”I paint my love for Yemen”, Wissam Al-Ansi

I will start my story from the end, because its beginning was beautiful and, somehow, beautiful stories become ordinary.
I am a visual artist; there are times I wish I never drew due to the many disappointments I constantly face.
My name is Wissam Al-Ansi from Yemen, Dhamar Governorate.
I was born in 1982.

I was an employee at the Education Office in my governorate until 2014; times were difficult already, then.  In 2015, when the war broke, salaries were cut and education and health system deteriorated.
The most painful part, though, was what the air-raids did to my children: they suffered in a way only those who have experienced war can relate to.

We held tight to the family, the area, the people. For over 2 years, we hoped and prayed but, at times, leaving your life behind is the only way to continue living. That life, in that context, was a death sentence, especially for my children. They are only children.

We sold everything in Yemen and we jumped into the unknown moving to Cairo (Egypt). It was June 2017.
Life in Egypt… Definitely, we enjoy security and peace, but living remains a difficult matter. I do not have a job or financial income, and the sale of paintings is very rare.
Occasionally I meet with a Yemeni friend, just one friend. Life of those who have fled a war is never smooth.

Since I moved to Cairo, I have never been idle: I participated in more than twenty exhibitions. It is my way of contributing to the world, through my art.
I held two personal exhibitions in Cairo on Yemen and Yemen’s heritage: there is so much beauty untold about my country. Covid, though, stopped all cultural activities. Before that, I had personal exhibitions at the French, Italian and German Cultural Centers.

Wissam Al Ansi portrays the life of everyday Yemen, with
 women play a central role in sustaining the family
Women always played a special role in Wassim Al Ansi’s art: their’s is the fabric of the family

Recently, I thought about making a portrait painting for the President of the Federal Republic of Germany and applied for approval to hold a personal exhibition on Yemeni heritage, but Covid, again, stepped in and I am still waiting for approval and better days.

Now I want to present a painting of a Yemeni woman with traditional clothes, to be sold at an auction:  50% of the amount goes to the benefit of poor families and widowed women who lost their husbands and sons because of the war. The other half would help me go by and allow me to sustain my father and mother who are suffering because of the war.

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The painting Wissam Al Ansi is selling, donating 50% of the proceeds to vulnerable widows and mothers who have lost their children



It is true that our life now is difficult, but the love for the homeland always prevails over everything.
My wish is to succeed in serving art and society, spreading the message of peace and tolerance, and preserving our heritage and civilization. I want to embrace the world with Yemen’s beauty, for all to see.
I can only paint what belongs to me: both land and people… my Beloved Yemen.



For further information on Wissam Al-Ansi’s work, on the auction, his dreams and what sustains him, please visit his facebook page
WhatsApp: 00201154294403
email: wesamelansy@gmail.com

Amedeo Vergani

Amedeo Vergani was an Italian photojournalist. Actually, so much more.
He covered events in the Balkans, Africa, Middle East, conflicts and worldwide natural wonders. He followed the sub-Saharan nomads,  was curious and the world spoke to him; he was passionate and a compassionate fighter: he never forgot any of his fellow photo reporters while working for the Union, teaching for free, helping everyone, known and -mostly – unknown.

Amedeo Vergani - Wikipedia
Amedeo Vergani

His language was coloured, his voice loud, due to the age difference paternalistic at times; he never failed to make me laugh.
When his work was being published internationally, he remained disarmingly humble and curious.
Our telephone calls lasted eternity.

Amedeo was the first one ever – and the only one – to dare call me a Catho-Communist. I was outraged. ‘Come on, that is our upbringing. We are dual’.
I never told him which of the two I could not digest and, throughout the years, I have often questioned how true was his statement.

Blinded by the sun, I see a woman.
Must be I am tired and melancholic, but I think of a Madonna with child.
As if my holy juxtaposition were not enough, in one of my acts of recurrent, utter stupidity I seem to master so well, I look at the horizon thinking Amedeo might be laughing. I blow a kiss to the sky. Just in case.

For every woman raped in every war

know their names.
learn them by heart.


