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Do dreams really come true?

19 Jan
Cartoon by: Nabil Al-QanesStory by: Malak ShaherPublished:19-01-2012

In the time of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), the call for prayer was introduced after it appeared in two of his companions’ dreams. However, hundreds of years before that, Joseph interpreted dreams for the Pharaoh of Egypt and his people. The pharaoh dreamt that seven skinny cows ate seven fat cows. Joseph told him that Egypt would bear witness to seven good years, a time when people would grow vegetables and fruits. After these seven years, the next seven years would be hard, with people forced to eat what they had saved during the previous seven years. Ever since, dream interpretation has taken up a great portion of people’s time. Yemenis are no exception to this. They try to find meaning in their dreams, and attempt to use them to predict the future and even to dictate their actions.

Bakr Al-Junaid is a dream interpreter. A woman called on him to ask that he find meaning in her dreams. The dream the woman had became true two days later, when the mosque where the president and a number of ministers were praying was bombed.

“She said she saw that a number of moons and a planet were hovering in the air when a mosque minaret fell down on them,” said Al-Junaid.

As she went on to describe the details of her dream, she said she had seen an ambulance waiting outside the mosque.

Al-Junaid interpreted the dream and said that a mosque would be attacked and that the president and some ministers would be injured. But the presence of an ambulance meant they would survive.

According to Al-Junaid, who has been interpreting dreams for more than 15 years, the moon indicates a minister or somebody in a higher position, while the planet represents the president.

After this dream, Sabafon and MTN, two telecommunications companies in Yemen, started dream interpretation services. Al-Junaid became popular in his field, interpreting dreams for a fee when people dial 1902.

According to Al-Junaid, there are two types of dreams:  those that reveal one’s previous experiences, and dreams known in Arabic as Ro’a, or visions, which reveal events that may happen in the future.

According to Muslim dreams interpreters, one dream can be read in a number of different ways, depending on the person who actually had the dream. So two people might have had similar dreams but receive totally different interpretations.

One day in the Islamic era, two men went to a dream interpreter. Each said he had dreamt about the call for prayer. The imam told one of the men that he would go for pilgrimage and the other that he was a thief.

When his companions asked him why he gave two different interpretations for the same dream he said, “I read their faces. The first person had a face of a good man while the other was bad and I interpreted according to verses in the Quran.”

As the popularity of dream interpretation grew in the Arab world, a number of TV shows cropped up to capitalize on people’s interest in the subject. People watch the shows carefully so that they may apply the interpretations to their own dreams.

In March 2011, Ahmad dreamt that he was on his way to perform the Friday prayer, when Muslims gather to pray together at the mosques. He was surprised that he was the only one in the mosque. He saw an imam bathed in light, who told him:

“After 20, 20 will fall down, 20 will die and 20 will survive and you will be the only witness.” Ahmad asked the imam to make himself clear and he explained that 20 towers will fall, 20 important persons will die, 20 states will interfere for reconciliation, and that Ahmad would be the only witness. Ahmad saw the names of the 20 and said that among them were famous people.

“Please I really cannot stop thinking about it…I need that dream to be explained,” he told the interpreter.

A dream interpreter named Abu Hafs told him it meant that the year 2011 would witness drastic changes in the Arab world. He said that some of the changes would lead to chaos; that is, until states stepped in to solve the problems – as has since happened in Yemen. However, skeptics might say that by the time Ahmad’s dream was interpreted, the Arab Spring was already in full swing, with both Tunisia’s Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak forced out of office and with mass protests already taking place in Yemen.

According to the website, most people over the age of ten dream at least four to six times a night during a stage of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement – which is itself a distinguishing characteristic of this stage of sleep. During this stage, the brain becomes as active as is when a person  walks, though not all parts of the brain are active.

According to the same website, people actually forget 95-99 percent of their dreams.

Sigmund Freud, known as the father of psychoanalysis, claimed that unfulfilled urges and impulses – which, one way or another, must be released – surface in disguised forms as dreams.

Even though most dreams are simply reflections of experiences they’ve already had, many people nonetheless look for interpretations – perhaps even going so far as to make decisions based on such readings, leaving their waking relationships and actions affected.

