In Hodeidah:  As Poverty, Misery & Negligence Reach their Limits: WHERE TO? [Archives:1999/50/Governance]

December 13 1999

Jalal Al-Shar’abi, 
Yemen Times 
The customs of Hodeidah have a special taste and a distinctive flavor. In this governorate, which lies on the Red Sea and extends until the Tihama desert, you find simplicity in dealing and a primitive life which attracts you when passing through any of its villages. 
The people of this governorate have certain customs which distinguishes them from people from other governorates. They have more celebrations and anniversaries than those in other governorates, and their rituals during these celebrations are more like worshipping and praying in a mihrab (prayer niche). You can notice differences in traditions between regions in clothes and the way of speaking. 
In the Hays region, which lies 150 km to the south of Hodeidah, Rajab’s Friday is an annual festival where people wear new clothes and gather to chew qat in the evening during which they read religious books and relate prophetic traditions. 
They have specific rituals to exercise their customs and traditions. You can find very unusual contrasts such as religious festivals which are full of music and folkloric dance that continues until the next morning. 
During normal days, people go out early, every one to his/her own work, while after every festival, when they stay up until dawn, you can find them sleeping deeply. 
In Al-Sha’abania, which is a great religious occasion on the 15 of Sha’aban, people in Hodeidah governorate, especially the indigenous people, celebrate. On this occasion people celebrate in a special way which people like to call “Al-Bahja.” Mr. Abdullah Ali Ola said about this day, “The night of the middle of Sha’aban, which is called, Al-Sha’abania, is an occasion Muslims in all Islamic countries, one of which is Yemen, celebrate. However, celebrating this day in the Tihama has a special taste, for all customs on this day differ from those on other days. On this day people fast, eat different foods and go to mosques where they make celebrations or what is called ‘Mouled’ after the dusk prayer. After the evening prayer people go home, have dinner and then stay up until dawn. Usually, everybody stays in his/her own home or some people and friends may decide to stay in a house that they agree on. There, they usually make conversation concerning religion and manners or they might watch TV. As for children, they often wear new clothes in the afternoon and spend their time in squares and gardens until night falls. What is so interesting, is that people who own carts drawn by donkeys rent them for children who ride them to gardens or to the beach which is a phenomenon that prevails in Hodeidah and its cities in the Tihama. 
The Sha’abania night, as mentioned in the Holy Qura’an, is the blessed night when the Qura’an was sent down. This was mentioned in Al-Dokhan Sura (chapter). There is also another account that it is the night when the death, subsistence and fate of a human are written. In a third narration, for the Shiite of Jafar, it is said that it is the night when Imam Ali (may God bless him) was born. 
Despite the changes of time and age, the people of Hodeidah are still strongly attached to their origins, and modernization has not changed them much. They are still using camels as a means of transportation and for carrying their belongings under the blaze of the sun. They travel long distances, challenging the burning hot climate with their dark skin increasing their strength and tenacity. 
An owner of one these carts said, “Harsh conditions forced us to do so and modernization gave us nothing but the opportunity to watch it in other cities and countries which are more advanced and developed. So, I do not think, even with the changes that occurred in Yemen, that we would be able to move from this age which represents the 14th century in its decadent periods, because harshness of conditions would hinder us.”Another person, who was carrying water on his exhausted shoulders, said, “The government does not consider us original inhabitants of this country. So, it treats us as naive and cowardly people who fear all the government’s threats.”The people of this governorate consider motorcycles the best transportation which suits their conditions, not because it is their favorable one but because harsh conditions force them to deal with it despite all the dangers it causes. 
Statistics in the year 1999 have revealed that for every 500 accidents involving motorcycles, more than 20 people die. Despite all that, the motorists roam streets, alleys and areas hoping they will be able to obtain their daily bread though they are risking their lives. In addition, they are subject to blackmailing by traffic police who impose laws and taxes on them that weigh them down. 
Yemen Times has interviewed several motorists and all their talk was about the nightmare of traffic policemen and accidents. One motorist, Sa’aeed Thabit Zayd, said, “The necessity has forced people of this governorate to use motorcycles as a means of transportation inside the city although we know it is dangerous, for many of our sons and brothers have been victims of traffic accidents. There are no authorities which take care of us and we are always subjected to blackmail by the traffic police. Their excuse for what they do is often customs and sometimes disturbing public peace.” 
Another person, Ali Mohammed Al-Kawli, said, “Unemployment is the first and foremost reason why people of this governorate use motorcycles as a means of transportation. I think that the authorities in charge were right when they fixed number plates on motorcycles because this numbering is a validation of a motorist’s identity in case he has an accident. However, this does not mean that we do not face irritations. On the contrary, we are always vulnerable to death and blackmail and this is how life with all its harshness goes with us.”A third person, Abdullah Abduh Al-Sobati, adds in a strident manner, “We are victims of violence, speed, trucks and policemen who impose harsh tasks on us. They set us a curfew after 8:00 P.M but there are some bargains between a few policemen and motorists enabling them to work after this time in return for a sum of money. I think the main reason behind our problems is the absence of a syndicated body to protect us form being fiddled around daily and to demand our rights as workers even if we are miserable. The conditions of people in this governorate make them in great need of cheap means of transportation and still people can not abandon it though we often become victims and soaked with blood under the wheels of large trucks or high officials’ cars who are not concerned about us at all.”People in this governorate are concerned about their daily food. They go out early in the morning to come back at noon carrying a little amount of wheat and oil which would only be enough for that day. They do not plan for the other days and so their lives and suffering journey continues unceasingly. 
