Wednesday, February 8, 2012

a car made of fish

Why would a Jordanian from Aqaba, on the edge of the Red Sea, travel all the way to Yemen to go fishing? Ahmad al-Ahyuwaat, 28, did. He explains why.

To start with, you can make much more money in Yemen. The Arabian Sea is much richer than the Red Sea which is closed, he says. At the age of 22, Ahmed set off to the port town of Makalla in Hadramout, southern Yemen. There, he spent two years out on a sambuca catching prawns, which he calls "gamberoni" or “tamad.” He visited the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site of Soqotra, where he stayed for a week, and when one of his colleagues fell sick, he stayed on "the island of Mahara" (in fact a governorate of mainland Yemen parallel to the Arabian Sea) for three days. His colleague was bundled onto a plane to Makalla, while he and the others jumped back onto their sambuca to catch more fish.

When he came back to Jordan, he bought a brand new taxi with which he now ferries tourists around Aqaba.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

in cairo, no more yemeni protest tent

Yemeni protesters have put a temporary end to their sit-in outside the Arab League building in Cairo, after violence flared up again in the vicinity last week-end.

After the Yemeni sit-in tent was destroyed during Cairo's November uprising, a few protesters had nevertheless remained on the edge of Tahrir Square outside the Arab League building, with a few photos and a large Yemeni flag. Even after Ali Abdullah Saleh signed the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative agreeing to hand over power in Yemen, they remained to protest the part of the deal that ensured his immunity from prosecution. To keep warm at night, they pitched a tent on the pavement and wrapped themselves in heavy blankets. (See photo below taken on November 28, on the first day of Egypt's parliamentary elections.) Peaceful protesters Wael, Ahmed, and Adel were usually there to say hello.

Last Friday, violence re-erupted between Egyptian protesters and the security forces after a protester from the sit-in in front of the cabinet was brutally beaten in the night of December 15 to 16. Redhwan, one of the Yemeni sit-in organisers and a medic student in second year at Cairo University, donned a white coat and helped Egyptian volunteer doctors on the edge of Tahrir Square to tend to the wounded from the front line in Qasr el-Eini street. "It's good practice," he said, with a smile.

The next day, on December 17, the Yemeni tent was burnt down, along with the Syrian flag on the other side of the Arab League gate, the new much larger Bahraini tent next to the closest Metro exit, and all the remaining Egyptian protester tents on the other side of Tahrir. The photo below was taken on December 18. It was as if the tent, first erected on October 24 after Redhwan's friend died tortured at the hands of the police in Taiz, had never existed.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

homemade fertiliser and strawberries

I first met engineer-turned-filmmaker Abdulkhaleq Alwan in 2010. In a country where groundwater is depleting fast, this young engineer, then 27, had made water issues fun for a mostly uneducated public.

As head of the awareness department at the capital's branch of the National Water Resources Authority, he talked to farmers about dwindling water resources, the ills of illegal well drilling, and the benefits of modern irrigation. He had turned himself into a filmmaker, directing spots in which he cast the farmers themselves to spread awareness about good practices in irrigation. He had printed poems by the farmers, and commissioned cartoons.

And then protests and political turmoil hit Yemen. When I wrote to him in May 2011, he and his colleagues hadn't been paid for months. None of the budget for 2011 had been received, and all programs, including colourful public information films, were on hold. Clashes on the road from Sana'a to Marib had meant no diesel for the capital’s water pumps and no water in the network for days. Instead, inhabitants were buying water from private trucks, not unusual in Sana'a, but at much higher prices than before the uprisings.

Now Alwan is studying for a masters in Intergrated Water Resource Management in Germany and Jordan, and hopes to return to Yemen for his thesis next autumn, if the situation permits. I caught up with him on Wednesday at a water utilities conference in Sharm el-Sheikh. At the end of the first day, he was most impressed by Mathias Stief’s talk on making a profit out of treating wastewater in Germany.

In Yemen, like Jordan and Egypt, water utilities are struggling to recover the costs of treating sewage to reuse its water in irrigation, he explained, but in Hamburg, they actually make money out of it! "They sell the sludge. They produce biogas. They sell the heat!" he says, laughing. Yes, a similar system would be possible in Yemen, but only after considerable investment in infrastructure and staff training.

Would it be difficult to convince Yemeni farmers to use the sludge on their fields? Not at all! says Alwan. At the Sana'a treatment plant, barely has sludge been laid out to dry that farmers turn up to buy it. “You can hold an auction!” he says. It's much cheaper than industrial fertiliser, and rich in potassium, phosphates, and nitrogen. Besides, Yemenis are used to sewage-issued fertiliser.

In many villages, including Alwan's outside of the capital Sana'a when he was growing up, each house made its own fertiliser from its small sewage pit. After cooking, ash from the fire would be thrown into it, to prevent bad odours and to start the fertiliser-making process. One or two years later, a mixture that looked like black soil would be extracted from the back of the house and used on the fields, until the end of the 1980s in Alwan's village, and probably until today in remote areas.

Alwan's family used to grow corn, tomatoes and potatoes, but switched to qat and strawberries when water started to become scarce. Wait, strawberries? “It’s a cash crop,” he says. Soon all the other farmers in the area where following suit.