Ahlam Mohammad, 16, said that she barely tells what her dreams are about as she “doesn’t care and doesn’t want to know about interpretations of them”.

“I dreamed that my younger brother was flying away and he was not looking nice. I felt scared and I simply could not talk to him for a week.”


Preachers to help remove stigma against HIV and AIDS

17 Feb
The AIDS international symbol statue in Sana’a (above) has been built to remind people that premarital sex is forbidden in Islam. However, AIDS and HIV are contracted by many other means other than sex. In both cases, society should not shun infected people, according to physicians and Muslim preachers.YT Photo by Malak ShaherMalak ShaherPublished:17-02-2011

For Ali Al-Mohamadi, a man in his mid-fifties, shaking hands with someone infected with HIV or AIDS is impossible. He believes that he may be infected if he does and eventually die with the stigma of having had sex with a prostitute.In a conservative country like Yemen, there is a stigma surrounding those with HIV or AIDS that they were infected by having sex with a prostitute. However, a large percentage of Yemen’s population does not know that there are other ways of being infected with the HIV virus.

In order to remove this stigma and spread awareness among the Yemeni people, the Progressio organization is conducting training for 50 preachers, both men and women. The preachers will spread awareness among people that HIV and AIDS are infections that should not be stigmatized and that those infected are normal people who have the right to live a decent and a good life.

The organization officially launched this project in Yemen on Feb. 13 in Sana’a, though they have been working towards this launch since April 2010. Progressio, which was formerly known as ICD, is a UK-based international non-governmental organization operating in 11 countries around the world.

“We will conduct a training course in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Population and the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance to remove the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS so that these people can live a normal life,” said Wondimo Guyassa, the organization’s HIV and AIDS coordinator in Sana’a.

In a video by Progressio, Sameer, a young man infected with HIV from the Hodeida governorate, said that he was losing hope in life as people around him refused to even talk to him.

“Life started to be darker when I was told I was infected with HIV. People here cannot live anymore with people like me, as they believe that they cannot live with HIV infected people as the disease may be contagious,” said Sameer in the video.

Much to his surprise, Sameer received a phone call from Progressio. Now Sameer is delivering lectures on how to conduct a normal life for newly HIV infected people. “Now, I can feel the beauty of life as I am part of the society,” he added.

The first HIV case in Yemen was diagnosed in 1987, according to Ministry of Health and Population reports. The number of HIV cases increased to 2,564 by the end of 2008. In the Hodeida governorate, where Sameer delivers his lectures, there are 169 cases of HIV. In Sana’a, there are 367 cases, 183 in Aden and 273 cases in Taiz.

According to Islamic preacher Sheikh Jabri Ibrahim, those infected with HIV and AIDS should be treated well by society, because if there is an ongoing stigma against them, they may hide their infection and this may be worse for society in terms of health.

“A few years ago I received a phone call from a woman who had been infected with HIV from her husband. He prevented her from going to hospital as the “secret” would be exposed and people would know that he is carrying the virus.”

Almost 80 percent of women get the virus from their husbands and a large number of those women are prevented from visiting a hospital because of the stigma of having HIV, according to Ibrahim, who also works in the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance.

Ibrahim said that even if a person has been infected with HIV via sexual intercourse, Islam urges people to forgive them and live with them.

In a country like Yemen, with an almost entirely Muslim population, preachers have a strong impact on people’s opinions, and they can play an important role in removing the stigma surrounding those infected with HIV and AIDS.

“HIV is not only a health problem in Yemen, it is also related to the society, as Yemenis reject infected people and ignore that these young people are still part of society and can be productive,” said Fawzya Gharama, UNAIDS representative in Yemen. “We should not neglect these people as the more people that hide their infection, the greater the increase of infected people in Yemen.”

The course is part of a project to reduce the number of HIV and AIDS infections, reduce cases of death from the infection, and remove the stigma of having the infection.

