art of resistance, Yemen

Playlist: The Melody Of Our Alienation (Yemen).

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                                                                                     /photo  © Jonathon Collins/

A horrific attack in Sana’a yesterday (Saudi-led warplanes struck a funeral, leaving more than 200 people killed, and more than 500 injured) took me back to Yemen and its tragedies, most of which are unravelling far from the media flashlights.

At the same time, there are reports about intensive care wards in Yemen’s hospitals being filled with emaciated children hooked up to monitors and drips – victims of food shortages that could get even worse due to a reorganisation of the central bank that is worrying importers.

With food ships finding it hard to get into Yemen’s ports due to a virtual blockade, over half the country’s 28 million people already do not have enough to eat, according to the United Nations.

It’s like Safa Al Ahmad describes it in an interview with Status Hour“Fighters are the ones who get salaries these days in Yemen, nobody else does. It just goes to show you how fragile the situation has become. I would argue that there’s no longer a Yemen, North and South are completely separate from each other”.

The playlist today is a small way of reaching out to Sana’a, to Yemen. The Melody of Our Alienation is a reminder that no matter how strange the city of Sana’a (and Yemen in general) feels now, its people are not strangers in their own city. It is their city. It is where they belong. It is where they will make a difference as agents of peace.

It’s a way of searching for something soft, something gentle, something that makes sense amidst this chaos:

“Sana’a.. Even if she slept on its sorrows for some time. Even if she caved in and the numbness took too long. Her morning shall revolt in the face of darkness. And certainly… The rain will one day wash away her drought.”

Previous Playlist:

Ruba Shamshoum

Jerusalem in my heart

Maghawir by Mashrou’ Leila

Selda Bağcan

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art of resistance, travel, Yemen

Yemen: In Beauty And Sorrow.

jon/Yemen, photo © Jonathon Collins/

Baga (Nigeria), Fotokol (Cameroon), Sana’a (Yemen), Kuwait City (Kuwait), Khan Bani Saad (Iraq), Kabul (Afghanistan), Baghdad (Iraq), Maiduguri (Nigeria), Ankara (Turkey), Beirut (Lebanon), Paris (France). Just some of the places that saw horrible terrorist attacks this year. Fairuz keeps on playing for two days in my room – Habaytak bisayf.

I loved you in the summer, I loved you in the winter,

I waited for you in the summer, I waited for you in the winter

The circle of love and sadness, life spinning. I feel like Fairuz can fill the space with her voice, as far as the sky goes. Somehow, her voice always brings comfort. I hope there is a way to find comfort for those who lost their loved ones in Nigeria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Lebanon, France… And all the other places that didn’t make it to this list – that were left out, their tragedies still unrecognized.

One of the places of (silent) constant sorrow this year is Yemen. I wrote so much about the beauty of Yemen, about the importance of it, but I still feel the need to talk about it and I still feel the need to share everything I can.

I recently discovered a beautiful photo essay by Jonathon (Jon) Collins – the way he captured Yemen and its people is mesmerizing. Collins is a freelance photographer and writer based in Sydney and his work aims to show that every corner of the world has a story to tell, and for every landscape there is a memory.

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About his experience of Yemeni culture, he says:

“Another key aspect of Yemeni culture is that life is not insular, and the typical nuclear family structure we are used to in Western societies does not apply; in fact, a much wider network is considered to be family.

It is the most memorable part of travelling in the country to me: sitting down to a meal and sharing it with a group of people all from a single plate; stopping the car to give a lift to families on the side of road; getting handed the best qat leaves from a new friend; or sharing chai with another from a used tin can.

In every restaurant or in the home, you will see an arm waving to welcome you to sit and share with another. It is an undeniably generous quality that says a lot about Yemeni culture.”

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Collins also talks about the way people cope with harshness every day brings upon them:

“In light of everything the Yemeni population face, they carry on with such an incredibly humble and humorous demeanor in everyday life. In conversations about corruption in politics, the growing presence of Al Qaeda, the ongoing problem of water scarcity, or whatever other major issues the nation is experiencing right now, you will still hear a joke, then laughter, and most will say, ‘it will get better in time, Inshallah’. Life must go on in the meantime.”

