ‘a blink-out moment’. But we did decide to have a late ‘candle lit’ dinner for the family, once our guest had left. We peppered our conversations with the day’s moments, basking in some quiet time. Candles can make that happen, guess the glow is mesmerizing enough to put you in another mood, time, and place. 

Bottom Fish


Western view of the valley below us


Since we like to watch those eco-documentaries, ‘Life’ the Discovery Channel’s latest mini-series has been scheduled for tonight. We’ve been talking more about the environment, especially thinking of the diminishing water tables in Yemen. All of which is in direct proportion to the increase in Qat planting and population growth. More of the first than the latter. We have seen how the eco-system in Yemen has been depleted and scared not only by increased Qat production, but by garbage that can’t be contained properly – cascading down once beautiful mountains. Or by the inability of Yemeni to come up with recycling companies to keep the plastic bags from choking the few trees that are left! My husband and I agree that when a population ‘forgets’ how to deal with waste, subsequent health issues, and uncontrolled or regulated farming practices – all goes to pot real fast. 

The Manhattan of the Desert


But the literacy level in Yemen has not reached a ‘tipping point’ where old reliable and traditional methods can be recovered and used, nor where newer ecologically friendly ones can be used to their advantage. Wind mills is one I would like to see some entrepreneurial person take on. There is enough wind blowing at good speed to keep them going to power up the country. But the society has been high-jacked by commodities and Qat their population sorely spends on. Not to mention its political atmosphere, too complicated chameleon – like to make sense of at times. Though Tariq Ali tries to make some sense of it in his article this weekend in the London Review of Books review called “Unhappy Yemen”. Please read it and let me know what you think. 

Rainy days and Sundays. How was your day like?


the family that eats together…

One of the things I’ve always liked about my father and mother in law was their ‘no exceptions’ on eating together. Just past Dhurh for the noon day meal, any of their children and their spouses that were home at that time sat together to eat as a family. There never was this ‘women in one room after the men ate’. They all ate at the same time, or nobody ate.

I thought, mistakenly, that was the norm in Yemen. I would find out soon enough, that if anything, my in-laws were not the norm by any stretch. Not even within their tribe, nor among the extended family of their own in-laws. My mother in law would repeatedly state, ‘they’re too Saudi for my taste’. Sorry, she blames the Saudis for everything.

The realization dawned on the day after my 30th day of marriage – the official ‘honeymoon over’ time. As is custom for their tribe, we could go ‘visiting’. Bang! I got hit with a feather. Every where we went the women ate either in the kitchen, or the inner family room if they had the means to afford it. We would understand when there was no blood relation to the women, but even when all were first cousins it would still be separate. So much so that ‘they might as well be strangers’, as my father in law would lament.

Both my husband and I were not happy at being separated, and I certainly missed the fun, relaxed meals we had at home. All the joking around, usually at my father in law’s expense. He is still a major prankster! It was the time we discussed everything under the sun. Making our meals particularly long affairs we were all loath to leave. Leave for those diwans and the Qat chew.

You see my father in law never goes to the diwans to chew Qat. The few decades old social custom of the Yemeni. In reality the use of it is more recent than what most are led to believe. Qat has been around for a long time, but only until recently when it spurred on particular industries did its popularity skyrocket, much to the demise of the Yemeni water table. In my in-laws mountain-peak home, that privilege is reserved for the wife’s company. My father and mother in law are always together. To separate them is to cause one of them to get sick, my father in law can’t stand the idea! They brought their children up to be like them. The only one, ‘son of a Saudi’ as both father and mother would gravely announce, was the eldest son. Now there’s a man the Muttawa would be proud of. Some apples do fall far afield…

When he married, the eldest didn’t allow his wife to sit next to or in the same room as his brothers, father, or any woman for that matter. He kept her locked up in her room from the first day she arrived. Not allowed even to cook, wash or anything in the company of anyone. She was not allowed to bond with anyone. The situation got so bad that one day, my father in law hit the roof when his son asked for the hundredth time, in as many days, to have his wife’s food served on a platter that he would take to her when he finished eating.

What would rile my father in law was the amount his son stated had to be on the plate. ‘Since when do we price the rice by grain, or the meat by sinew?! Everyone here eats until the food is finished and had their fill. What you have in that plate won’t feed one of our chickens!’ He shouted at his son while grabbing plate and throwing it outside into the yard everything scattering, scaring even the dogs. ‘You think she’s an animal? Then she would have to eat off the floor! But before you even do that, leave this place where I can’t see or hear you, because you will surely hear the words not the meaning!’ Yemeni can be very ‘poetic’, especially when angry!

A few days later his eldest moved out with his wife. My mother in law stated as they left, ‘well at least the poor woman will have a house for a prison instead of a room’.

I married into the tribe a few months after, and this scene was recounted in all its disturbing details when we returned from the first visit outside the compound. ‘Their ways are not ours.’

In fact, because of my eldest brother-in-law the next two sons in line, right after their brother married and started this inhumane treatment of his wife, took jobs away from their mountain so they could not in any way see something they had no power to stop. For my father it signaled a horrible death for his family, it was disintegrating in front of him. Only when we were married, my husband and I (he’s the fourth son), did things return to normal and the air was again relaxed and joyous. The other two sons returned grateful they could enjoy their home. What had happened for a few months was an anomaly. When these two sons  married two years later, they kept to ‘Al-Bayt traditions’, to everyone’s relief.

The eldest, sadly, is banned from living on the compound, because he has not mellowed one bit- on the contrary ‘he seems more foreign everyday!’

Once or twice they have tried to reconcile their differences, but my brother-in-law remains a stubborn mule. To the point that his children prefer to spend most of their lives at their grandparents, than at home. When my in-laws see on TV or are read to from newspapers and magazines (neither read nor write) they cry at the injustices of people neither allowed nor allowing each other the true comforts of family living. Which is one reason my mother in law blames the Saudis: ‘Ever since our men went there to work, they have come back with the worst manners and thoughts. How can your mother, sister or wife be treated as if she were haraam?!’

Life for them was never easy, true – but they tried their hardest to at least have peace and joy in their home to be shared by all. It has not always worked in their favor; ostracized by their own brothers. But for them, it is what Allah will ask of them with regards to their own children that matters. ‘Allah knows I had no hand in making my son so foreign!’

My father in law believes and lives the motto of the ‘family that eats (and pray) together, stays together.’

Indeed we do!

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