The project is funded by the European Union at a cost of EUR 405,500 (about YR 117 million) and will last until 2014. It will contribute to three non-government associations in Sana’a, Aden and Hodeida. The project directly targets 10,000 people and 50,000 indirectly.

Other than the preachers, the organization will also train hotel employees, fishermen, refugees, and employees in the health sector. It also targets young people from vulnerable demographics and most-at-risk population groups.

Driving cars helps children grow up

6 Jan

Malak ShaherPublished:06-01-2011

In front of the bus a fancy car weaved right and left across the street. The bus driver shouted as he tried to see the driver and throw him an insult or two. It was clear from the bus that the car was full of women in black. When the bus driver approached the car, he discovered that the driver was a young child.“Stick to one side of the road,” the bus driver shouted angrily.“The road is not yours,” the no-more than 12-year-old boy replied.Despite the fact that no one can obtain a driving license before the age of 18, it is common to find children driving cars. In most cases, they drive their family’s car with their father’s approval. Sometimes, a child can even drive the car with his father in the next seat.

In most cases, children driving cars are associated in Yemen with power and manhood.

“I will teach my son how to drive as he grows up. I will not wait for him to be 18 and get a driving license,” said Hisham Abdullah, 33. “I want him to be a man, even if he is still a child.”

In Yemen, driving a car is also associated with responsibility. Driving a car before the age of 18 means that one is old enough to hold responsibility.

“I am no less than any man and I can take the responsibility,” said a 15 year-old boy who drives a bus. He preferred not to mention his name.

However, the responsibility he feels is not enough to make some passengers travel on his bus.

“When I got onto the bus, I did not see the driver’s face. But once I realized he was a child, I got out of the bus,” said Fatima Mukhtar. “My life is not to be put into a child’s hands.”

The number of children driving cars is on the increase and it is now double what it was in 2008, according to Ministry of Interior records.

The administrative offices in the country registered more than 1,000 cases where children were driving cars, 521 of whom had accidents during 2008. According to the same records, 454 accidents were in Sana’a, 39 in Hodeida and 11 in Taiz.

Despite the increasing number of children who drive cars, Yahya Zaher, director of the Traffic Administration, said that all drivers should follow the law.

“According to the law, a fine of YR10,000 [about USD50] is imposed on a person driving a car under the age of 18,” said Zaher.

“No one is excluded. If I find a boy under 18, I give him a violation receipt. The law is the law and I do not compromise,” said a traffic police officer in Sana’a who preferred not to be named.

Nevertheless, Saleh Sa’eed, 45, a taxi driver, said that he has never seen or heard of traffic police giving child drivers violation receipts.

“A child nearly caused me an accident. If he’d been caught already and given a violation receipt, he would not have been there,” said Sa’eed. “Children driving cars are not given violation receipts, especially if they are in fancy cars.”

Most Yemenis, questioned by the Yemen Times, who allow their children to drive cars, gave similar explanations. They said that their children did not need to be old to drive and that driving cars helped them to become responsible. Others said that they had to drive, as they were responsible for their families.

Sa’eed explained that he started driving cars when he was 15 to help his family and after the death of his father, he took care of his mother and sister. He had to drive them home from their village and to other places they needed to go to.

What you didn’t know about Yemeni names

25 Nov
Cartoon be Nabel Al-QanesMalak ShaherPublished:25-11-2010
For a beautiful woman like Nae’m, the only thing that bothers her day and night is her name. In spite of the fact that it means ‘blessing’, the name is only given to boys not girls, especially in Yemen.“I am a girl, not a boy. I really hate my name and want to change it,” said 20 year-old Nae’m.

Sadly, there are many girls in a similar position to Nae’m who hate their names.

In most Yemeni families the father chooses the names of their children, not the mothers. However, women do have some chance to name their daughters. Heba Mohammad, 33, said that her husband gave her the chance to name their daughters but not their sons.

When it comes to naming a son Mohammad, parents usually don’t have any objection. Mohammad, the name of the Islamic prophet, is represented in almost every Muslim house. “My husband and I named one of our sons Mohammad because I love the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him,” said Heba Salem. “I would like my son to be as good as the prophet was.”