A man who works in a sesame oil mill said, “I work in cleaning sesame seeds before they go into the old mill which uses wood, camels and traditional instruments in performing its job. I am personally concerned with my daily food. Some days I stop working when I find that I can cover my expenses for another day. We in the Tihama, and all our coastal cities and villages, consider our day our festival and do not think about tomorrow because it is not our concern. We live our present day.” 
You can also find that qat is the second concern of people after food and in some cases it is their daily food. Fateeni Omar, a qat addict, said, “We take the price of these leaves from our necessary food. We often buy the cheapest food, whatever it is, so we can save the rest of our money to buy qat. We spend more than 8 hours daily in chewing qat which enables us to forget some of our work pains. Some of us even chew qat three times a day, in the morning, at noon and at night when we take some Persian tobacco and stay up all night long blowing in what is called “Mada’ah” (narghile). 
These are really bizarre customs and what is even stranger is their continuation in this unchanging manner. They are even becoming more entrenched and taking the form of tenacious beliefs. 
This is not everything, this governorate is deprived of its magnificent beaches, marvelous sea and gardens where people can walk. On the contrary, the beaches are being buried down and Al-Hodeidah’s corniche is decaying because of ignorance and its edges are filled with garbage; and authorities in charge still do not take any procedures in this regard. 
Al-Ezzi Abkar, a social personality, said, “Carelessness has taken an unimaginable form in this governorate. Not just in its beaches which do not have any clean lounges, but also in the general shape of the governorate. It has become a garbage dump full of mosquitoes and insects which cause malaria and other diseases. We demand the authorities in charge to save this governorate from decaying. The daily income of the harbor in five days of a month is enough to improve the ugly look of this city. However, until now we could not feel any concern and carelessness is still the master of all.”In Al-Hodeidah you can find barefoot, naked people who sleep on the ground in public markets and crossroads. You can also see children, youths and elders begging for charity that may prevent them from dying. Poverty has spread so widely that it has become a social phenomenon which many suffer from. 
A beggar said, “Conditions forced us to turn into this shameful state. Charitable societies and government did not offer us any assistance. We found ourselves on sidewalks after economic conditions became harsher and made us poor in the age of development. We, in Al-Hodeidah, are not like other beggars in other governorates because most of the inhabitants of this city are under the poverty line. Therefore, our suffering is continuous and painful.”A social specialist in Al-Hodeidah University said, “We can not be unaware of the social effects of the beggary phenomenon. It gnaws at our society and cripples it. It is also a phenomenon which affects social morals and damages behavior. However, the biggest harm of the spread of this phenomenon is its change into perversion, especially with ladies. Most social studies done in this governorate contain standard numbers that point out to frightening signs regarding the social status. They are also pointing out to an upcoming danger which has several sources and ways one of which is beggary.”The ailment of these people also includes housing. The majority of the population still lives in straw huts. However, they have adapted to this lifestyle and they enjoy it. 
One of those whom we met in Bayt Al-Fakih region – 100 km from the center of Hodeidah – said, “Our ancestors lived in such houses and we are peaceful people who do not attack others. So, you would find us afraid only of wild animals or the spread of diseases. We are used to it and houses are no problem for us now. We can, with the aid of these modest houses, defeat the harsh climactic conditions which are like burning fire from the 1st month in the year until the last third of the year. 
If this was men’s problem, then what would be the case of women? Women are living in continuous misery; they carry wood and bring water and do not get any reward for the simplest jobs. They have become real victims of conditions, men, and a hard life. A female teacher in the city said, “A large generation of women in this governorate were deprived of their right to education. Illiteracy has become our main problem and because of it we were exposed to persecution and abusiveness and nobody dares to discuss the conditions we are living in. The majority of educated women live in cities, but as for villages and suburban areas, schools are rarely available. Some may not believe what I say but it is the truth and anyone can make himself sure of what I just said.”These are some of the problems of this peaceful abandoned governorate whose good-heartedness of its inhabitants led them to a deteriorated condition. 
Despite the concern caused by health conditions, their hopes in life are still big. The health reports on this governorate point to the increased rate of fatality year after a year and reveal that in every 100 people there are 70 who carry Malaria. 
High authorities should look into the problems of this governorate whose revenues go to other ones while it remains a victim of carelessness and forgetfulness. The local authorities in Hodeidah should protect and take care of the city. They should not turn it into a personal property where they establish their luxurious houses, forgetting the public concern of this governorate which, if not saved by the authorities in charge, is vulnerable to complete collapse.