Guess where we went? [Archives:2008/1203/Community]

October 30 2008

By: Salwa Yehia Aleryani
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This is a place which we have been watching beat like a pulse, come alive, grow and progress. We have always passed beside it and thought that it didn't match with any other views in Yemen. It gave a feeling, when looking at it, that maybe it was a unique relative of Taj Mahal. People argued about it a great deal. Some agreed with it and believed that it was about time Yemen had such a place and appreciated that the President was the decision maker for it. Others disagreed due to the poverty of people and believed that this poverty should have been the first point to solve rather than building such a luxurious place on a pale land like Yemen. They believed that governments should have priorities, instead of being imaginative like children who insist on making their dreams come true without making any calculations about the losses! They also said that we had many places which were for the same purpose, and therefore there was absolutely no reason other than arrogance for building such a place.

When Ramadhan began, people started to go there. They were amazed at the beautiful construction and fantastic features in all the details. With the passage of time, more and more people went there. In the middle of Ramadhan my family and I decided to go and see this place that both men and women were talking about whenever they gathered.

We went at about 5:00 PM. It wasn't crowded at all. I saw people heading towards it, inside its huge yard, barefoot. They must have felt they were in the “ka'abah”. I went with my daughters to the area which was for females. I heard two ladies in front of us regretting that they had forgotten to bring plastic bags in which to keep their shoes until they finished what they had come to do. I took a look at the left side and saw a big row of brown cupboards with only shelves inside them for the men to keep their shoes. I wondered why they didn't reserve even two of them for the ladies. I felt sorry for females in our country! Even in a holy place like this, where all people were alike and were doing the same duty of worship, the masculine frame of mind couldn't help but look down on females and not consider equal them with men. I smiled because in Yemen this mentality always wins. No problem, shoes were not a big deal. Even if they got stolen, it was still nothing when one came to such a holy place.

We came closer to the entrance of the ladies section of this holy place. The ladies were standing in a line. Any lady, before she entered, was physically searched, searching inside the purses and bags and between fingers. I didn't complain because it is always better to be on the safe side and not give any enemy a chance to make problems occur. We should never forget what happened to the Twin Towers! I entered but didn't go up. I waited for my two daughters to enter. We were separated by the women who were pushing and forcing themselves to the front. My first daughter entered. Then we both waited for the younger one who was only 12 years old. I didn't get what had happened but I saw my daughter burst out crying and the policewoman raising her hand and shout. I tried to push myself back outside to understand what had happened but the flood of women entering just pushed me back inside. I wanted to reach my child and see what had happened and why she was crying but I frankly couldn't. My biggest daughter and I started to panic and yell and push because my child was still crying and we were yelling, “What happened?” Then the kind policewoman told me “Kids are not allowed!!” Oh! This put us down. I tried to stand beside the police woman to explain to her that she is not a baby or a child who would run here and there and cause noise or disorder. She refused. “Ok, can I go out to talk to my daughter?” I was begging her. My daughter started to cry calling me “Mama.” Honestly it was like an Indian movie. The police woman didn't stop me from going out but I just couldn't do that.

Every time I reached the door the ladies pushing to enter pushed me back inside. It was a curse. I felt we were in a jail and we wanted to see our relatives. I wished I was a witch who could stretch her fingers saying “Abra Cadabra” and make all the women vanish. My daughter and I started raising our voices in the hopes that maybe the policewoman would show mercy. We yelled,” We are not here to pray, we'll pray at home. We just came to see the place.” Still she didn't try to help. She was busy searching the women who were giggling because it was difficult not to when one was searched in that way! I finally lost my temper, which hardly ever happens, and started pushing the ladies and saying, “Get out of my way!” My other daughter was pulling the back of my scarf in order not to separate her from me!

Finally we were outside. I hugged my daughter who was weeping and sniffing like a kitten. I told her not to cry because she would grow up and get to enter this marvelous place “some day”. I told her that we came and we had to see the place and took her permission to enter without her while she waited for us until we came down. She looked at me with her wet cheeks, “But mom you said we would “all” go and see and not you and my sister only.” I explained that it was out of my control. I asked her again to calm down and wait for us just for 5 minutes. She tried to smile to show her agreement but I knew she wanted to go back home. To say the truth, so did I! We turned around to re-enter and that didn't need any effort what so ever because we entered not by foot but by being swept inside by the force of pushing towards the inside of the place.

I surprisingly found myself with my daughter beside me exactly in front of the police woman. She wanted to search us again. I told her,”I am the mother of the girl outside. You just searched us a minute ago.” She shook her head and told me that as long as we had been out then we must be examined again! Maybe in those seconds we were given an explosive bomb or something. One should always be awake and never forget what had happened to the Twin Towers! I gave up and allowed her to search me and my daughter.

The place we wanted to visit was on the 3rd floor. I whispered in my daughter's ear, “Now let's go up ourselves!” While we were going up the stairs we saw some very old women who were very weak, crawling to go up the stairs. They were using their knees and palms to go up. I saw a lift on the left side of the stairs but it wasn't working. I expect it was only for those who were related “authority” in our country. It didn't matter if they were healthy and could go up hopping like deer or go down sliding like penguins, it was clear that the elevator would not move except for them. Yet, these weak, old and humble women were forced to crawl!!

I swallowed many words, and kept quiet. Then we were up. I neither saw anything fascinating nor even any thing worth all that trouble. It was just a small hall and on the left side, a big room which was covered with long rectangular light blue carpets. The people who arranged this place didn't even bother to stick those carpets to the floor with strong glue. The carpets were all in tremendous disorder. They were straight and then at the end of them, start to go upwards exactly like waves. This was obviously a result for what was done on them. I mean a result of the prayer that was taking place on them. I stopped and couldn't but feel deep sorrow. What a scene! That room was a scandal. The carpets did not look like places for people to pray on but rather high waves for people to go surfing there. The idea made me laugh.

I looked at the wall. It was plain white. I had heard that the section for men was all covered with patterns and designs. It was crowded with different decorations to the extent that one could not see any color for the wall!! This was making me feel insulted. I guess all women in Yemen feel that but what differs is the degree.

My daughter and I exchanged smiles. My daughter said, ” Is that 'it' Mama?” I nodded. “Yup!” We rushed down. I hoped that they were intelligent enough not to search us again now at the exit door. Thank God they didn't.

When we left the place and were in our car I saw the beggars outside and thought about the people I knew suffering from being jobless. I remembered how many people I knew who were working in the morning and also in the evening just couldn't earn enough for a decent life. The question stood there in front of me. Which should have been a priority, building this place or building a good hospital, a good school, good electricity, a good income, a good control for prices, a good anything? Actually, we didn't have anything good other than the weather which was from Allah, and had it been in our hands, it would have been ruined just as much. So it wouldn't have been a problem to find where to put all that money. Even going out to the street and giving the new beggars who had just become beggars yesterday would have been more humane.

Now that this place is built we can only and should merely say congratulations.

Congratulations. Congratulations. Congratulations.