This is a great article on Yemen.  Each paragraph touches upon a part of Yemeni history you could talk about for hours – social classes, political revolutions, prospects for development, etc.

The people highlighted in the article live just down the street from me.  Apparently we live in very similar houses, me in the “frat house” of the college I work for, ten of us enjoying private bathrooms and a big kitchen, they, hundreds in the same space, sleeping head to toe.

My friend Matt called their job a Sisyphean task; the Greek king was punished to push a boulder up a hill, watch it roll down again, and repeat this task for all of eternity.  He was punished for violating the laws of hospitality when he killed travelers and quests.

I see these men and veiled women every day, standing out like sore thumbs in their orange jump suits, pushing dirt and dust into little piles before using their hands to throw it into huge re-used rice bags.  Trucks come by periodically, the men in jumpsuits dump the rubbish into the trucks.  Instead of the usual horns I hear, these trucks emit what sounds like the ice-cream trucks back home, a carefree and silly melody sped up 4x the speed and blaring across the streets.  Maybe for this ignored class, the blaring alarm different from the rest is a tool to get just a little bit of notice.

Without garbage cans or any other garbage pickup service, these men in jumpsuits are caught in a never-ending system.  They pick up trash off the street.  Everyone else just drops their trash wherever they want.  Sometimes I hold on to my trash, but then realize there’s no other place to put it but the street.  If I brought it home, it would go into a bag that would then be thrown onto the street.

When students leave our institute, they inevitably leave behind some of the things they brought from home. We donate these goods to the cleaning ladies of our center or we leave a box at the home of these “servants”.

I’m thinking of what else we could do for them.  If the majority of Yemen is content to keep them marginalized and stuck in a lower class, what can I, an impermanent resident of this country, do to alleviate what I see as an injustice?

Right now I can’t think of anything except for saying hello.  Maybe if I stop and converse with them for five minutes, I can make them feel less shitty, less forgotten, less invisible.  I once read from the source that one of the worst parts of being homeless in the States is that everyone pretends they cannot see you.  Confronted with those less fortuante, people feel guilty for what they have, and even guiltier that they just keep walking. I can’t really give these ‘servants’ any money, but I can give them a smile and a little of my time, and maybe that’ll be worth something.

See the articleSee the pictures 

February 27, 2008

Languishing at the Bottom of Yemen’s Ladder

SANA, Yemen —

By day, they sweep the streets of the Old City, ragged, dark-skinned men in orange jump suits. By night, they retreat to fetid slums on the edge of town.

They are known as “Al Akhdam” — the servants. Set apart by their African features, they form a kind of hereditary caste at the very bottom of Yemen’

s social ladder.