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Eid: From Yemen

Mohammed Almahdi, Communications Officer, CARE International in Yemen.

Eid has always had a special place in my heart. When I was young, the evening before Eid was filled with warmth and anticipation. My mother and sisters would make cookies and I’d help them with baking, then later we’d prepare our new clothes, putting them on display proudly in our bedrooms. Our hearts would beat fast with excitement making it difficult to sleep until 6 am.

At eight in the morning, my father and I would visit our female relatives, who were always pleased to see us and welcomed us with nuts, desserts and drinks, while my father gave them some money as a holiday gift. In the afternoon I’d visit my friends and we’d hang out in downtown Sana’a and have dinner. A couple of days later we’d all travel to Hodeidah or Aden to have fun, and I would spend my time taking photos and videos, documenting what would turn out to be the most carefree days of our lives.

Since the beginning of the war – over four years ago – life has changed for everyone in Yemen. I haven’t been able to do any of the fun things we used to do in Eid. Most of my friends have either left the country or have been killed in the conflict, and I can’t travel to Aden or Hodeidah because the roads are inaccessible and the fuel is so expensive.

I feel extremely nostalgic when I look back to my childhood and early adulthood.

Now when Eid falls, in Sana’a the streets seem empty and the shops are closed. When I wander the streets of the old city in the evenings, I no longer smell baking cookies, and the children I come across are playing aggressive games full of violence.

Three years of unpaid state salaries have made the things we took for granted only a few years ago seem like luxury items. The Eid rituals which are a part of our culture are no longer possible for so many – families can’t afford to buy nuts or desserts or even make cookies, and the men aren’t able to give gifts of money to women and children as they used to.

During the days of Ramadan, people used to shop for new Eid clothes for themselves and their children, but the high prices combined with low levels of income mean people can’t afford new clothes. And for families in IDP camps living amidst dust, cold and rain, and with no toilets or clean water, those little gifts are now an impossible dream.

In Eid I often think of people who spend the holiday in hospitals. Epidemics of cholera and diphtheria are sweeping the country, and many people are suffering from heart disease or high blood pressure. When I visited some hospitals last year, I remember seeing many women lying on beds waiting to give birth to babies who had already died. Most of the women had travelled long distances on rough and dangerous roads to get to the clinics. I remember the screams of their suffering.

I think about the happier times, the excitement we felt as children on the eve of Eid, a time for celebration. And I think about how many people in Yemen will spend their Eid this year in an endless struggle – so often now between life and death. I wonder how many of us will make it to next year and another Eid.

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