Children and Eid in Aden Snatching Joy in a Deprived City [Archives:2001/11/Last Page]

March 12 2001

Walid Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf
After tremendous pressure and hard work during the last month of February, my family and I decided that we ought to escape Sanaa and spend the Eid Al-Adha vacation in Aden. On my way to Aden, specifically on the Dhamar-Aden interstate, I realized that thousands if not tens of thousands of families were also heading to Aden for the Eid vacation. The roads were as crowded as if people were escaping a hurricane or an earthquake. All were in a rush, all wanted to escape the stress of the capital.
From the moment I drove onto Aden’s boulevards, I felt some sort of change in the atmosphere. There was more oxygen to breathe. The height of Sanaa makes it a nightmare for those who suffer breathing problems, while Aden is their haven. The fresh breeze of the sea is yet another advantage. It was also evident that Aden was mostly cleaner and neater than Sanaa. It is good to have cities compete with each other at the level of tourist attractions and city tidiness. Every coming Eid season, the number of Yemenis visiting Aden increases significantly. Fortunately enough, both Eids of this year were in Aden’s coolest seasons. It would have been impossible for these people to withstand the burning sun of Aden in the summer.
The city seemed to be filled with families, especially from northern governorates such as Sanaa, Hodeidah, Ibb, and even Taiz. It was a joyful time for all of us.
After the first two days, I realized that despite the Aden Free Zone and all the promises to make Aden the economic gateway of Yemen, it is still a deprived city. It is deprived of basic entertainment facilities for the next generations, for our children. There are no public parks or amusement parks the size of those in Sanaa. The joy of staying in luxurious hotels and eating the best food is not an option for most of the children in Aden. A city the size of Aden should definitely have more than that. There must be amusement parks with affordable prices for the average family. There should be open spaces with green grass for the children to enjoy playing on. Unfortunately, none of this is in existence.
But that was not enough to put an end to their joy and laughter. The limited resources of the families and their desire to entertain their little members made them invent ways of enjoyment their own way. While I was driving through ‘Souq Attawil’ in the center of Crater in Aden, I saw tens of children riding camel wagons, i.e., small wagons pulled by camels that could carry around 20 or more kids. The look on the faces of the children reflected happiness and joy. They may not know much of what other children in richer countries are doing. They may not know that there are children riding the most technologically advanced roller coasters just near by in one of the Gulf States. They may not know what a cinema club is all about, as there are none for them to go to. They may have also not realized that there are thousands of children enjoying all sorts of amusement games in parks all over the world. Their world of joy in Eid is no more than a camel and a wagon. Yet, that was enough to bring them great satisfaction.
As a person who had traveled to tens of countries all over the world, I sometimes sympathize with the struggle of these kids to stay happy despite the lack of any amusement or entertainment parks. But I also ask myself, how difficult is it to have an amusement park for these children in cities, including Aden? Even though I feel happy when I look at the laughter on the faces of the children riding these basic and simple carts, I still cannot refrain from thinking of the miseries they face.
The camel wagons were not the only surprise. In the old part of Sheikh Othman in northern Aden, I saw more than 3 wooden and Aluminum handmade Ferris wheels that were capable of carrying several children, turned by some men, who do this for a symbolic payment so that the children can enjoy their eid as much as possible.
I realized that these efforts reflect a sense of responsibility on the part of the people of Aden in working to provide a happy environment for the children. They were able to do what the government couldn’t, i.e., they were able to provide happiness at an affordable price with handmade equipment and tools that cost less, but still bring joy to the kids.
My 4-day stay in Aden was enjoyable, but I couldn’t hold myself back from writing this article in response to what I saw immediately after I arrived back to Sanaa. I have seen in this eid what will stay in my memories for years to come. I have seen children snatch joy in a deprived city.