By Sarah Gamal Ahmed
When you are a researcher, you simply have a job that gives one the privilege to know more and pass the knowledge to others. In May 2013, I began a trip with my best friend and fellow researcher Reem Mojahed in four Yemeni cities in order to conduct focus group discussion among farmers, workers, fishermen and fisherwomen to study people’s perspectives on women rights’ advocates. As we travelled, we kept daily memoires on the trips that took us beyond the job restrictions. Aden was our first stop.
As usual, we were running late because of me, and as we barely caught the flight, the scent of locally made perfumes set our moods for Aden. During the flight, I was trying to clear my mind from any expectations or previous images stored in my memory. Even though both of my parents were born and raised in Aden, I have never had a sense of belonging to the city and tried to explain it to myself with the fact that I was born and raised in Sana’a and do not know more in Aden than my grandparents’ house which I spend all my Eids at every year. Yet, for the first time, that was my first trip alone to Aden.
In Aden, the friendly taxi driver was complaining about the power cuts during the hot summer, and when we reached my grandparents’ house, I saw what he meant when I noticed my grandmother sitting with her friends from the neighborhood waving their fans in consistent attempts to get some breeze away from the sweat covering everybody.
After I was done greeting the family, it was time to find a hotel and rest before I get to explore Aden for the first time on my own the next day. It was 10:00 pm already and I did not know that the exploration began already.
Between the drivers’ stories about people who were robbed or killed and kids who became drug and arms’ dealers, I couldn’t help but notice the sea breeze resisting heat, dark, and most importantly all the villas that his small shacks where the poor lived. The irony of former socialist southern flags painted on almost every wall made me count the villas, which portrayed wonderful pieces of architectural art if observed individually, and tasteless pretentious chaos when seen collectively. Suddenly, the driver interrupted my counting process and pointed to three hotels next to each other, which are supposed to be the finest in the city where once celebrities from all over the world headed to its beaches for holidays.
In the first two hotels and in less than 10 minutes, I ran out of gender based discrimination lectures, terminology, legal evidence…etc. I got to face the reality that no matter how hard individuals try to stand for their rights, there must be a political will where the state puts enough effort supporting basic struggles like my own that night, booking a hotel room in the city, which once represented the most progressive wave in the Arab world. In spite of the fact that there is no legislation in all Yemeni laws that says so, women are not allowed to book hotel rooms if they are not with a male relative or do not obtain an official paper from the institution they work for in case they are on a business/work trip. In the third hotel, my attempts of stating the law and all my reasoning skills explaining equal citizenship failed and I had to submit to the receptionist will and hand him my official letter and work papers. To his surprise, he posed a question with a relieved smile: Why did you refuse showing me the papers when you have had them all the way? It was 10:30 pm and I was willing to start another round of gender equality awareness, but then when he added that he has no respect for a law that has not banned women from booking hotel rooms without male relatives, I figured I should swallow my pride and admit it was pointless to continue such conversation and head to sleep.
Next morning, Reem insisted that we go visit the beach, which was mentioned in poems and songs, the beach of Abyan, also known as the golden beach. The warnings of the hotel guard and pedestrians from security issues were all forgotten once we saw what Aden’s famous poet, Lotfi Jaffar Aman described as the temple of love in the poem that Ahmed Qassem composed into a famous Yemeni song, which Reem and I could not stop singing as we collected shells and stones and along golden sand that sneaked to our bags as it were reminding us of how glorious the city is.
Hours later, we finished our field work and took a quick walk and had to run again to the bus station for our next stop. On the bus, I tried to comprehend the details Aden gave me in two days. As the bus was moving away, tens of cars were moving towards Aden with old socialist Southern flags. I remembered, it was May 21st the most confusing day for the Adeni girl born and raised in Sana’a.
Sarah Gamal Ahmed is a blogger and sociologist whose main focus is on gender issues. She is currently working for Yemen Polling Center.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect La Voix du Yémen’s editorial policy.Français