Photos by the author

“I’m moving to Yemen.”



“Oh. Okay. Wow?”

That was the standard response I got from people when I told them that I would be moving there. My husband (then fiance) had been working in Yemen for a telecom company and after the wedding I was to join him there in the capital, Sana’a.

We unpacked in an apartment on Shahrah-e-Sitteen, a road named after its width. I looked outside the window and saw a sparsely populated city with mountains in the background and the four minarets of Saleh Mosque standing tall. I remember it rained and the next day there was an actual rainbow on the horizon. We met with the building’s man Friday, a short, round faced, smiling man named Abdul Ghani who was dressed in traditional Yemeni garb: a thob, a scarf around the shoulders, a jacket (not traditional as such but common to Sana’a locals due to the chilly weathers), a belt around the waist and ceremonial dagger parked into the side. The smiling broadly Halima, the building cleaner who was always pregnant. An ageing building manager who wore spectacles and spoke softly and stood with a hunch. We also met a bunch of people my husband had already made acquaintances with, some locals and some people from Pakistan and India. I found the locals to be warm and respectful of Pakistanis.

We went about the city shopping for groceries at a ‘hypermarket’ known as Shumaila Hari and for dinner we headed towards a neighbourhood called Hadda, where perhaps all of Sana’a’s seven to ten posh restaurants were located. A small Italian place. A pizza parlour. A burger joint and one cafe. All owned by a Lebanese hospitality group. There was also an upscale restaurant that served local cuisine: delicious Aqda Lahm, Fahsa and Hummus Khawarma.

Sana’a’s weather was dry and chilly. Kind of like Murree. All year round. It was different from Aden, which was a coastal city. It was hot and humid and reminded of my hometown, Karachi. During our stay in Yemen, which was around two years, we also visited Mukalla (another coastal city) and Mahweet (a hill station) both of which were unique and beautiful in their own way. Near Mukalla lay a beach called “Bir Ali” which had the most beautiful blue seas and the most clear white sands.

My routine in Yemen was pretty restrictive since there wasn’t much to do. One run down KFC, one tiny Pizza Hut, a few local eateries, bleak-state hospitals, one fairly basic university. And this was the capital. Yemen is a poor country, its people are struggling with various issues as poor countries do. There were many social issues as well, such as child marriage and child labor, which were directly related to Yemen’s poor economic conditions. Religiosity was plenty but not forceful, especially not for expats.

I have fond memories of Yemen due to many reasons; my son was born there. We were happy in that apartment on Shahrah-e-Sitteen. We watched movies on our fat TV. We celebrated the win of Pakistan’s T20 in 2009 in our TV lounge and we yelled so loud that our neighbours asked us to keep it down. I baked cakes and we made many friends there from various countries, with my trusty and wonderfully diligent housekeeper Warki, a 50 year old widow from Ethiopia who spoke little English but was distraught when we moved out of Yemen to move to Bahrain. She loved my son so much and was in tears when I wished her goodbye and shut the door. The door that would open faithfully every morning at 9 and Warki would walk in, start off her routine slowly and calmly and ask in her broken Arabic + English, “Wahid chicken fridge out?” (Meaning, should I take one packet of chicken out of the fridge so you can make lunch). I frequently called Warki after I left Yemen, but since the past couple of months I have been unable to trace her.

We left Yemen when our son was one year old. That was when the Arab Spring started and Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted from the government. It’s been four years since then and the situation has continued to get more and more terrible. A few days ago a blast killed over a hundred people in Sana’a. I saw more images of Sana’a being attacked. During the past four years, grisly and heart-breaking images of the country have filled the newspapers and the TV screens. Now, post the Saudi attack on Yemen, there are number of analysis regarding the Houthis and Saleh’s regime and the proxy war aftereffects. And I suppose that merits a separate blog or article altogether, for good reason.

But to me, when I look at those broken walls and dying people and exploded vehicles, I can only think of how war benefits no one. I can only think of the humanity of the loss that comes as a result of major players fighting their power politics at the price of blood of the weak. I can only think of my small apartment on Shahrah-e-Sitteen, my old but comfortable kitchen. I think of my husband’s office on Zuberi Street. I think of what the residents of Hadda will be doing with all the power and electricity shortages. I think of my expat friends who had built their entire lives in Sana’a. I think of Warki. Of Abdul Ghani. Of Halima. I can only wonder where they are. I hope they are safe. I hope they are sound.