Systematic weapon of war
silenced
unacknowledged
hidden
without a registry
to keep the stories together

Too many are their names
in the careless stream of news
That registry should feature
grandmothers, daughters, siblings
some a few months old

Words on paper
their names
stamped
photocopied
reprinted
a million times over
Spread their names
to never allow oblivion

The voices hushed now
their screams muffled then
hand on mouth
a punch to knock their soul out
a Kalashnikov in the mouth

Women’s skins
dark, olive, red, white as the moon
but the moon could not help them
least, their god
material,
immaterial

Even the sky stood silent
when countless men
broke her leg bones
while raping her
She was just 10 years old

The dance

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Women of the Dassenech Tribe, Omo Valley of Ethiopia

For Giovanni swirling and singing O Sole Mio under a pouring sky at the end of April 25 (Liberation day from the fascists) rally in Milano.
For Peter who took me to Nottinghill Carnival hoping I would dance in the streets, not get lost and, perhaps smile. Occasionally. Just that one time would have been enough.
For the Masai who told me I just had to jump. Upwards, better.
For Antonio who kept patting the sweat off his forehead because I could not dance to a valzer and preferred the chair of a cheap Italian restaurant, in a neon-lit night, surrounded by bottles of Martinis. Not mine.
For Mamoon’s mother who tried to teach me a Yemeni dance on a Friday afternoon while we were chewing qat, while I stumbled in my abaya, barefeet, feeling oversize, graceless, praying for the embarassment to end soon.
For Madam Suher on the river Nile who thought mellow waters and more wine would convert me into a belly dancer. Or a far less shy person.
For Saeed who thought we could be best dancers ever in Rub Al Khali desert. Camels our witnesses, sand on our feet, sweaty hands intertwined, my body filled with antihisthamine.
For the guy in a dive bar in Lalibela holding the microphone who underlined publicly I was terribly ugly, but still wanted to dance, microphone off.
For Dominga, 75, who told me ‘un paseo, una discoteca’ (a stroll and a disco) might find me a husband.

For all the times I ran away from streets, people, concerts, aerobic classes, frantic moshing and dancefloors: it just was not the right moment.
In the meantime, women of Dassenech tribe are dancing, inviting me to join.
This could be the right moment.

(Omo Valley, Ethiopia)

My name is Gamela and I am looking for my family. An appeal to Yemen

The diaspora and stories of ordinary people who find themselves with little or no roots. A father disappearing and a woman looking for her past.
The time has come to help an English- Yemeni who is trying to sew the patches of her life, stretching from Sheffield area – England – to Aden, Southern Yemen

‘Mine is a long heartbreaking story.
My mum left me when I was three months old. It was my father, Yemeni, who actually brought us up.
When I was sixteen, my father said he was going to Yemen for a few months but he never returnt.
My step mum was here, in England with us, until she died.
I have a brother and a sister: they went the English way, I sticked to Islam instead.

I lost my youth and life feels very heavy.
My mum was English, definitely not a good mum.
We suffered a lot as children while my dad worked tirelessly in steel work. He was a hard worker and looked after us. We didn’t have much but we never suffered; it was as if he was balancing life for us.

When we were little, I remember him going to Yemen for holidays. 

On those occasions, he would put us in children’s homes until his return.
He always came back when we were little. I remember very few things. I know he had a lot of relatives here, but have lost contact. I have no pictures of him.

I can tell you I was born on January 16th 1965, my name is Gamela Zura Hashem (my middle name is after my father’s wife in Yemen), we used to live at 85 Shirland Lane, Attercliffe (Sheffield, England) and my father worked as a crane driver at Davy Roll.

My father’s name is Mohammed Hashem, at times they called him Al Aswad.
The family of my father had hotels in Southern Yemen, in Aden.

I understand I have little information, but will you help me find my father or his family?’


(The request was originally collected for the page of  Living In Yemen On The Edge   and the appeal goes both to England – Sheffield area, and Aden, Southern Yemen.
Gamela has virtually nothing from her past to accompany her)

Children’s Drawings from Yemen

Last February Melissa McCaig Wells, along with Curators Victoria Latysheva, Charlotte Hamson presented in New York TRUMPOMANIA, an international exhibition surrounding the topic of Donald Trump and the Republican administration in the US.
The exhibition ran in NYC March 1-5, in correlation with The Armory Show and Armory Arts Week, to a worldwide audience.
TRUMPOMANIA featured one artist from over thirty countries, each exhibiting one work illustrating their interpretation of the election of Trump creating a dialogue about what this presidency means to artists around the world and their illustration on how this will affect the future of all nations.