Yemenis have witnessed, and continue to witness, wars and tense situations. This has been reflected in the naming of children. During the revolution of 1962, the names Burkan (volcano), Thaer (revolutionary) and Sharar (spark), were common.

The names Maxim, Lenin and Alexander, all of Russian origin, were common names during the seventies and eighties when the Yemeni Socialist Party ruled the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, and had close connections with the Communist Party in the former Soviet Union.

“I have never liked my name,” said Maxim Sa’eed. “I live among people whose names are Mohammad, Ali or Ahmad, and that’s why I felt I had to change my name.” Maxim changed his name to Mohammad in 2007.

According to a study on names in the Yemeni community by Abdul Wahed Al-Zumor, the names of different weapons are commonly given to children, especially in areas that have experienced war or violent situations. In Sa’ada, where wars have raged and tribal revenge is common, names like Qunbula (grenade), Shafra (knife) and Bazooka are very common.

Most unpleasant names are given to babies because of the common belief that cute babies may be affected by the ‘evil eye’. This comes from the superstition that a curse, directed for reasons of envy, can be bestowed upon a child by a malicious look. It is believed that the ‘evil eye’ can cause bad luck, injury or even death. A bad name reflects the parents’ belief in, and their intention to prevent, the ‘evil eye’.

Some families believe unpleasant names will safeguard their young babies. Deaths shortly after birth are not uncommon. As a result, parents give their prospective babies unpleasant names believing it will protect them.

“I lost three babies when they were only six or seven months old. I gave them good names but they died,” said a middle-aged woman from Sana’a. “My last baby’s name is Sho’a (ugly), and she is now seven years old.”

The study listed names such as Kurheya and Makrooha (hated by people), and Kheibah (ugly) as names to prevent death and enhance survival. In Yemen, people also believe that if a baby keeps crying, his or her name should be changed, because it means the baby does not like its name.

“My grandmother told me that I kept crying for three months after my birth. My name was Fatima and my grandmother told my parents to change my name as she believed I did not like the name,” said Yasmeen Hossain. “They changed my name to Yasmeen and I stopped crying,” she added smilingly.

The agricultural environment also affects people’s choice of baby names, especially for girls. Names such as: Nabata (a very small plant), Qirfa (cinnamon), Hila (cardamom), Lawzah (almond), Sailah, (canal), Zaitoonah, (olive), Inabah, (grape) and Firkisah (peach), are popular.

In many parts of Yemen, but especially common in Taiz and Sa’ada, people name their children after continents, countries and famous cities. You may encounter names like Italia (Italy), Efriqia (Africa), Asia, Amrika (America) and Espania (Spain).

The majority of people in Yemen name their first child after their father or mother. In most cases, fathers are the ones who have the right to name their children unless the parents have agreed otherwise.

“I named my first son after my father, Ali, and my father named me after his father, Ahmad,” said Ahmad Ali.

It has become traditional in families that the first son names his first baby after his father. In this case, you may encounter a person whose name is Ali Ahmad Ali Ahmad, and the chain continues

Pick rubbish up? But what are the street cleaners for?

27 Sep
In Sana’a, polystyrene sheets carelessly disgarded by construction workers fly up into the air (left), before finally settling in a main street (right). (photo by Malak Shaher)

Malak Shaher

Yemen Times


Carrying large slabs of marble on their shoulders, the workers on a building site off Hadda street in Sana’a just wanted to finish their day’s labor. But they were creating an immense task for the street cleaners who would have to clear up after them.

Before taking the marble inside, they tore off the covers and threw them into the street.

Soon pieces of polystyrene were flapping in the wind. The whole place was a mess.

“What are the street cleaners for then?” asked one of five construction workers unwrapping the marble. “It is their duty to clean whatever is in the street – otherwise they do not need a monthly salary.”

“We are going to make quilts out of them,” another joked, as he pointed to the piles of polystyrene and cardboard that littered the ground.

The workers seemed convinced that they were doing no wrong but stopped talking when a sudden gust of wind carried the rubbish up into the air.

