Posted on September 30, 2011 - by Mira
Older Yemenis remember their last revolution of 49 years ago, commemorated in Yemen this week, which toppled the Zaidi Imamate and established a modern republic.
On a trip several years ago in Bani Matar, just outside of Sanaa, I unexpectedly met one of that revolution’s soldiers.
The landscape was wide open, with the blue sky and distant mountains embracing each other. A group of women in their colorful traditional garb conferred together in the shade of a tree, their water containers waiting nearby. They must have just returned from their daily water fetching trips.
When the women saw me, they wouldn’t allow me to photograph them. Instead, one of them invited me to her house, and I soon found myself sitting on a cushion on the floor of her diwan, surrounded by many children who gazed at me as if I were a celebrity or an alien. I was offered very sweet tea and, soon after, a huge bowl of milk “fresh from the cow outside,” my host explained, but I was the only one drinking as several pairs of eyes watched me.
Eyeing it painfully, I indulged her and took the bowl in both my hands. I took a sip. It turned out, heavy fresh milk was no easier to swallow than the bottled kind. I put the bowl back on the carpet and smiled, but inside my body cringed.
“In Yemen we have a lot of children,” she laughed, “until our bodies are worn out.” But the children weren’t all hers, she said. They were her sons’, and she gestured towards photos of soldiers on the walls and told me about each one. They, their wives and children all lived with her and her husband in the house. Extended members of the family live together in Yemen’s rural areas, and all the women share in the daily chores.
“Drink,” she then ordered me. So as not to offend her, I brought the bowl to my lips and took a tiny sip and hoped she’d soon forget about it.
Her husband came into the room. They introduced me to him as the Lebanese teacher from Sanaa. He pointed to a fading, black-and-white photo leaning in its frame against the qamariya above the window. It showed him in his youth with a group of young men holding weapons. He had fought with the republican revolutionaries against the Zaidi Imam, against backwardness and repression, he proudly said of the revolution of 1962.
“Drink,” his wife ordered me again and handed me the bowl.
An eight-year civil war had ensued between the republicans and the royalists in the wake of that revolution. As I now remember that family, I wonder, which side have the woman’s children and grandchildren taken in the current uprising? And how will Yemenis look back at photos of their young selves in their current revolution – with pride or with bitterness and grief? Is another civil war really inevitable – until another strongman grows up and takes over the reins of power?
Read more posts in the series: Yemen Journey: A personal narrative of my life in Yemen.
Stay tuned for the rest of the story. This is a series on my life in Yemen, to be updated on Friday (unless I’m on the road and internet-less). Send me your questions or share your thoughts in the comments; I’d love to read them.
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