Sigh. Reading news on what is happening in Yemen (and practically every where else in the world) really breaks my heart. Yemen is my home, my family, my inspiration. I cannot come to grips with the damage the country has been through and what it continues to endure. The video above is just a quick stroll through the streets of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. Most of my family has since fled from Sana’a due to the riots and the escalating danger to civilians. It’s just all really mind blowing to think that the city I visited only a year ago has changed so much since. You can see the prevalence of poverty and old civilization in these shots, and still America somehow thrives with corporations such as KFC, as in any third-world country in the twentieth century.
I figure most people who read the news every day have no idea what a day in the life of a Yemeni would be like, and as much as I’d love to be there right now to document it, this is the best I can do. Yemen was once a culturally and agriculturally thriving country, known to geographers as Arabia Felix (Latin for Happy/Blessed Arabia) and it pains me to know that as each day passes, it continues to diminish due to corrupt governance and an incredibly qat-addicted population.
Young and old, men and women-practically everyone in Yemen chews qat (also known as khat, quat, etc). In almost every single one of my photographs, you can see men sporting a large bulge in their cheek, that’s qat. Women are just as guilty, but since they’re covering their faces most times, one doesn’t notice it as much. It’s a highly addictive stimulant which causes a sense of euphoria, but in actuality it translates to unnecessary blabber and laziness. On a large scale, qat leads to many other substance abuse problems and generates a practically inactive population. Think about this: Yemen’s gross national income does not exceed $900, and each Yemeni is known to spend at least 30-60% of their income on qat. So what does this mean? Well, for one, Yemen’s agriculture has been taken over by qat fields, and 30% of Yemen’s water supply (one of the worst in the world) is dedicated to the irrigation of qat trees. It is estimated that Yemen will be out of fresh water by 2017-that’s in six years. Yemen’s current economy literally revolves around qat, and since Yemen is one of the only countries in the world to consider qat legal (making it unexportable), it is literally just a circular downfall of addiction.
Pictured above is an old man I photographed in Sana’a's Old Souk (Souk El Melh) selling Jambias, the traditional Yemeni dagger, and chewing qat.
Old Sana’a. Most visitors take note of Yemen’s gingerbread skylines, but little know that these were actually one of the first skyscrapers built in the world.
Traditional cemeteries in Aden (southern Yemen, formerly a British colony) where my Grandfather was buried. Most people don’t know that Yemen was once two separate countries-North and South Yemen. The North was dominated by traditional tribal rule while the South was a popular and quite cosmopolitan port. It was colonized by the British and was exposed to a very Westernized manner of living. My father ad his brothers and sisters were educated by the British, exposed to Western culture and were by no means the conservative Muslims you see in news segments today. My aunts never covered their hair and were immersed in arts and music. After the departure of the British and Yemen’s civil war in 1990, Yemen unified as one country and Northern (Sana’a) rule was prominent. This was the beginning of Saleh’s current regime.
I hope one day Yemen can return to being Arabia’s Felix.