By: Ahmed Al-Aghbari – Sana’a – The Yemeni American News
His mobile phone rang. It was 2 PM in Sana’a. He ended the conversation in muffled voice. It was his daughter from his divorcee calling him from the village. She wanted him to come to make her marriage contract. He apologized and excused himself, maybe by a heart that seemed to have lost its parental compass: “With what can I go back to them?” His friends replies to him: “But she is your daughter asking you to share with her the joyous moment of her life. Go to her don’t worry about the burdens of the trip.” He just smiled without any comment and continued chewing his qat.
His friends’ pleading on behalf of his daughter did not have any effect on him and did not move any of Abdu Ghalib’s (57 years old) expected emotions. The unemployment caused by the war for two years perhaps were enough to kill any sentiments in him, making him even devoid of parental emotions.
A Victim of War Madness
This life and Abdu Ghalib’s decision cannot be explained by the logical rationalizations of normal life. The situation here is quite different. Life can sometimes reach levels of unexplainable irrationality that we simply have to submit to. One does not wish to declare that a madness has touched Abdu Ghalib per se. Abdu Ghalib is a wise man and still lives, eats, and coexist with people, holding on to what strength and mentality is still left in him. Yet, it is inescapable to see that he is overcome and defeated and perhaps hit with what we might call “war madness”. There are many such victims of “war madness”, but they are hidden and not to be found in the forefront, where the physical victims of this dreaded war are easily visible.
War madness victims have their tragic tales to tell, but news broadcasts turn the other way from such tales. War has a severe effect on skilled personnel of technical capacity, who heretofore were able to make substantial earnings for many years. All of a sudden, they are confronted by a situation they are unable to accommodate and are then hit with poverty and deprivation beyond their own belief.
The situation of these people is noticeably saddening, especially of those victims, who have reached seniority in age, which does not allow for a move to, or for learning a new vocation.
Abdu Ghalib didn’t care much for such talk. He now just passes the days now with the cats he has come to love – and which have come to love him. It is a life with only the details of daily existence the only concern of many people these days, because no one really what the next day of war and air, sea and land blockade will bring. All this destruction and wreckage, death and illness, starvation and absence of the most basic of amenities are enough to render many sane people to the pitfalls of madness and irrationality of behavior. This war has destroyed the geographical wholeness of the country dividing the Republic of Yemen into cantons and more importantly alienating the once solid social fabric of the society.
The Strains of A Mind
Many of the people in this neighborhood of North Sana’a recognize his face. His facial expressions have been engrained by ups and downs throughout his life. People in the neighborhood have known him for over twenty years as a skilled air conditioning and refrigeration technician/repairman and repaired other household appliances as well. His workshop has moved all over the Sana’a neighborhoods until he settled down to a workshop near the largest apartment building in Sana’a. He became familiar to many in the neighborhood as a doctor is known to a family. He was a skilled man in his trade and was able to fix any faults in refrigerators, air conditioners and washers. On a normal day he used to net at least YR 5,000 to 7,500 per day. He was able to live on that income and send support to his children (3 daughters and a son). This was how it was until the War broke out in March 2015. The war meant the total interruption of public electricity service.
Many business sectors were adversely affected by the War. But there were some sectors that were devastated such as the refrigeration and air conditioning repairs, because this vocation is tied completely to the availability of continuous electric power. Without electricity most of the families in Sana’a no longer used such basic amenities as refrigerators and air conditioning, as they needed strong electric power, which alternative solar power purchased by fixed income families could not operate. Thus most air conditioning and refrigeration repair shop businesses ceased operating. Some of the technicians were able to move on to other trades and adapt somewhat , but some unfortunately some could not leave a vocation they have been tied to for decades. Thus they were unable to change their vocational course, as was the case with Abdu Ghalib: “I am an old man, where can I go at this age?” With this question, in his colloquial speech expressed the dilemma and sadness which he has embedded in his chest. For over two years, Abdu Ghalib has lived a life of squander accommodating forcefully with life holding on to whatever he can of his mental serenity, which has been compromised by the depression brought on by the passage of time. Every day he dreams that the following sunrise will bring with it an end to the War, so he resume his life and continue whatever remains of his age carrying on with an occupation that never failed him since he engaged in it from his childhood.
Peace and Electricity
He speaks of his family with hemorrhaging words; his daughters live with his divorcee in the village. However, this father doesn’t have the faintest idea where his son is or where he is working.
“They say he is working in an area between Sa’ada and Hodeida … I just don’t know!”
When he talks of his life he lowers his head staring at his feet, perhaps escaping from any expression of parental sentiment towards his only son and his daughters, after all, despite expressions to the contrary, he is still a father and for sure he must feel the stabs in his heart that his seemingly heartless words about his offspring may cause, that is why he would often look down low when talking about his family.