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He continues to say:

“It may have developed as a mechanism to cope with disruptions to everyday life, or perhaps it is simply another historic trait of the Yemeni people; but one thing that surprised me was just how incredibly funny the people in Yemen were. I cannot count the amount of times I was in stitches laughing at a joke made, someone’s dry humor, sarcastic comment or watching a scene unfold that felt more like a comedy stint than real life.

Whether it was a group of women pretending to slap a man for short-changing them at a market stall, the owner of the sweet shop getting teased about how many desserts he ate, someone trying to speak English without knowing more than three words, or joking over the size of the qat bulging in someone’s mouth; the laughter was contagious. Yemenis are easily the most hilarious locals I’ve experienced in all the countries I’ve been, and it made each day I spent there so much more enjoyable.”

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/all photos © Jonathon Collins/

For the full interview with Collins and his photo essay from Yemen, visit Passion Passport, and to find out more about his work visit his website.

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art of resistance, Yemen

Yemen: The Melody of Our Alienation.

max pam/image © Max Pam, Ramadan in Yemen (1993)/

“What could I say about Yemen that did it justice. I tried in my journal to work it honestly. I tried with 60 rolls of black and white 120 film to translate the experience. That hot, spare and beautiful Ramadan.

No eating or drinking anything between sunrise and sunset. The faithful waiting for the moment. The cannon booms from the mosque in the afterglow of the day. KABOUMMM and a frenzy of quat buying, tea drinking and food eating begins in the suqs and squares and oases and towns all over the country. Everyone happy, elated laughing and joking sitting down together as one nation.

And you know what, people always wanted me to share and be part of their Ramadan, their community, their Yemen. I travelled all over the country with them. To Shibam, Taizz, Al Mukallah, Sanaa, over the desert, by the sea and into the mountains. The shared taxis were always a half past dead Peugeot 405’s with sometimes 10 or 12 people jammed in.

The 92 pages of this book give my version of that unforgettable Ramadan month. An experience freely given to me by the generosity of Yemeni people.”

That is how Max Pam described his experience of Yemen twenty-two years ago, summed up in his journal Ramadan in Yemen.

Twenty-two years later in Yemen, at least 120 people are dead after Saudi-led airstrikes pummeled a residential neighborhood in the western port city of Mokha late Friday. It was the deadliest wave of bombings since the U.S.-backed campaign against Houthi rebels began in March. The strikes hit a housing complex for power plant workers, flattening buildings and sparking fires that spread throughout the neighborhood and burned alive women, children and elderly.

One of the Mokha residents described the onslaught: “There were continuous airstrikes without any breaks. And we have no military men, no devils. We don’t even have gunmen around here. We couldn’t get to our children. There were some 20 bodies that I pulled out with my own hands and counted. Who is to blame for this?”

The ceasefire took effect Sunday night at midnight, but within hours both sides said the other had resumed attack.

As Yemeni poet Abdulaziz Al Maqaleh asks in The Melody of Our Alienation: “Has nonsense become common sense? Has the non-rational become rational?”

His poem comes to my mind because it is a beautiful act of devotion and hope in these bad times for Yemen. But, it also comes to my mind because the title The Melody of Our Alienation illustrates the position of the outside world towards Yemen (and not just Yemen) perfectly. All these wars and conflicts played to the tunes of our alienation – from the rest of the world, from ‘others’, from anything and everything that is not Me, Myself & I.

Watch and listen. In the end, The Melody of Our Alienation is a reminder that no matter how strange the city of Sana’a (and Yemen in general) feels now, its people are not strangers in their own city. It is their city. It is where they belong. It is where they will make a difference as agents of peace.

“Sana’a.. Even if she slept on its sorrows for some time. Even if she caved in and the numbness took too long. Her morning shall revolt in the face of darkness. And certainly… The rain will one day wash away her drought.”

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Yemen

Another One Bites The Dust: Yemen in Crisis.