This scene is not unfamiliar for street sweeper Othman Ali, 35. It is part of his everyday routine. Othman wakes up early in the morning to clean the street before people can see it filthy.

“What should I do?” he asked. “People do not feel for us. To live, I must keep cleaning for the eight hours assigned to me.”

Othman, who works seven days a week, complained that while he sweeps people sometimes throw things in front of him.

Such behavior fills him with frustration and depression, especially when people know that he has to clean up after them.

To support his wife and three children, he receives a maximum monthly salary of YR 20,000 – less than USD 100 – at the end of the month. If he misses a single day it’s automatically deducted from his salary.

Othman is one of more than 4,000 street cleaners in the capital Sana’a.

There are three shifts in general. The first is from 7 am till 11 am, the second from 2 pm to 6 pm and the third from 7 pm to 11 pm.

Each street cleaner works for two shifts according to what is specified by the cleaning administration at the municipality.

The street cleaners of Sana’a work day and night to make the street tidy. But the streets often lie dirty as many people do not cooperate, throwing things in the street moments after the street cleaners have left the place clean.

In addition to street cleaners, the cleaning administration also has vehicles to collect the garbage from houses and shops.

“One day we were collecting the garbage from people’s houses when a woman threw a full bag of rubbish from the third floor. It scattered everywhere and I had to collect it all up,” said Abdulrahman Sadeq, 20.

Sometimes, he said, our car has to return to the same place three times as people forget to put their rubbish out.

According to the law, a fine of YR 1,000 to 10,000 is imposed on anyone who throws their garbage out after the rubbish vehicle passes.

“Everybody should have a sense of cleanliness. It is everybody’s responsibility,” said Ali Al-Sanhani from the cleaning administration.

There are 17 districts in Sana’a. Each has two supervisors reporting on the area’s cleanliness and checking whether the cleaners are working or not, according to Abdulhakim Saber, general secretary of the cleaning administration.

Saber added that Sana’a’s expanding population has added more to their responsibility as they now have to provide the new areas with street cleaners.

“Therefore, we have an emergency unit. It consists of 124 streets sweepers who are taken to the areas most needed to be cleaned,” Mohammad Al-Raidi, the head of the unit said.

Every day, 1,350 tons of garbage is collected from Sana’a’s streets.

In the seasons of Eid and Ramadan, some 4,000 to 6,000 tons are collected per day, according to Abdulla Naser Al-Zoba, the director of the administration.

6,829 tons of garbage was collected on the first day of Eid, two weeks ago, he added.

Bringing a Zabid guesthouse back to life

16 Aug

Malak Shaher

Yemen Times


For a poor construction worker, the restoration of the 14 large rooms, two kitchens and two bathrooms of a two-storey building might have been no more than a way of earning a living. But he and his colleagues were in fact working on the conservation of one of the landmark buildings in the historical town of Zabid, western Yemen.

Around 90 years ago, Salem Shami, a famous Yemeni mason, constructed the building these poor construction workers were restoring.

He built Dar Al-Diyafa, literally “the guest house,” for Arabs and foreigners who visit the city of Zabid, famous for having over 200 mosques and madrasas, schools for those who seek Islamic knowledge.

Zabid is one of the oldest urban settlements in Yemen, in the western lowlands of the Hodeida governorate, about ten miles from the Red Sea.

Zabid was the capital of Yemen from the 13th to the 15th century, and was a city of great importance in the Arab and Muslim world for many centuries because of its Islamic university.

Today the city is in decline and in a very poor state of conservation. Around 40 percent of the city’s houses have been replaced by concrete buildings, and other houses and the ancient souq are in a deteriorating state.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2000 added Zabid to its List of World Heritage Danger to facilitate its preservation. At the time, Zabid beat the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary in Senegal and the Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore, Pakistan, to the top of the list as the site most urgently needing conservation.

To preserve the unique architectural style of Dar Al-Diyafa, the US Embassy in Yemen in cooperation with the Social Fund for Development this July completed the restoration of Dar Al-Diyafa.

After the restoration, a collection of historic manuscripts from the town’s Al-Asha’er mosque were displayed in the house, and the house was to be open to the public soon after its restoration was completed.

