Barat and its people need more support A notorious place [Archives:2003/05/Reportage]

February 4 2003

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The district of Barat is among Yemen’s intriguing places. The district branches off into the three districts of Barat Almarashi, Barat al-Enan, which is thickly populated, and Barat Rajouza.
It is about, 160 km north of Sana’a and administratively it now belongs to al- Jawf governorate.
I recently went on a one-day mission to Barat to learn more about its people, climate, geographical division and tribal conventions. Here’s what I observed.
It was nine o’clock in the morning when the car took us to Sana’a-Sada’a highway. It was quite an interesting to experience travel with people from Barat.
At first I had mixed feelings about traveling to such a hot-spot. I was accompanied by two restless nomads from al- Jawf, and some others from Barat in a Saloon car.
The two nomads were old enough. They weren’t enthusiastic about their short tour to Sana’a. Perhaps they spent years wallowing in despair because of their telltale signs of being fed up with everything new in the city.
They had a feeling that signs of new technology are creeping into Sana’a. Original tribal norms and conventions are no longer felt as much. “Jawf has an incomparable beauty,” one of them said.
Talk on tribal norms in Yemeni society took up the beginning of the journey.
Dry as a bone
The car took us up and down the hills and plains of Barat. The road was long, bumpy and dusty.
The land is so barren that there are huge cracks in it. It is covered with heaps of dirt and rough rocky terrains.
You can see in Barat untidy wooden huts built in crooked lines, and mud houses. For about eight years, the land of Barat has not had even a single drop of water.
That barren land has deeply affected day-to-day behavior. The people are as tough as their lands.
Just keep on indulging rough and tough talk. There is no room for laughing or cracking of jocks. I could hardly see smiling, innocent faces.
As a genuine tribesman, you have to show a strong adherence to the tribe’s norms and conventions. Being a yes-man, means that you are under the Sheikh’s thumb. He can settle disputes among tribesmen. That’s why the government has little control over the eastern tribes.
Fully armed
Each tribal society in Yemen has its own set of conventions and norms, which each individual is supposed to conform to. In Barat, I was able to see people from different ages carrying weapons and parading around the district.
People there feel proud of their weapons. These evil machine “weapons” have become the main concern of tribesmen there. They don’t think of buying presents or clothes for their kids, except hankering after rounds of ammunition and bullets. That was what I could detect in the company of the two nomads from al- Jawf.
It is astonishing to see them grasping their gun machines proudly in the face of being thoroughly frisked at military checkpoints outside Sana’a. Policemen at those checkpoints lack guts and never have the nerve to stop those who carry weapons.
It is easy for every one to hide a gun machine or anything more than that without even being inspected. It is a piece of cake, isn’t it? Tribesmen are totally conversant with different kinds of weapons. I was also surprised to hear they possess not only light weapons, but heavy ones.
Each tribesman has a “complete arsenal”. Their utmost dream is to possess different but sophisticated light and heavy weapons. They are fully armed and ready at any time for fighting or shooting.
Notorious spot
Tribesmen are not in al-Jawf’s adjacent districts only, but also in the whole eastern desert. Areas have become a safe haven and magnet for kidnapping.
If we look back, we see that the Barat itself is notorious for violence and kidnapping operations. On July 15, 1999, four Belgian tourists along with their driver were kidnapped from Amran, 40 km. north of Sana’a and taken to Barat. They were released after four weeks.
On October, 30, 1997, Steve Carpenter was kidnapped from Sana’a and taken to Barat. He was released after four weeks also.
Such kidnapping incidents are maneuvered from Sana’a to press for projects and financial gains for kidnappers. In addition to this, the assassination of the great Yemeni revolutionary figure, Mohammed Mahmoud Azzubeiri also took place in Barat.
To sum up, this area and the entire eastern region prone to such violent incidents.
Questions of why arise.
One reason is that these areas have been deprived of developmental and social services for a long time. Lack of educational facilities, shortage of water, and want of health care facilities are some other factors leading to the outbreak of violence.
It is heartening to note that some developmental projects for these areas have been implemented, but some are also discontinued. Beneficial projects are grossly inadequate.
The need of the hour is to extend and implement such projects in order to bring this remote district into the national mainstream.