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Yemen’s winning World Press Photo

18 Feb
Samuel Aranda’s winning photo beat off competition from more than 100,000 other entries.
Samuel Aranda’s winning photo beat off competition from more than 100,000 other entries.

Fatima Al-Qaws, is the veiled woman cradling her wounded son after an anti-government demonstration in October. She is also one of the subjects in Samuel Aranda’s winning World Press photo.

Al-Qaws, who is from Ba’dan district in Ibb governorate but lives in Sana’a, explained that she only found out about the photo after her niece phoned from the UAE – though she still did not realize the significance of the picture.

“I thought that the photo people were talking about was actually my appearance in an interview on Suhail TV and Al-Jazeera some months ago, so I did not pay much attention to it,” she said, but her niece insisted it was her and her son.

Al-Qaws explained that she first saw the photo on her son’s mobile phone and recalled the day of October 15 on Al-Zubairy Street – a conflict line between anti-regime protesters and security forces at the time.

“It was after an attack against demonstrators on Al-Zubairy Street,” she said. “I went to the field hospital and did not see my son among the dead or wounded protesters. I checked the place again and saw my son lying on the ground suffocated with tear gas,” she explained. “So I embraced him and [Aranda] must have taken the photo at that moment.”

Her son, Zayed Al-Qawas, 18, said he thought it was a joke until more people called to tell him about Aranda’s picture.

“I did not expect this photo to win among thousands of pictures and it is a real support to the revolution,” he said. “It demonstrates that Yemenis are not extremists.”

Helping Yemen

The Spanish photographer’s photo, which was taken while on assignment for the New York Times, beat off competition from more than 100,000 entries to win one of the most prestigious photography awards on Friday.

The New York Times’ Lens Blog wrote that after hearing the news, Aranda called his mother in Spain, who cried for 45 minutes. He said that “while conversations might revolve around composition and form”, he hopes it will help the people of Yemen. He also commented on the help he received from Yemeni photographers – specifically mentioning Mohamed Al-Sayaghi of Reuters.

Aranda, who now lives in Tunisia, covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. In December, he presented a selection of Arab Spring photos at the Spanish Embassy in Sana’a, alongside freelance photographer Lindsay Mackenzie.

‘An intimate moment’

Koyo Kouoh, one of the jury members on the World Press photo board, said: “It is a photo that speaks for the entire region. It stands for Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria, for all that happened in the Arab Spring.

“But it shows a private, intimate side of what went on. And it shows the role that women played, not only as care-givers, but as active people in the movement.”

Nina Berman, another World Press judge, added, “In the Western media, we seldom see veiled women in this way, at such an intimate moment. It is as if all of the events of the Arab Spring resulted in this single moment – in moments like this.”

Yemeni photographers are also proud of Aranda’s achievement. “We feel proud of this photo because it is very important for the world to have a new impression of Yemen,” Nadia Abdulla, a freelance Yemeni photographer, said.

“The foreign media has been presenting Yemenis as terrorists but this is the first time Yemen’s beautiful and expressive side has been shown,” she added.

Setting the standard

The 2011 World Press Photo award is the 55th annual contest in what is universally recognized as the world’s leading photojournalism prize, setting the standard for the profession.

The contest draws entries by professional press photographers, photojournalists and documentary photographers from across the world, with 5,247 photographers from 124 countries participating this year and 101,254 pictures judged.

The jury awarded prizes to 57 photographers in nine themed categories, with the Arab Spring and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami both making a big impact.

All entries are presented and judged anonymously by 19 internationally recognized professionals over two weeks before the winners are announced.

Aranda will officially receive his World Press award in Amsterdam on Saturday, April. 21, 2012. The award also carries a cash prize of €10,000 and a Canon EOS Digital SLR Camera and lens kit.

An exhibition of the award-winning images will be open to the public at the Oude Kerk, Oudekerksplein, in Amsterdam on Friday, April 20, until June 17.

A worldwide tour of the exhibition will also be launched, covering a record 105 venues in 45 countries. Combined with a yearbook, distributed internationally in seven languages, the winning images will reach a worldwide audience of millions in the course of the year


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.”

Stone Age tombs discovered in Yemen

14 Jan


Experts say more than 200 tombs were found in Mahweet.

Malak ShaherPublished:12-01-2012

MAHWEET, Jan. 11 – At least 200 Paleolithic tombs were announced to have been discovered in Mahweet in 1996, according to the governorate’s deputy governor Hamoud Shamlan.

Shamlan, who was the head of the Tourism Office at the time of the discovery, said that authorities wanted to keep the tombs, which contain mummies and other relics, “a secret until they got technical support to protect them”.

“We located the cemetery but did not announce the news as we were afraid that the mummies would be stolen,” said Shamlan.

He explained that retired members of the army and tribesmen were guarding the cemetery, which is surrounded by barbed wires.

“We decided to reveal the discovery as we need support now. The situation in Yemen is not secure and we do not want anything to be stolen,” explained Shamlan.

He added that the road to the cemeteries is not a paved and that’s why technical and financial support is needed in this critical time.

According to the state-run Saba News agency, the tombs date back to the prehistoric Stone Age, a period known as the Paleolithic era, which is thought to have begun over two million years ago and ended around 8,000 BC.