Melissa pushed the boundaries further and opened the doors of the exhibition also to the children of Yemen, affected by – at the time – 2 years of endless war (aggression by US-backed/Saudi led Coalition). Now it’s 970 days of war.
Not only Trump’s ban on Muslim countries included Yemen, but America’s inconsiderate arms sales to Saudi Arabia (110 billion USD) are part of the maiming and killing of thousands of children of Yemen.
Drone strikes have seen a sharp rise (over 100 in 2017 by the Trump administration) and without US logistical, technical (refueling of Coalition’s aircrafts bombing Yemen) and intelligence guiding, the Coalition would not have been able to cause such a level of destruction.

The situation on the ground between February and today has worsened beyond belief: the country is under lockdown, no aid enters while 20 million of Yemenis are dependent on aid; 50.000 children are expected to die by the end of the year of famine, curable diseases, cholera, diphtheria, meningitis or just because too weak to continue living.
Three cities (Saada, Hodeidah, Taiz) have no more access to safe water as the fuel is not entering the country and Sanaa, the Capital, will be next.
Cholera outbreak – of biblical proportions – will most likely affect 1 million people by the end of the new year, with over 2000 casualties officially recorded.

For TRUMPOMANIA, last January and February, we collected drawings from Yemeni children (who happen to be the only reason behind everything we have been doing for the past 970 days day) asking them if there was something they wanted to say, to add beyond the headlines or lack of media coverage.
Children spoke their language through drawings and scribblings and the results were appalling. Chronicles of daily scenes of massacres and warplanes, destruction, fire and blood.
The drawings here below (just a part of a large collection) were gathered for TRUMPOMANIA by two registered Yemeni NGOs: Human Needs Develooment – HND and Your Abilities Organization and, on World Children Day we leave it here. As a ‘j’accuse‘ for us all.

 

Omar Mohammed – 10 years old

 

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Amasy Bushier Al-kenay Age: 11 Depicting the bombing of Faj Attan where an illegal bomb was dropped killing/injuring over 500

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alaa Mohiy Sharfaldeen

 

 

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Name: Amar Jamal Hamdy, Age – 12 USA kills The Yemeni people

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Hanan Alsdah, Age: 10 Describes buildings before and after the bombs

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Heba Adel, Age: 12 – A girl cries, fearing bombs and warplanes sound

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Roaa’ Dariss, Age 10 – A missile targeted a home and killed the family, and injured were seen out of the home

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Abdullah Zuhrah, Age 12 – The sky watching Yemen and crying with blood

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Asra Adel, Age: 10 Destruction and bodies in the streets

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Shihab Majdi, Age 9 – The missile took the house

 

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Maddlaf Kamal, Age 9 – A mother crying for her kid killed by Saudis’ bomb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A young man in the making in times of war

To see a young boy, no more than seven or eight, crying because of the war, is something we will never get accustomed to.
Qasim Ali Al-Shawea – in the picture – of Your Abilities Yemeni NGOمنظمة قدراتك للتنمية your.abilities.org ) writes:

”Every day I meet a child, family, displaced people during my work with my team and I have a close look at people’s unbearable conditions, how they try to stay safe, alive in such a humanitarian disaster. 
I see children sleeping at night with empty stomachs, after having fought hunger for several days.
I meet many families who have fled their homes to live hopeless, homeless in displacement camps; I am seeing a daily nightmare, a tragedy I have never seen…ever, in my life.
How not to mention the Cholera outbreak which is decimating lives while hospitals are full with patients. 
What is happening in Yemen is really inhuman, illegal and unfair. We are human beings and have human hearts, the world shouldn’t keep ignoring the children and women’s suffering. Every child deserves to live a better life.”

I asked Qasim why was the young boy shedding so helplessly and he replied:
He told me that he and his family used to have a better life.  That was before bombs fell on their home. He was crying because his brother was killed there, at home, under a missile. Now they are living in a tent in a displacement camp. They have nothing to eat, monsoon rains enter the only abode they have. He wants clothes… he really asked me a lot: new clothes, toys, a chance to study. He is a clever child. I felt so sad for him and their life, the hard conditions they must cope with. Heartbreaking, really.”

