Every morning, Abdu Al-Abbassi stands wearing his traditional apparel at the top of the street to which his large grocery store opens. He stands beside the roaming salesmen, as if he wants to make sure that life in his country has not gone haywire! After being comforted that all is somewhat normal notwithstanding all that has transpired over two years of uninterrupted violent conflict and despite all the losses of passing coffins of the people dying from poverty or despair.
By: Ahmed Al-Aghbari – Sana’a – Yemen – The Yemeni American News
“Uncle” Abdu, as his workers amicably call him: “I never really thought that war would come so close to us to be able to see with our very eyes the tears of the widows and helpless!”
A four decades long success story of grocery enterprise, Abdu Al-Abbassi (55 years) never thought he would see the day that he would have to look for a partner to save his “Store of the Age” mercantile establishment. The accumulated losses on account of the ceaseless war, which suddenly erupted in March 26, 2015 have become difficult to bear even for the most of astute businessmen.
Abbassi , who fathers 16 boy and girl offspring never expected having to bear losses that exceeded YR 10 million, which are debts owed to him by families of Government and non Government employees, who have failed to meet their debts to his store, piling up since 2011, and which accelerated in growth since September 2016, on account of the Central Bank of Yemen being moved to Aden and under the control of the exiled Government of Abdu-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and the sudden stop payment of Government employees. Abbassi, speaking to Yemeni – America Newspaper, says “the people who bear the cost of this senseless war are not the parties to the conflict, but simple folks, who daily collapse into poverty and hunger”.
Mercantile Establishments – Each Has Their Own War Story to Tell
Food selling outlets are the most significant sources for learning the suffering that emanate from this destructive war. These outlets called groceries, or if large, super markets, are the greatest reflectors of the suffering and pains and the makers of people who take on the most difficult of challenges. This is especially evident when the owners of these businesses of direct contact with the common folks are people of principles and prominent social standing.
Abdu Al-Abbassi is a steadfast Yemeni grocer, who grew up on loving people, even when everyday he must deal with people under the most trying of circumstances, he remains calm and resolute and never does he project the classic image of greedy and stingy shop keepers. His shop which is one of the biggest groceries in Cairo Street, continued to maintain 12 workers from the beginning of the war, with their salaries current and adding up to half a million Yemeni Riyals, notwithstanding the ongoing series of crisis that arose over the last decade. His relations with his customers and people in general were as people have come to know him, with a remarkable display of patience and tolerance, with sales of his enterprise plummeting to 20% of their pre-war volumes.
Al-Abbassi entered the mercantile trade starting from zero, at his village in Bani Al-Abbass area in the south of Ta’ez Governorate. He started at the age of eight and after a long hard journey of relocating and emigration, he finally settled down still as a young man in wholesale merchandising of foodstuffs in the Mathbah wholesale food market in West of Sana’a. There he came closer to dealing with direct retailing, so he converted his capital to an investment in a retail grocery outlet, which he called the Abbassi Food Supplies, starting in 1994 in Cairo Street (Ring Road North.
In 23 years this man, with the success coming with God’s help, developed his retail food outlet into a successful enterprise doing fairly well until the events of the so-called “Arab Spring Revolt”. Abbassi recalls: “Since that year the downhill journey began as losses mounted even to the level of the individuals. The living conditions of people began to retract, and I was at the top of the list of suffering entrepreneurs. Electric power interruptions led to the suspension of most of the Grocery functions, with refrigeration at a near standstill and lighting reducing the hours of evening operations. Although we brought in an isolated generator to help alleviate the shortfall in electric power, it was not enough to cover the shortage of power upon which most of the equipment in the store depended. As the fuel prices also rose, the difficulties continued to strain our continued prosperity. Furthermore many of our customer families fled to their rural home villages with their large debt balances with us to escape the infighting between the various factions feuding then in Sana’a. We tried to adapt to the situation and survive digging into our savings, and indeed managed to overcome the hardships to a certain extent. That was fine until 2014 with the change in the political situation and eventually the commencement of the current war in March of 2015, and the knockout punch came!”
Al-Abbassi recalled all these tumultuous moments with burning anxiety, as he points to the entrance of his supermarket: “Every day. I enter and walk out that door to the appearance of new faces of needy men and women, some of whom hail from respectable families. The varying cases of suffering I see every day would not fit in books, let alone a newspaper interview. There are some cases that have considered themselves lucky to be able to suffice on water and bread”!
The Staggering Debts of Government Employees
The war has caused a large number of families at the start of the war to leave Sana’a and flee to their original rural villages, even more than the events of 2011. Al-Abbassi again relates: “Many of the families fled out of the bombing raids then hitting Sana’a indiscriminately, especially at the start of the war, when it was possible for any neighborhood to be targeted. Some have not returned even after so many months have subsided. Of course their debts to us remain unsettled. Yet to make matters worse, came the non-payment of Government salaries after the Central Bank of Yemen was moved to Aden and thus caused a serious threat of eminent starvation to many families reliant on Government salaries and social protection transfers. As a result, our store, like all retail outlets found it hard to maintain subsistence and I was unable to pay the salaries of my workers. So, I put to them the choice of staying with their daily expenses to be met, or to seek other work, and most decided to stay.”
The tragedy of this enterprise did not end there. The owner had his own debts to pay to the wholesale suppliers, and he had so many outstanding debts with customers, many of which have become write offs. Even when caught in this tight bottleneck, Abdu Al-Abbassi never considered suing his debtors for non-payment. Rather than that he preferred to be understanding and patient, realizing that the conditions of everyone were all the same, as he said “Until God facilitates the situation for everyone.”
Greetings and Wishes of Peace to All!
Al-Abbassi is a model of the Yemeni merchant, who does not jeopardize his place and standing among the people notwithstanding the situation in the country. War is the challenging test that makes the real heroes amongst the people stand out.
Eventually, it was learned After writing this report that Abdu Abassi did sell his dream business, because the pressure was unbearable even for a patient man like Ammo Abdu.