Letters from Arabia Felix

Written by Hana Al-Showafi on Sunday, 13 October 2013. Posted in Jemen

Letter One

When I happen to be on a mini bus, I keep looking at people walking in the streets of Sanaa and listening to the conversations between the driver and his passengers. I see poor innocent people, who try to make ends meet and still try to smile. And lately I observed an incident that tells a lot.

I was on my way to work at 7.45am, when I suddenly noticed a couple in their sixties in the first row of the bus. They were sitting side by side talking and holding each other's hands. First, I thought I was mistaken because I have never seen an old man dressed in traditional style and whose accent indicates that he is form the North, holding a woman’s hand. For most of the people from the Northern regions belong to tribes that are considered very conservative and think that women aren’t supposed to talk loudly when they are in public. And even though I am not a curious person and usually don’t mind other’s people personal business, I found myself leaning forward.  

I saw the winkles on the hands of the old man and his wife - and realized that they were really holding hands! Ten minutes later the old man asked the driver to stop. He stepped down and said to his wife: “Step down slowly, Honey, so you don’t fall." And she stepped down reclining on his hand, and they walked away, still holding hands.

It crossed my mind that this couple had been raised when religion was only religion and politics only politics. And I smiled. Today, the so called “religious groups” are trying hard to weaken women's engagement in civic action in the name of Islam. They explain the verses of the Holy Quran to their followers in the way that suits their political agendas. They give long speeches on how women should dress, talk, walk and even live.

Nowadays one can see a brother or husband walking with his sister or wife telling her to be quiet, as they might pass in front of friends or acquaintances; some men usually don’t feel proud having a woman on their side while in public.

But this little episode showed me, that many other men, even older ones, have surmounted these restrictions, as they realize that this is not the acceptable way. They realize, that life is more than that. Life is about caring for and be proud of each other.

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain".

About the Author

Hana Al-Showafi

Hana Al-Showafi

What struck me immediately when I saw Hana Al-Showafi for the first time was her passion. We met in the halls of the "Youth Leadership Development Foundation" in Sanaa, where she worked as a project coordinator. She was asked to guide me around and to explain to me the aims of the foundation. Rarely have I heard a young woman speak so fervently about her work, her self esteem as a citizen and about the democratization of her society. We have kept in touch ever since. Today she works for an international NGO, is a youth activist and has developped a great sense for the small things in everyday life that reveal a bigger picture.