A new city built in the street

24 Sep
Malak Shaher, Yemen Times

Sana'a University before the demonstrations

Walking in Change Square or “Sahat Al-Tagheer” in Arabic, the tents suggest dwellers plan to reside there for unknown time.  Protesting in Change Square and living under tents made of fabric are now old fashion. So the new comers from Sana’a and other cities, who want to join the protesters, prefer to “build rooms” that are somewhat similar to the older tents. Old tents are thus supported by cement bricks and wood in order to make them stronger in the face of blowing winds.
The bricks too serve a purpose: to prevent the rain from ruining the inside of these makeshift homes.As each day passes, a new a room is prepared or an old tent is supported with bricks.  Whenever people in Yemen talk about the square, they say the protesters are in however the reality is somewhat different. They now live in actual rooms. This trend of building sturdier tents started three months ago as the rainy season approached. The rains start in June in Yemen.

The tents or the rooms are furnished enough for the protesters to live inside them. Some of the rooms are occupied by seven or eight people whereas the maximum seen is twenty, depending on the size of the dwelling.

The dwellers of the tents have been calling for the president to step down since last February. As time passes, people from other cities have been encouraged to make their voices heard and have arrived to Change Square. The square is located in front of Sana’a University. There are those who not to only call the president to step down but are present for they have cases against the state that need to be addressed and solved, according to Mohammad Al-Shara’bi. Al-shara’bi is a protester who has been living in the square since February. He is also an activist and a freelance journalist.

“Some of the demonstraters in the Change Square have cases that have not been dealt with, cases with the state and they maintain they will not leave before a closure to their issues occurs. Not even if the president steps down,” said Al-Shara’bi.

Al-Shara’bi used to live in a tent before June. However, after his tent could not withstand the effects of wind and rain, he and the others in the same tent surrounded their tent with blocks and wood. This cost them 10,000 YR (nearly USD 50).  His tent is cheap compared to the new trendier ones seen in Change Square.

 “The small fabric tents did not stand a chance against the rain and the wind and we had to find way,” said Al-Shara’bi.

Hisham Ahmad, 21, a freelance journalist from the city of Ibb came last month to join the demonstraters. He established his own tent, as he calls it, with the help of seven others. Their tent is in Al-Adel Street and it cost 50,000 YR or USD 250. The average salary in Yemen is USD 200.

This is no average tent. Inside one finds a desktop where he writes news. Ahmad said that he will not leave his room on the street even if the president steps because he and “the demonstrators have other demands like establishing a civil state”.

The square resembles an independent city in which some protesters have never left their spot for months. More than 45,000 meals are distributed every day, according to Al-Shara’bi.

 “These meals are provided by the organizing committee of the protests. It is funded by traders and Sheiks [tribal leaders] who have joined the protesters,” he said.

“I have been there since last February and I do not want to leave the place,” he said.

There are hundreds of people do not live in actual houses and three public toilets have been built for the protesters. They also use bathrooms in the nearby mosques, according to Al-Shara’bi.

With new rooms built in the middle of the streets problems have risen for nearby residents. “I have to walk through the narrow streets and pass by tents until I reach the nearest bus,” said Mohammad Ali who lives near Change Square in Al-Dairy street.

“No more buses or cars can cross that street as it becomes a resident area for the protesters. If I have heavy stuff, I can no longer depend on a taxi. I just carry it myself with the help of my brother.”

The demonstrators, who have been trying to overthrow the regime for seven months, have become a “thorn in the neck” especially for the female students, according Hanan Sa’eed.

“My mother prevented me from going to University because the bus routes have changed. I now have to walk among the tents until I reach the university”.

Nafe’ Al-Musa’di , a male student from the Faculty of Languages, commented on the situation saying he and the other students “would better not go to the University until the current situation in Yemen is settled”.


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