Alwan talks to school children about good water management. Photo courtesy of NWRA

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

caught up in egypt's protests

When I visit on Monday evening, there are no more than four protesters at what is left of the Yemeni tent outside the Arab League in Cairo, after Egyptian security forces cracked down on neighbouring Tahrir Square on Saturday. In their drive to evict Egyptian protesters demanding civil rule from the square, security forces also targeted the Yemeni and Syrian protesters at its edge, firing tear gas at them, and seizing or destroying all their belongings, they say. "They took everything, laptops, phones," says Wael, a Yemeni student and one of the remaining protesters. "There wasn't even a sock left!" But Wael and fellow protesters have decided to keep going. They have re-wrapped their giant Yemeni flag around some trees, and set about distributing twin badges in support of Yemen and Syria.

Behind Wael, accross Tahrir Square, young Egyptian protesters continue to battle the tear gas of security forces in Mohammad Mahmoud Street after nightfall. A steady stream of injured are carried out on foot, by motorcycle, or in ambulances (see photo above) through the protesting crowds at the centre of the square. At the Omar Maqram mosque, on this side of the square, one of several field hospitals has been set up for the injured, with volunteers via initiatives such as #tahrirneeds and @tahrirsupplies bringing in blankets and medical supplies. In the square, protesters opposing Egypt's military regime chant: "Stay in your place, the square is your square." Over the mosque's loudspeaker, someone warns of live bullets, and urges protesters to stay in the square. By the end of the third day of clashes between protesters and security forces, the media has reported over 1,000 injured and 32 dead.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

three weeks outside the arab league

For Yemeni students Redhwan, Amru, and their fellow protesters, tomorrow will mark three weeks of protest outside the Arab League in Cairo. Despite the landmark decision to suspend Syria from the Arab League yesterday, nothing similar has so far followed for Yemen. Here are some photos taken over the last three weeks, in chronological order from bottom to top.

November 12 - Behind the police line, engineering student Ola leads the Yemeni section of the protest in chants, as delegates inside the Arab League vote on Syria's temporary suspension. Before the final decision is announced, Syrians, Yemenis, and Bahrainis protest together outside the main gate. Police attend the event, after a Syrian opposition delegate was pelted with raw eggs several days before.

November 10- It takes two lightbulbs to make a cup of tea in the protester's tent. “The generator can’t handle both [the kettle and the lighting],” explains Redhwan with a grin, as he takes them down.

November 6 - After the first prayer of Eid al-Adha, Yemenis join Syrians to protest against the regimes of Saleh and Assad. Despite one of the Syrian protester leaders announcing that there would be no Eid today but a "funeral for the martyrs", the mood is jovial on the first day of Eid. Old friends reunite outside the tent, and one man licks the remnants of a plate of basboosa, an Arabic cake, off his fingers.

November 1 - Yemen's candidates in this year's Arab Idol, sisters Amal and Houria, sing Dana Ye Dana and other Yemeni songs to fellow Yemenis, Egyptian passers-by, and Taizi opposition figure Sultan al-Samie on a visit to Cairo.

October 28 - A giant poster of Taha al-Juneid dwarfs the photos of other deceased protesters beside him. Medic student Redhwan knew him, and tells me how his friend's story turned the weekly protests outside the Arab League into a permanent sit-in. They abducted and tortured him for being a protester, he tells me. Before, protesters were been killed in the squares, but this was different. “I went out. We’re protesting! I said.” Redwan motions to the large poster of Taha behind him. “That one I printed,” he says quietly. “I paid for it myself.” (Taha's story with graphic images is here.)

October 28 - Engineering student Amru and law student Mustafa, who I found reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho at 8 am that morning, charge their phones from the tent's generator after a shared breakfast with their Syrian neighbours. The Syrian anti-Assad protesters have set up their tent on the pavement on the other side of the Arab League's permanently-closed front gate.

October 26 - As night falls, Yemenis gather in the newly-erected tent outside the Arab League headquarters just off Tahrir Square in Cairo. The make-shift tent, topped, with the Yemeni flag, was put up on October 24. "We ask the Arab League to suspend Yemen's membership," reads the sign.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

al-sha3b yureed new clothes for 3eid - part 3

The night before Eid, all's well that ends well in the al-Sharif household. Some of the peaceful protesters' rights have been fulfilled, writes Amira al-Sharif.
As published before Al-Sharif's sisters remove the tents and take any things that could refer to demonstration at home. Though there is thing happened not expected that they get some of their demands which is great. They get Eid sweet, nuts, almond, raisin, orange Juice, glasses, spoons, perfumes, and all the ingredients for the cookies.

Right now toys and Al-Sharif's sisters are celebrating in the light of the candle while they still making the Eid cookies. Tomorrow will be the Eid, and all kids at home are excited, though all women so busy in the kitchen, in the early morning our male relatives will come to give us Asb (which an amount of money as a gift), so we will be rich tomorrow.

Al-Sharif sisters declare we love our father.

Correspondent from Sanaa,
Amira Al-Sharif

Happy Eid!

Photo by Amira al-Sharif

al-sha3b yureed new clothes for 3eid - part 2

Amira al-Sharif has posted a Facebook update on her sisters' peaceful living room protest for new clothes for Eid, after their father, a protester in the current uprising, announced that price hikes meant no presents this year. She writes:

Al-Sharif's Sisters' Night Meeting and New Decision
November 5, 2011

At dinner the good father looks sad, and eat little bit. Al-Sharif's sisters felt guilty because they thought they hurt his feelings. In a meeting in the candle light, they decided to remove the three tents from inside home as they prefer to stay without new clothes and Eid sweet rather than to see their father being sad. One of Al-Sharif's sister said, "My father felt sad may be he thought we are treating him as the president and it is hard for him to be treated as the tyrant Ali Saleh, at time he is one of the protestors, and doesn't deserve we do tent to demonstrate at home."

Correspondent from home in Sana'a,
Amira Al-Sharif

Photo by Amira al-Sharif