Yemen is finally getting some media attention. The country is falling apart. One of the most beautiful countries in the world is falling apart (when it comes to beauty of the nature and architecture – Yemen is the shining jewel). Photos by the great Steve McCurry (throughout this post) are here to remind us of that beauty.

Yemen was for centuries the center of civilization and wealth on the Arabian peninsula. The Romans referred to the area as Arabia Felix, or “Happy Arabia.” Tim Mackintosh-Smith writes in Yemen: The Unknown Arabia: “Yemen…had something of a Dictionary Land about it: as well as the talking hoopoes and dambusting rodents, men chewed leaves and camels lived on fish; they (the men) wore pinstriped lounge-suit jackets on top, skirt below, and wicked curved daggers in the middle; the cities seemed to have been baked, not built, of iced gingerbread; Yemen was part of Arabia but the landscape looked like… well, nowhere else on Earth.”

00014_18.adj, Hajjah, Yemen, 1999, final print_milan

Unfortunately, Yemen is now not in the news because of its beauty. This week, Saudi Arabia and other regional allies launched a military campaign in Yemen targeting Houthi rebels. The Saudi-led airstrikes are intended to thwart the Houthis’ advance after seizing control of the capital Sana’a last year and deposing President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi last month. Hadi called for international intervention on his behalf earlier this week. There are conflicting reports over his whereabouts as Houthis advance on his outpost of Aden. Unconfirmed statements say Hadi has fled Yemen by boat. The Houthi-run Health Ministry says the strikes have killed at least 20 civilians in Sana’a and wounded 30 others. The Saudi government says it has consulted “very closely” with the White House on its military campaign.

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In an apparent reference to Iran, the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the operation aimed to counter the “aggression of Houthi militias backed by regional powers.” Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV reported that the kingdom was contributing one hundred warplanes to operation Storm of Resolve and more than eighty were provided by the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan.

This week, Democracy Now! hosted a discussion with Iona Craig, a journalist who was based in Sana’a for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London. When asked how this crisis ocurred, Craig said it was something like  “a car crash in slow motion, to watch it.

She continued to say: “This has come after the Arab Spring in 2011. When Ali Abdullah Saleh signed over power, he was granted immunity from that point, and he was allowed to stay in Yemen. And so, he was allowed to still continue in politics, really, and keep manipulating as he always had done, but from then on from the side. And really, this was—then seemed to be a plan of action then to use the Houthis as a way of almost getting revenge against Islah, Yemen’s equivalent to the Muslim Brotherhood, and creating this scenario that we are now in, in Yemen. And Hadi has been forced into a corner as a result of all of this. So it’s really as a result of events after the Arab Spring and the transition deal that was then signed, that didn’t address the grievances of the Houthis or the Southern Movement and others. And despite the international community pushing on with the transition, it was almost inevitable that this was going to come to a head at some point.

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Last week, a prominent Yemeni journalist, Abdul Kareem al-Khaiwani, was assassinated in the capital Sana’a. He was reportedly shot dead near his home by gunmen riding a motorbike. “He was a Houthi supporter and activist, but he was much more than that… A very outspoken voice for a long, long time against the old regime and against Ali Abdullah Saleh. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for his assassination, but, really, it’s got to be viewed as a politically motivated assassination“, Craig said.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled North Yemen from 1978 before heading the united republic, has over the years spent most of his political capital consolidating his position rather than knitting together a stable state. In 2012, the Yemeni parliament passed a law that granted Saleh immunity from being prosecuted and he left Yemen for treatment in the United States. Saleh stepped down and formally ceded power to his deputy Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi. Saleh came back to Yemen after his treatment in the USA and continued his manipulative politics. All in all – poverty, corruption and the hopelessly weak rule of law form the backdrop to al-Qaeda’s entry into Yemen.

Last year, Vice News took a look at how Yemen’s embattled government is dealing with sectarian rivalries, CIA drone strikes, and one of al Qaeda’s most sophisticated branches. Here’s the video Yemen: A Failed State.

I truly hope there is a way for Yemen, its people, its natural beauty, its architecture and rich history – to stay safe, to stay in one piece.

/all photos © Steve McCurry/

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