One of my earliest memories as a very small person was of running away from home, and it was something I did routinely. If I didn’t get what I wanted, I marched. I just picked a focal point and walked. Somewhere out there.. One of these marches I remember very well. I had been promised to be taken out in the car for the afternoon and for some reason it wasn’t going to happen. It was raining and I got stung by a bee. So I took off on a protest march. Hours later, a Jeep pulled up right next to me and I was painfully lifted off my feet by my hair: My very angry and distraught father. After a couple of cuffs behind the ear I was returned home to more cuffs by a hysterical mother. The adult talk around me and at me seemed peppered with the word Saudi. At that age and in our neighbourhood, The Saudi, was the bogeyman. It was the word used to instil the fear of God in any little hell-raiser and keep them within orbit. This was not just a fairytale to keep children well behaved, as wiki-leaks have shown in their latest revelations, this was a perverse reality as old as the nation of Saudi Arabia itself, if not longer…
Why I am writing this entry is because of a conversation I followed in the timeline a few days ago which I captured as an image and you can find it as one of the images on my twitter profile. It is of a Saudi who, every inch the gentleman, was letting us know just how much of a bargain Yemeni whores are. Why is time wasted on such a person? Because it matters. Not just because he is a piece of shit, that’s a given, but because he embodied in those few lines the essence of a certain Saudi view of Yemen. So instead of doing the whole I’m-bigger-than-this-so-I’ll-ignore-it routine, I want to argue that this goes to the heart of the matter why Saleh must go and that Saudi role in the Middle East has to be highlighted and discussed. I’ll start by telling a true story:
Samar was a neighbour and a childhood acquaintance. She used to babysit me when my parents went off to work. I remember she told me stories, played with me and yanked my hair a lot. the next time I saw Samar was under totally different circumstances.A little background: Samar dropped out of school because her parents divorced and she couldn’t fit in with her father’s new life. Her mother’s new life wasn’t accommodating either. She was sent off to her grandmother’s, our neighbour, along with her sisters. Without an education, she also was from a financially deprived background. It’s hard to remember what she was like as a person, but I do remember that her parents divorce broke something in her. When we moved neighbourhoods my mother maintained contact. I rarely saw her again. By the time I moved to England, I had all but forgotten my baby-sitter.
On my last visit to Yemen, an aunt asked me if I remember Samar. I had to be reminded. “She is not well and she wants to see you.” Me? Why me? I was told that she often remembers us and wanted to see me while I was in Yemen. It is also a wajib (duty) to visit the unwell in Islam. My mother told me that it was breast cancer in its terminal stages, and that if I didn’t want to go, I shouldn’t. In fact, my mother had been unable to continue the visits.She couldn’t handle it. Sometimes being too empathetic requires a little self preservation. I’ll be honest and say I went because I was asked to. I made a note of a few things to say and went with my aunt.
Going back to my childhood neighbourhood where Samar still resided, showed me how education back then managed to pull my parents out of poverty to a very decent standard of living. Samar was still there. What was different now was more ramshackled buildings, more people, more poverty. Whatever words I had ready, I lost the moment I stepped into the living room. She was laid out on a mattress, surrounded by women hastily arranging their hijab. It just occurred to me that this wasnt just a person, this was my babysitter. The moment I saw her face, I remembered who she was to me. She fed me, combed my hair, and put up with my mischief as a little kid. She was also not more than 7 years older than me.
Over the course of this single visit, I got reacquainted with my baby-sitter and understood why my mother found it too hard to visit. I wish I never went. It was not all doom and gloom, I was surprised at the swift alternation from laughter to silence and tears. At some point all her guests left. My uncle, aunt, and I stayed behind. She wanted to talk. Her seven children present. The eldest was a beautiful girl of 16 far far older than her years, the youngest a beautiful girl of 1 and a half years. Samar and her sisters were married off at very early ages for one simple reason: a roof on their heads and a morsel of food in their mouths, its that simple. Its about survival. sometimes it works. sometimes it doesn’t. In Samar’s case, it didn’t. Samar’s husband was violent. He beat her black and blue. She said she sometimes walked the streets for hours for a little bit of peace from the beatings. Not only was he violent, he was also a substance abuser. The only reason Samar went back to her Grandmother’s house was she because she couldnt take the beatings and his ability to provide grew less and less.
