Money and its relativity [Archives:2004/744/Culture]

June 7 2004

By Sumaya Ali Raja'
For the Yemen Times

I was raised in a culture where the income of my working parent, who was a government official, was 150 Riyals (Maria Theresa silver thalers) plus a huge sack of wheat, another of rye, a bushel of sugar and other basic commodities.
We were considered very privileged. We owned our own home: a two-story house with a huge garden and had a cow that was milked every day. No one owned a car then, but if we needed to take a trip, we had the use of a government car with driver once in a while.
We were enrolled in the only school possible in English, (The American School of Taiz), in Taiz, which was the seat of government until 1962. All of Yemen lived there, whether you were from Saada, Hajja, Sanaa, Marib, Hodieda, Dhamar, or Ibb. We were from Sana'a but grew up in Taiz.
We vacationed in al-Makha (Mocha), the Red Sea port famed for its historical importance in the coffee trade until the eighteenth century. We stayed in the old hospital located on the sea with breath-taking views of the seashore. We assumed it was a hotel since there were no patients or doctors. Al- Makha of my childhood is a ghost town with crumbling houses; the sea, sand and fish were its great attractions.
Money we didn't have, but we had a bit of land here and there plus a few privileges like riding the Imam's horses, vacationing and scholarships for our education to name a few.
As the first family to be raised in all of Yemen without the hindrance of the veil, people in Taiz assumed that we were super rich and tried to rope father in their business ventures.
I was raised with no idea or need for wealth or money. Poverty? If you own your own home and make enough of a living to raise your family, that was the utmost of riches to us.
I have been living in Paris for over a decade. The French have a very unhealthy respect for money: they don't talk about it but seem to be obsessed by it, unlike the Americans who discuss it openly and know how to get it. I don't talk about money, have learned to respect its power; have flaunted it a little in Sana'a. Use it definitely. Keep it? How!
I have managed to survive in Yemen, Kuwait, the US, Great Britain, and now in Paris. How? By working, borrowing, helping, giving more than I have, and innately knowing that the more I give the more I receive. It sounds crazy but it isn't because I gave you a glimpse into how I was raised.
I will always owe money to my family and friends and likewise they will always be indebted to me. It goes round and round and round.
Everywhere I have lived I have observed the relationship between peoples and their money. In Yemen, going from not having to having is huge. We are the biggest consumers of the latest fads. To appear poor is a sin, unlike the French who appear poor to prove their lack of corruption. The Kuwaitis equate money with their personality. The Americans are down to earth about money: they want it, get and spend it like there is no tomorrow. The French don't buy more than they need and save.
The thing that living in Paris has given me is the thought, that: “No one is privileged”, and it is a badge of honor not to spend.
Yemen gave me my sense of hospitality and being continually blessed.
The US taught me to work on something I enjoy whether I am overpaid underpaid or unpaid. To work is the essence of life.