In July 2010, the US Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation granted USD 111,000 to restore the house. The funding is part of the wider United States Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation which, in 2006, donated USD 2.8 million to fund 87 projects in 76 countries around the world.

The restoration of Dar Al-Diyafa also included the provision of equipment for continuing reservation work and onsite conservation training for local experts.

This year, the Netherlands Funds-in-Trust (NFIT) has also supported the training of Yemeni experts in conservation techniques for all of Yemen’s historical cities. The trust signed an agreement with the Government of the Netherlands and UNESCO to support the World Heritage Centre to help the General Organization for the Preservation of Historic Cities of Yemen (GOPHCY).

This July, the latter started a training program to convey knowledge, values, skills, and experiences of architectural and urban conservation and management to Yemenis. Through coursework and field exercises, the training aimed to strengthen heritage conservation in Yemen.

The participants learned about the proper methodology to develop conservation plans for historic buildings and settlements

Do not look at a beautiful girl in the morning

27 Jul

“If you see a beautiful girl in the morning before any other thing, you will have bad luck. In Taiz, we believe that seeing an ape is better than seeing a beautiful lady,” Mahmoud Ali, 38, told the Yemen Times.

Malak Shaher



In Yemen, people believe in things that cannot be explained by common sense or by science. Seeing a black cat or a black dog means the same for people all over Yemen, including Taiz. They believe that their day will not pass smoothly.

Almost all Yemenis, especially the old ones, associate bad luck with magic. If a girl is divorced many times, her mother interprets this by saying that her daughter has been affected by magic or by the evil eye.

“This is the third time that my daughter has divorced. She is beautiful and should not be divorced at her young age. Someone must have put a evil eye on her or maybe she is under a spell,” said Fatima Ali.

Almost all those who believe in superstitions are older people. The daughter, who has been divorced three times, does not believe in this and said that it was her destiny to divorce three times.

“We just did not get along with each other and that is the story. The evil eye or magic has nothing to do with me getting divorced three times,” Ruba said.

As Yemenis believe in the evil eye, they try their best to discover if they are affected by someone of not.

In Sana’a, in the north of Yemen, people hold red and white material over the head of someone suspected of having been affected by the evil eye and read verses from the Quran. They then burn the material on top of incense. He or she stays in the room where they walk around and spread the incense fumes. If the incense makes a low popping sound, it means that the person is truly affected by the evil eye.

Nevertheless, superstitions in Yemen are not just associated with bad luck.

Um Hani said that she can tell if someone is to visit her or not. Sometimes, a black flying insect called a ‘hanthor’ in Yemeni Arabic, comes from the window and flies inside the house telling her that someone will visit her. She said she feels happy if she sees the insect.

“If the house is untidy, I get up and clean it just in case somebody appears suddenly,” she explained. “The flying black insect is not the only one who makes me guess if someone is to visit me or not. Sometimes my left foot itches and that means that someone is to show up for sure.”

“Every time it appears, in minutes or no more than a few hours, somebody shows up,” explained Um Ali.

The position of shoes when people take them off says if someone will travel or not.

“If one shoe got above the other while taking them off, it means you will travel,” said Marwan Saleh.

In Yemen, not only can insects or the position of inanimate things predict the future, but people also believe in their bodily instincts too. They also believe that they can tell if things are happening behind their back.

It is common for example in Dhamar, in the north of Yemen, that if someone bites his tongue by accident, it means somebody is talking behind his back maliciously.

Hands can foresee the future too. But the two hands do not indicate the same thing. When the right hand itches, they expect to spend money. However, when the left hand itches they expect to receive money.

Eyes are predictive too. If the upper eyelid of a Yemeni person flickers, it says that he is to see somebody dear to his heart. However, flickering in the lower eyelid indicates that he will cry.

If an eyelash falls on someone’s cheek, they ask you to make a wish and ask you to guess where the eyelash is. If you can tell, your wish may come true.

For You

In order not to be accused of affecting someone with the evil eye, one should say Mashalla for something he or she likes. Mashalla means that whatever this person likes is what God wants