The picture of a child, dressed like a man in the making, with a jacket which most likely will be worn until it fades to a shadow of a garment, crying helplessly cannot be the emblem of childhood. Not in 2017.
Yemen has been under air strikes, blocked by a siege, crippled by cholera and famine for over eight hundred and sixty days. A number so heavy it seems too long even to write. Impossibly long for a child whose home and past have been buried under a missile.

There is no ‘I Want’

I want to go back in time.
I want to change karma.
I want to touch Simon’s crest sticking up because he put sugar and water (we were all broke and being punk started and pretty much ended in the kitchen).
I want to look in the mirror and see hope, without having to close my eyes.
I want to play with Ali, Samah and Mohamed and the dogs in Sanaá and drive to Big Sur just like that day with Kris.
I want to read The God of Small Things without knowing I would read it again, three times.
I want to land in New York and see the Twin Towers and know I could not be anywhere else.
I want to see Sausalito with the same light and go back to school with totally different teachers.
I want to be in Damascus at night, with Yahia, and take that same walk just at the beginning of the revolution, with that dim hope that things would not degenerate.
That hope is gone.
I want to re-meet people and have that sparkle light my eyes, just like then.
I want to listen to Claudio telling me again the long story of his trip Milan-Kabul on a Fiat 127.
Countries are closed, wars have vomited onto us, people have moved on, perhaps to other planets.
I want that red telephone/address guide I had in my twenties and now is molding in a box I will never get back.
I want to cancel choices, deaths, accidents, wars.
I want to enter City Lights Bookstore in S. Francisco and talk about Bakunin and buy tons of books like we did that Sunday morning.
I want to remember the things I happened to forget and be with Anna prior to her cancer because I did not say goodbye to her.
I want to apologise less and smile more but I need to apologise with Fausto because I treated him harshly.
I want to listen to Joe Jackson with the same intensity of the time.
I want to believe less the words I am told because I never learn to accept the discrepancy between words and deeds.
I want to open my eyes.


I want to change karma, for a day, and see how it feels.
Fact is there is no ‘I want` most of the times.

‘Why is the world looking away’? Gisela Hofmann on Yemen

Gisela Hofmann is a German friend who, literally, lives for Yemen. Throughout the years, she lived in the country, learnt Arabic and has become a peace advocate.
Gisela sent me a letter asking to publish it. It is her cry, the cry of a woman who has loved ones under constant bombs and castrated by a siege. Gisela cannot visit her ‘family in Sanaa’ and dreams of the day she will be reunited with them.
In the meantime, eight-hundred days have passed since that first bomb dropped on Yemen in the night of March 26 2015. The country has been totally destroyed, official figures estimate over ten thousand casualties, a child dead every ten minutes succumbing to preventable diseases, over fourteen million food insecure, three million internally displaced, a third cholera outbreak which has claimed lives of over six hundred people with a skyrocketing seventy thousand suspected cases.
Yemen has collapsed, Gisela dreams of peace and writes:

”For more than fifteen years, we have been personally associated with Yemen enjoying a close friendship with a family in Sanaa.
Throughout these years, we were able to stay with our friend-family twice a year, every year. We also lived for several months in Sanaa in a rented a flat.
Our visit in November 2014 would be the last for a long time. We did not suspect this at the time. Since then, we are only connected via internet, though this is not continuously possible for a variety of reasons but, basically, our friends have no electricity and have no money.

We are suffering, we feel helpless: we cannot do anything for our beloved family.
Since the beginning of  the Yemen-war and the suffering of the population, this country has been in the shadow of all other political “proxy wars”.
I would like to talk about my friends and family members, I want to describe their current life situation.
My heart is heavy when I think of them. Especially the children and my warm-hearted women-friends. I know how they feel, although I never hear complaints despite the very difficult situation. The humility and pride of these generous people does not allow it.
The following lines are dedicated to Mohammed, Latifa, and Safia and their families (how much I miss them):

