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Yemen, Beyond the Headlines

Yemen is a country in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula rich in culture, heritage, and history, with an extremely friendly and hospitable people.

But that doesn't make the news.

The country is often misrepresented in Western media coverage, magnifying the country's negative aspects. A country of 24 million people of many different backgrounds “has been reduced to Al-Qaeda…wars, poverty, Qat, tribalism, or the ancestral home of Osama Bin Laden,” writes blogger Atiaf Alwazir (@womanfromyemen) in her post “The Flawed Media Narrative on Yemen“:

Today’s journalism on Yemen is no longer about getting the facts right, or inspiring people to think independently, it is about who can write the most sensationalized story on the country – no matter how many times it has already been told – because that is what sells.

But some Yemenis are trying to change that. Using film, photography, blogging, and social media, they want the world to see Yemen for its rich art, unique architecture, and the breath-taking landscapes and scenery that the country has to offer.

A panoramic view capturing Yemen's unique architecture by photographer: Mohammed Alnahdi

A panoramic view capturing Yemen's unique architecture by photographer Mohammed Alnahdi.

Getting to know Yemen

Yemen is the one of the oldest civilizations in the world, with its history dating back to the first millennium B.C. It was commonly known as Arabia Felix, meaning Fortunate Arabia or Hapy Arabia.

In fact, four of the world's heritage sites are in Yemen. First, is the old capital itself, Sanaa. One of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, it boasts more than 103 mosques, 14 hammams (baths) and more than 6,000 multi-story mud houses with unique architecture, featuring spectacular decorated facades adorned with stained glass windows.

A video uploaded by UNESCO offers a glimpse of old Sanaa:

Second is Shibam, also known as the “Manhattan of the desert”, which is home to the oldest skyscrapers in the world — 500 mud-brick houses which are eleven stories high.

Shibam, the Manhattan of the desert, by photographer:  Michail Vorobyev.

Shibam, the Manhattan of the desert, by photographer Michail Vorobyev.

Third is the island of Socotra, the largest member of an archipelago site, important for its biodiversity and distinct flora and fauna. According to UNESCO, “37% of Socotra’s 825 plant species, 90% of its reptile species, and 95% of its land snail species do not occur anywhere else in the world.”

Take a look at the island in this YouTube video uploaded by ToYemen:

The last is the picturesque coastal town of Zabid, with its narrow alleyways and burnt brick buildings.

Beyond the media's portrayal

Various online efforts are being made to combat the media's narrow view of Yemen.

This short 20-minute video film, made for the British Council's Zoom Short Film Competition 2010 and uploaded to YouTube by ZoomCompetition, tries to correct misunderstandings about Yemenis conveyed through the distorted media coverage by showing their simple life:

To educate people on Yemen's history and heritage, Yemeni Poet Sana Uqba (@Sanasiino), who lives in London, wrote and recited a powerful poem about Yemen (video uploaded by Yemeniah Feda'aih):

One of my most popular blog posts entitled “Yemen… unraveled facts about my beautiful homeland” highlights many hidden facts about Yemen, such as it being the source of one of the finest and most expensive honey in the world – the “Doani honey” – and one of the first countries to introduce coffee to Europe by exporting its own coffee brand out of the port of Mocha.

Fahd Aqlan, a 35-year-old Yemeni man residing in Cairo, Egypt, started a Facebook page called So you think you've seen Yemen? to counter misconceptions and show the world another aspect of Yemen beyond what is portrayed in news headlines.

Summer Nasser, a Yemeni activist and blogger based in New York, started another Facebook page entitled The People of Yemen, which as she describes is a “photo project which brings the life of Yemen, one picture at a time to it's audience across the world.”

Others have spoken out in support of the country. Yemen-based journalist Adam Baron said in his Drones-Ad-Hoc hearing testimony:

Yemenis, as a rule, are nearly unfathomably friendly and welcoming.

On Twitter, Word Press Award winner and Spanish photojournalist Samuel Aranda (@Samuel_Aranda_) put in a good word for country as a foreigner:

@Samuel_Aranda_: For who thinks that in Yemen are only extremist. Visit Yemen!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNMsm1Fl_X8&feature=related

Sampling Yemen's cuisine

Yemeni food is often accompanied by homemade bread and cooked in stoneware. This photo show's a typical breakfast or dinner made of bread, fava beans, and liver accompanied by tea with milk and cardamon:

A typical Yemeni breakfast or dinner

A typical Yemeni breakfast or dinner. Photo courtesy “So you think you've seen Yemen?” Facebook page.

Bint El Sahn is a very popular and traditional Yemeni dish. Literally translated to English, it means “daughter of the plate.” It is made of many layers of dough, baked and served with a drizzle of honey on top. It is consumed during the meal as a main dish, not a desert.

The famous Bint El Sahn. Photograph by Hend Abdullah

The famous Bint El Sahn. Photograph by Hend Abdullah

Yemeni Kitchen is a great blog for an introduction to the country's cuisine. The blog, as described by the authors, “focuses on Yemeni Food with a historical twist.” Not only does it provide a step-by-step recipe of the dishes it introduces, but it also describes the history behind them as well.

Yemeni music and dance

A traditional northern Yemeni dance is called Bara'a and is performed with swift movements carrying a Janbiya, the Yemeni dagger, while dancing to the tunes of the Yemeni drum and muzmar, a type of Yemeni flute. Watch how young people perform this art in this video up loaded to YouTube by GTB313:

In the south, there is Hardamout dance and music, as seen in this YouTube video uploaded by Yemen Reform:

To listen to various Yemeni songs and rhythms, check out the following links: Ayoub Tarish is a famous Yemeni singer and composer; Yemen Reform provide YouTube videos of different Yemeni singers performing such as Alharethi, Alanessi, Alkebsi and also various Yemeni Nasheed Asswat Yemenia (Yemeni voices), and in addition to that it has songs for Abu Bakr Salem Balfaqih, Ali Thahban and Mohammed Morsehd Naji among others; My Diwan has the largest collection of Yemeni songs and Ahmed Fathi is a prominent Yemeni musician, singer, composer and Oud player.

Art, photography, and landscapes
This video, uploaded by TourYemen, shows the art, culture, and breathtaking landscape and beautiful scenery in Yemen:

Another panoramic tour of Yemen is available in this video uploaded to YouTube by tomeriko:


More breath-taking photos of Yemen can be seen through the Facebook pages of photographers Ameen Al-Ghabri and Abu Malik:

A beautiful shot of the old city of Sanaa through the lens of Ameen Alghabri

A beautiful shot of the old city of Sanaa through the lens of Ameen Alghabri.

A selection of Photos of the portal city of Aden by Ameen Alghabri

A selection of photos of the portal city of Aden by Ameen Alghabri.

A breath taking view of the city of Ibb seen from a cliff. Photograph by Abu Malik

A breath taking view of the city of Ibb seen from a cliff.
Photo by Abu Malik.

Some of the most famous Yemeni painters are Lamia Al-KibsiFouad Al-Foutaih and Mazher Nizar, and more of his work can be viewed here and here.

Oil painting by Fouad Al Foutaih, from the private collection of the author of this post, Noon Arabia

Oil painting by Fouad Al Foutaih, from the private collection of the author of this post, Noon Arabia.

For an alternative to Western media, follow local cultural and social stories through Yemen's own media, such as The Yemen Times and La Voix du Yemen.

 

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