Mohammad Ahmad Qasem, Director of the Archeology Department at Mahweet, the cemetery was created from rectangular slots in high mountains.

The openings of the tombs are narrow but widen as you go inside, he explained. Some are just one room and others are two, depending on the number of bodies they hold. Some graves contained groups and others individuals or families.

Niches in the walls of the tombs contain pottery, funerary tools and weapons for the dead. Their placing inside the tombs allowed them to remain well preserved for such a long time.

According to Qasem, the burial grounds were found in the districts of Mahweet like Shibam Kawkaban, Al-Rojom, Melhan, Hufash, Bani Sa’d and Al-Tawila

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.

Yemeni men ashamed to reveal women’s names

28 Jun
Malak Shaher
Yemen Times


Jameel, 17, became very angry when a friend of his asked him a simple question: “What is your mother’s name?”

His friend, Haitham, who lives in the UK, did not know that in Yemen it is considered very rude for a man to ask the name of a Yemeni man’s female siblings, spouse or even parent.

However, feeling ashamed of women’s names is not only a problem for Jameel or for a few people like him. It is an issue for the entire country of Yemen. Like Jameel, there are millions of men who feel ashamed or shy to reveal their wives, sisters, daughters or even their mothers’ names.

This reaction is not restricted to less educated men. Even the majority of educated react angrily when asked about women’s names within their families.

Even when a woman asks a man about the name of a female relative, he does not readily answer.

When Basim, a young man with a bachelor’s degree in IT, was asked his wife’s name by a woman, he blushed and became nervous while trying to avoid answering the question.

This common issue is not only prevalent among adults. Astonishingly, it is present even among little children. Just try to ask a boy of 9 or 10 about his mother’s name, and watch what he does.

Khaled Qaed, 31, who now has no objection to revealing his mother’s name, could not find an explanation for why he felt shy when he was asked about it at the age of 10.

“I still remember once when a man asked me about my mother’s name. I grabbed a stone from the ground and threw it toward him while saying insulting words to him,” he said.

So why the fuss? Revealing women’s names in Yemen is considered very rude for many reasons.

“First, why do I have to tell my friends my sister’s name? They don’t tell me their sisters’ names, and they had better keep their mouths shut about my sister,” said Mohammad Ali, 16.

Feeling ashamed of women’s names not only makes men blush or consider starting a fight when asked about female members of their families: the issue even extends to the use of mobile phones.

Men fear writing their wives’ names on their cell phones. Instead, they use fake names like: “the house,” “the family,” or even “the Ministry of the Interior.” They do this so that others will not bother their wives if they lose their cell phones.

Women in Yemen are used to this situation, but there are some who feel annoyed by their brothers when they hide their names.

“Where do we live?” asked Heba, 22, when her brother told her that he would not reveal her name to one of his friends if he asked. “Saying my name will not describe me, what I wear, or even what I look like. This is my identity. Why do men in Yemen feel ashamed about revealing my identity? Why do they feel ashamed or prefer not to say, ‘My sister’s name is Heba’? This is my name and this is my identity, and I should not compromise them.”

But there are even worse scenarios, regarding more than just the names of women. Many men feel ashamed if they are seen by their friends walking with their sisters or mothers in the street.

Alya, 17, who unlike most Yemeni women, does not cover her face, told the Yemen Times that she was walking in a busy shopping street in Sana’a with her brother Ibrahim, 16, when he bumped into some of his friends.

“He wished the earth would open up and swallow him before his friends saw him with me. It was funny,” Alya said.

Nevertheless, there is a minority who object to these traditions.

“When some of my friends try to tease me and ask me about my mother’s name, I turn it on them and tease them instead,” said Anas Shahari, 23. “My mother is a crown on my head, I am proud of her, and I do not feel shy to say that she is my mother. Her name is always on my tongue, while your mother is hidden.”

According to Shahari, some Yemeni men sometimes become so angry when they are teased that they are driven to kill. He said that he was told by a friend that, in Shabwa governorate, a man was once stabbed in the belly by another just because he teased him, telling him that he knew his mother’s name.

Arwa Abdul Othman, a Yemeni writer from Taiz, expressed her anger over certain uses of women’s names.

“People in Yemen were raised to not reveal women’s names for certain reasons, some of which are to prohibit people from talking about them maliciously,” she said.

She added that sometimes, people may become enraged and kill a person who tries to tease them by mentioning a female relative’s name. It has happened. A man was killed in the qat market when he tried to tease another man by saying “You, son of [the name of his mother].”

Sheikh Jabri Hasan said that Yemenis live in a country which is sometimes ruled by its traditions. In Yemen, it is not good to say women’s names, he explained. Therefore, when people try to get others angry by saying their mothers’ or wives’ names, it is better not to respond. In order to avoid degrading women’s status, sometimes it is preferred not to mention their names in front of people who want to know the name in order to use it for their own purposes, such as teasing Yemeni people, who were brought up not to mention women’s names.

However, this does not mean that it is prohibited or forbidden to say women’s names in Islam. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) mentioned the names of his wives, including Khadija, Aisha, and Safia, as well as his daughter Fatima, without shame.