“Why  is the world looking away?
I’d like to write  about the current life of the citizens in Yemen. I can report what I am constantly being told by my friends as, for myself, it is not possible in the current situation to return to Yemen: Sanaa airport is under  Saudi-led Coalition imposed blockade and it has also been partially destroyed by airstrikes..
The biggest problem posed by the siege is that for Yemenis there is no way to let vital relief supplies and aid be brought into the country.
If you run a finger on the map, throughout the whole country, you realise that the important main roads, transport routes and sea ports have been destroyed. This means that the urgent transport of aid and relief supply to the suffering people, to hospitals and distribution of safe, drinking water to villages is impossible or extremely difficult.
People outside the cities are abandoned and can depend exclusively on themselves.
Nobody looks, takes care of the population as military strategies are in the foreground. With few exceptions, there are no foreign embassies and/or diplomatic representatives in the country.
It is close to impossible for the  people of Yemen to  flee elsewhere. Even for families living abroad it is difficult to care for the loved ones gripped in the famine-cholera-aggression- torn homeland. Flights to and from Yemen are virtually close to zero and escaping to neighboring countries requires money which Yemenis do not have.

It is neighboring Saudi Arabia leading the war on Yemen. Since 26 March 2015, the Saudi led Coalition has kept Yemen under continuous military attacks.
Like in any given war, the simple, common people are those suffering the unthinkable.
Primarily children, sick people and the elderly.
The children of our friends-family have been out of school for months in a row out of fear of air-raids, or because schools were closed or teachers on strike having received no salary for over eight months.
A friend’s daughter contracted hepatitis caused by contaminated water. In order to receive immediate medical treatment, the family had to sell the last personal possessions. The treatment lasted longer than normal because the child was malnourished. Malnutrition maims the immune system of weakened children making them more prone to diseases.
The father of the little girl  had to donate his own blood to treat her and has, since then, been donating regularly to help others in need.The current situation allows many families to virtually just vegetate, exist, nothing else. A graceful life is no longer possible.
Schools, hospitals have shut down: government personnel have been out of salary for eight – nine months.
In the meantime, prices are soaring. A bottle of gas costs five times as much as compared to the beginning of 2015. Most people cannot afford it any longer: they use what they can to make a fire.
Speculation is rampant: some much-needed items must be bought exclusively in dollars cutting off most of the population.

There are those who have lost everything because of an airstrike: home and loved ones. Yemen is in a constant mourning.

The world is wrapped in silence, passively supporting these eight-hundred days of war crimes against the Yemeni population. Syria and Iraq have overshadowed the plight of Yemenis.
In spite of pain and suffering, there is life, though. There are tireless people, fighting with heart and intelligence for the future of Yemen. These people fight  with peaceful means vehemently against Yemen’s unjust, forgotten war.

A termination of the aggression is imperative. If I look at the situation of Yemen I feel anger along with an inexpressible sadness, because I see what  this country has become.

In the 1980s, at the time of  Ali Abdallah Saleh’s leadership, perhaps the country began slowly to open and move forwards. Yemenis saw progress in their own land and enjoyed international recognition.  After the Unification of South and North Yemen in 1990, a flourishing period began, starting from tourism. People from all parts of the world visited the long closed, untouched, historical country. Tourism became the largest employer of Yemen. Now even archaeological sites have fallen victim of indiscriminate air-raids, even towns and monuments protected by the UNESCO. Treasures of mankind have been lost, forever.

An immediate halt to the inconsiderate arms deals and sales to those aggressing Yemen, would represent a huge step towards the end of the war  on my second home. It would push the sides involved in the conflict to find solutions, involving only diplomatic means.
Had it happened before, many Yemeni children would still be alive and the homes of countless Yemenis would not be in rubbles.

Last February there was a defence and arms exhibition, ‘only’ 2500 km from Yemen. Weapons worth billions of dollars were sold while back in Yemen a nation was and is starving to death.
This forgotten country needs more attention. It is important tell to the world about the suffering of Yemenis who are at their limit. They cannot take it any longer.
The first article of our German basic law states: “Human dignity is untouchable”.
It should apply also to Yemenis. ”

Gisela Hofmann

War is boring

Some days back I was told:  War is always war. This is the world and we can’t change it. You people waste your time. Sorry, you are boring me.
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‘I have a feeling we are working for nothing’.
‘Exposing the aggression against Yemen, you mean?’
‘Everything.’
‘I know: I have the same feeling all the time. With everything I do.’
‘But why?’
‘Because we cannot change the world and we cannot stop anything happening around us.’
‘Do you think we can’t?’
‘I also think the opposite: I am a human being and have no alternative than continue fighting in my own way. With what I can.’
‘Yes, I know.’
‘I usually do not cry in my life. Yet, have never cried so much like in this last year. This is why I say we have no alternative: just continue doing what we are doing.’
‘Yes, I know. So true.’

