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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 dreamresearch.net, 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.”

Fireworks in Yemen: a day-to-day routine

19 Jan

Malak Shaher
Yemen Times

Published:12-01-2012
Yemen has been witnessing a lot of changes and 2011 was an unforgettable year for many. During the Yemeni youth revolution, gunfire and blasts were heard on an almost daily basis as clashes erupted between pro-government and pro-revolution forces – and sometimes also in celebration.

But since July 2011, it hasn’t just been gunfire and shelling that has echoed across the city; fireworks can be seen and heard almost every night.

It was ten at night on July 7 when all of a sudden, Nadia Ahmad, 23, of Sana’a heard huge blasts and gunfire. Her father called her and the rest of the family to hide under a big table in the living room of their house so that no one got hurt.

“I thought it was the war,” she said. “We did not know what was going on until my cousin called us saying that we should not be scared because the blasts were actually fireworks.”

For her, that day marked the beginning of fireworks becoming a “day-to-day” routine. In her neighborhood, people are allying Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was in power for 33 years before signing a deal to step down in November.

“It turned out that they were happy when they found out that he survived the attack against the Al-Nahdain mosque where he was praying, and were celebrating,” she said.

Ahmad said that men in her neighborhood light fireworks simply when they “feel bored”.

However, fireworks began to spread across the city a month before exploding over Nadia Ahmad’s home. On June 4, when President Saleh left for Saudi Arabia for treatment after being injured in the mosque attack, fireworks were set off in Change Square.

A month and three days later, army forces and government supporters shot bullets into the air and set off fireworks in almost all Yemeni provinces on hearing the news that the President would survive, according to state television.

“Fireworks cover the skies of the capital Sana’a and other Yemeni governorates to celebrate the successful surgery of President Saleh,” Yemen official television channel reported, according to Xinhua news agency.

Before the crisis, the Ministry of Interior was the authority buying fireworks to set them off on national days. However, during the uprising, “things fell out of the hands of the state and people were not held accountable if they bought fireworks or even firing bullets into the open air,” according to Riyadh Al-Zubair, a secretary in the minister’s office.

Al-Zubair added that the ministry used to give permission, with limitations, for those who wanted to buy fireworks.

“The problem in Yemen now is gunfire, which is more dangerous. If some set fireworks off, others shoot at weddings or whenever they just feel happy.”

Children are terrified

Mahmoud Mohammad, a husband and a father of four, says the sound of fireworks terrifies his children and that they shout “war, war!” when they hear them. Sometimes, they awake late at night when they hear blasts. He added that the setting off of fireworks is not a new problem, but through 2011, it became a much bigger issue.

In Mohammad’s village in Taiz, women sometimes burn the remains of papers to light a fire in the stove. He said that one day a woman found a cardboard box and assuming it was empty, used it as fuel. “It was for fireworks and there were some material remaining. She put it and left it, causing a big blast,” he said. “But luckily, she was away when the stove exploded.”

According to a worker at one of the certified shops selling fireworks, who preferred not to be named, they only sell fireworks to those who show them invitations for weddings.

“We only sell to those who live outside the city of Sana’a. But there are other uncertified places who smuggle fireworks and sell them to people for less money,” he said.

A box of fireworks is sold at their shop for YR 2,500 or USD 12 while it costs half that at a shop not certified by the Ministry of Interior.

“People are using the insecurity in the country to do whatever they want. They set off fireworks and even sometimes start fires,” said Mohammad Al-Qaedi from the Ministry of Interior.