He says, of his family, “I would like to travel and leave Sana’a by any means, and would like to attend the marriage of his daughter, but his situation is quite difficult and complicated. I once had income and stature. Today, I can barely pass the day with a cat or surviving by working with a auto body shop or a beverage/sandwich store to be able to eat and drink. Sleeping? I sleep here”, pointing to an iron clad room as a makeshift dwelling made from remnants of car body parts, in a car repair yard, where there are other similar dwellings housing similar folks like Abdu Ghalib.
Abdu Ghalib goes daily to Al-Sami’y Refreshment Stand in Cairo Street to drink tea with milk at night. There he recalls the ups and downs of a life of forty years he has lived well and which all of a sudden came to an end, and all of a sudden failure hits him at a senior age. This is an age he had expected to live the rest of his life with a secure pocket. Thus this irrational talk no longer applies as the War has killed irrationality and sanity.
He sits at the cafeteria at his seat overlooking the sidewalk drinking his coffee with his head turning and following the people going hither and thither raising his hand to greet some of the familiar people who greet him from a microbus, while at the same time turning to someone calling him from the other end of the cafeteria, asking jokingly what the price of cats is in the cat exchange market yesterday. However, Abdu Ghalib looks smilingly at the questioner, as though saying, don’t ask me about the price of cats, ask me about the price of humans. War has rendered human beings not worth any price. As for cats, it is apparent that their lives have become better than ours.
Abdu Ghalib has a strange tale of his own with cats, and a sad one at that. After losing his work and entering the unemployed market, he lived very poor circumstances, especially after many of the people of Sana’a left the City of Sana’a, while he remained in this place which witnessed various kinds of air bombardment from the air and sea by the Coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Where he lived, some of the cats would run away from the vacated houses and come to the yard of the workshop where Ghalib had his makeshift shelter. He was kind to the cats and fed them whatever he could from the food he ate. At first, they did not like it, but as they got used to it they began to accept it. The cats increased and became associated with him. As some stability reigned in on Sana’a and some people began coming back, he was surprised to find someone asking him to sell a cat. Some of the cats he sold did not like their new dwellings and returned to Ghalib. This happened more than once, but he eventually earned the title: “Cat Salesman”. He recalls: “I learned a lot from cats. I no longer felt lonesome and actually enjoyed having someone actually looking for me”.
Abdu Ghalib no longer cared about his appearance as poverty overcame him and started to live a simple life without leaving much for him to carry. It was a carefree existence without any heavy commitments or responsibilities. This may have been one of the positive outcomes of the war for those whose lives were severely affected by the War.
Belated Return to Ghalib’s Background
When recalling some of his past history, Abdu Ghalib would cause asphalt on the road to shed tears. He recalls: “I am one of those born after the September 26, 1962, which opened Yemen to the world.. After entering school, I learned refrigeration and air conditioning repairs at the Workshop of Mohammed Al-Ariqy in Ta’ez and I became a skilled engineer, while still young. I then left to Saudi Arabia and worked many years there. I returned to Yemen when many Yemenis returned in the Nineties because of the Gulf War. I came to Sana’a and opened a workshop near the Headquarters of the Permanent Committee in Al-Hasaba North of Sana’a and kept relocating until I settled here in Cairo Street. When this War started I became retired with an advanced death certificate.
With the late Ibrahim Al-Hamidy
Before going to Saudi Arabia, he worked in Sana’a helping the owner of a workshop during the Seventies. He mentioned a story that occurred to him with the late President Ibrahim Al-Hamidy. “I was still young then and I did not know what Hamidy looked like. I was in the workshop and a Volkswagen stopped in front of the workshop. The guy in the car asked: ‘where is the Engineer?’; I said, ‘he is here, what can I do for you? He replied: ‘I want you to come with me and fix the water heater in the house. I said: ‘Okay; he then said: ‘close the shop and come with me’. I went with him to his house checked the heater and told him, I need to go to the shop to get a spare part. He instructed his driver to take me to the shop and the shop owner was awaiting me. When he saw the car, he asked me, ‘where did you come from?’ I answered: ‘I went with the owner of this car to fix his water heater at his house; the water heater needed a part. The shop owner took the part himself and went with the driver alone. When he returned, he told me: ‘Do you know who the man that took you to his was?’ I said, ‘No’. He said, you ass, that was President Ibrahim Al-Hamidy.
“Ever since then I remember this story”, said Abdu Ghalib. He continued: “When I tell it to people no one believes me. I don’t know what to say, because I know they are right, even I do not believe that Yemen was like that and that was indeed the President of Yemen.”
Abdu Ghalib’s story is just one line of a chapter of several chapters of a long Yemeni tale of mystery.