Then you kept quiet for a while just to add: ‘But I haven’t cried.’ And you laughed. Loud.
‘Because you are strong.’
‘Am not strong. Fact is that all this around us has become a habit.’
‘Any person who goes to the battlefield is strong.’
‘True.’

These are our conversations, at times.
You lost over 30 family members during the aggression against Yemen. You are strong, yet, this we will never be able to change: thirty people of your family will never come back.
War is boring.

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‘I just came back last night from a private trip to Hodeidah. Most of the people are living a miserable life.’
‘I think it’s something like hell on earth, like the last stage prior to hell.’
‘Something like that. Poverty is overwhelming people there. Beggars are everywhere: people literally run after the cars in the streets to get some money. It was not an easy trip because to get from Sanaa to Hodeidah, many parts of the road are destroyed, whether by airstrike or lack of maintenance, but mainly it’s airstrikes which have destroyed the bridges.’
‘What did you see in Hodeidah?’
‘People are just suffering.  Airstrikes, poverty, hot climate, lack of electricity, food, water and medicine. Hodeidah has become a dark city in most of its parts. Whole families gather on the road between Sanaa and Hodeidah, begging those who travel. You know ” Khamis bani Saad”? The agony starts from there and covers most parts of Hudaida Governorate.’
‘You mean it stretches for almost 80 kms?’
‘Exactly. You will start finding poor people as you are approach  step by step the ports city. Yesterday (26 November, A/N)  16 were killed in Hudaida by Saudi Airstrikes. Most of them were children and women.’
‘Yes, they targeted homes…Mohammed, what about Hodeidah?
‘What about Hodeidah?’
‘What upset you the most?’
‘It was gloomy. Like a dead body. The city used to never go to sleep, all night. Now there is not any life aspect after 11:00 PM.’
‘Yes, it used to be very live and loud somehow. People freshing up by the sea..’
‘Life is gone. Long time ago.’

Mohammed Al-Hindi is Head of Foreign Press section in both Yemen Tourism Magazine and Yemen Tourism Journal.
He has been campaigning against the destruction of his country since the beginning of the aggression. His call was reported in a long chat for Living in Yemen On The Edge’s page inSave our Yemen .’

The afternoon we exchanged these words I, by chance, had just re-read these words on Hodeidah by the Yemen Tourism Promotion Board:
‘Al-Hodeidah is the Cinderella of the Red Sea and its captivating bride. It is one of the most beautiful cities of Yemen (…) the most diverse and most beautiful one (…). Its nature exhibits a wonderful dress of greenness and beauty round the year. 
Its exhibited dress is perfumed with the fragrance of Jasmine, the redolence of pine and the scent of musk. (…)
Al-Hodeidah is the Yemen’s fourth city in population terms and it developed as the leading port of the Ottomans when the coffee trade at Mukha dwindled and still retains its old Turkish quarter. At night the markets light up, with men selling fruit under lamps, and in the early morning the fish market is a hive of activity. 
Wealthy merchant families have opulent houses constructed in the Old Turkish area of Al-Hodeidah. These buildings have lavishly decorated plaster work interiors and superbly carved balconies. Upstairs, decorative stucco work and niches in walls pressed with colored glass and mirrors scintillate with painted peacock designs – a recurring theme throughout the Tihama and indication of the Indian influences seen in the region as a consequence of sea-trade.’’

While writing and remembering the mellow atmosphere of the no longer existing  coastal city of our memories, Twitter is filled with posts on Saudis’ new move on Hodeidah:

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It has been so for over a year: fishermen have been targeted over and over again. Many bodies have never returnt. Families starve, the port of Hodeidah has been shredded to pieces and the air-land-sea siege is blocking aid from entering Yemen.
People will continue to beg for 80 km on the side of bombed roads, rushing to cars and emaciated families will be consumed by famine. But  war is boring.

For further information on War on the Fishermen of Hodeida and Tihama: here