Samar discovered her lump at an early stage and managed to get herself a sponsor for a scan which proved that she had breast cancer. She had every chance of beating this if it was treated earlier. There was talk of sending her to Egypt for the necessary treatments, but with estranged parents,a useless husband, and the wasta culture, she slipped through the net and the cancer spread everywhere. The rest of my holiday was spent on many visits to Sahar. Sometimes we carried her into the car for a drive. Sometimes to a cafe. Once we took her to the hospital when her pain was so intense, the ill-equipped hospital could only provide her with an oxygen mask. We bought her morphine, but they couldn’t even find a decent enough vein in her body to inject her some relief. In despair, the crying nurse turned to us and said: What can I do for her ya nas. It goes without saying this is not one of the private hospitals mushrooming all over Sanaa. This is outside of Sanaa, and there is a big difference between Sana’a and the rest of Yemen. Samar felt every shot of pain without so much as a paracetamol. A pain she described as shards of glass cutting her insides.
As she slipped in and out of conciousness she was moved to my Aunt’s house. It was more comfortable. We took some of the younger children with us. Her thoughts were with her children. Who will take care of them. Who will feed them. It was inevitable that they will be taken in by relatives but they would have to be broken up. none of them could take all seven. At that point I made a mistake, that I can not forget. We were talking about her kids, and I said to her, that I’ll take the little one in my suitcase and sneak her off to London because I was in love with her. She looked at me and said:” Can you do that? can you take Tahani with you?” I said yes. I don’t know why I said it. I even went further and said I’ll adopt her. I guess I just wanted to make her feel a little happy. a little less in despair. With every convulsion of pain, the women asked her to remember God. After a life of misery and pain, her reply was:” they say paradise is under the feet of mothers. Lets see if I will find paradise, or just earth and rocks.” I will never forget the pain with which she said that. She died 2 months after I returned to the UK.
But what is the Saudi connection to all of this? It’s very simple. The Saudis were on holiday in the neighbourhood. Samar’s eldest daughter had a ‘friend’. That friend was an older girl who was dying to ‘introduce’ her to a ‘Saudi’ friend with ‘good intentions’ and a lot of cash. I can not say for certain what was on the cards. She was flirtatious. She even flirted with me. After all I grew up in the West didn’t I? Presumably she expected me to be open minded. When I told my aunt of what I observed in her behaviour, she told me that there are rumours that Samar’s oldest daughter has female friends grooming her for the express purpose of introductions to Saudi tourists. Yes prostitution is everywhere and in every country. Even in Saudi Arabia itself. But at the very least be halfway decent about it and stick to brothels if you must. Yet this is not what I see. I see Saudis going BEYOND the limitations of brothels into the very homes of vulnerable people through a network of women out on the look out for ‘willing’ recruits. In essence, they are looking for whores without the whoredom. Something a little more clean and a little less used or blemished. In Ibb, without even snooping around, I came across stories of Saudi’s marrying these girls for the summer, and not all of them knew that this was what is called Jawaz al mut3a. The air is abuzz with stories of Saudis who up and disappear after their holiday leaving behind a very young bride to put the pieces together. Do I blame the Saudis and wonder what the Ka’aba in their homeland signifies to them? Do I blame the Yemeni villager who willingly or unwittingly, through poverty assumed the intentions were honourable? Do I blame Saleh for a government that abdicated its responsibility of government that allowed our borders to be so porous, that anybody and anything can walk in and do as they like? provided they stay in power? Do I blame the culture of corruption fostered by this same government that has allowed yemen to misdevelop to the point that men will give their daughters to strangers on the off-chance they might provide what they can’t? Do I blame the the Saudi Royal Family for turning a blind eye to what their citizens are doing in Yemen, which is extensive enough to be picked up by american cables and exposed by wikileaks? while at the same time doing their best to sabotage reform in Yemen?
It’s not even just the child trafficking and the prostitution, I urge anyone to go on You tube and do a search for holiday videos made by Saudis visiting Yemen. You would think they are visiting a zoo. just type Yemen under search and eventually you’ll find it. Its an insight to the mentality. And before I get accused of generalising have a look at the ratio of videos that are respectful of Yemen to the ones that aren’t.
While their Royal Highnesses of Al-S3ood are repressing our revolution and their less than honourable citizens are abusing are poverty and mocking our backwardness, and slandering our women, its worth noting that Oman in the 70’s provided just as much trouble with their civil war. The only difference is Saudi Arabia resolved it by absorbing Oman into the GCC. The Saudis have no such intentions for Yemen. Their ideal situation for us is to “keep us hungry, but not quite starving” This is essentially what is at stake. I hope the National Council has issues like this in mind when dealing with the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia.