Yemen, 1984

Suq al-Ahad nr Shihara 0001.JPG

We had murderers like that bearded stranger in the village before, you know. Oh yes, my father brought some Egyptian soldiers back during the war we Northerners, loyal to the Imam, fought against the republicans in the ‘60s. In times of danger the Imams of Yemen used to retreat to Shihara, a town up in the mountains above my village of al-Qiba’i. Shihara can still only be reached on foot, is completely defensible, with an ancient bridge spanning a deep gorge. A few foreigners do come this way to have a look. The Egyptian soldiers wished they hadn’t: my father could be quite cruel.

Anyway, I was sitting there preparing food for the family when I heard this terrible squeal from up the street. Now, you can see from my size that I can’t run easily. I marched up to see what had happened. The men were just sitting around chewing their ghat leaves as usual and a group of boys had surrounded this stranger.

A hen was clucking frantically and pecking at some blood on the stranger’s boot. A little chick lay mutilated and dead in the dust. He’d trodden on it! Well, my blood seethed at the sight especially as the boys were saying ‘no problem’ and agreeing they had distracted him by playfully throwing stones at him as he walked. I told them to get more stones to throw as I pushed them out of the way.

”That’s a life,” I said, and he agreed.

“That’s our future, our food,” I said, and he agreed.

“That’s one hundred and sixty rials. Pay. Now. Blood money”. He didn’t agree. I don’t know how he knew the market price for a chicken (forty rials) but I got more anyway. Murderer. He was lucky I restrained myself. I remembered the trouble my father had got into when what is now the government defeated our men and found out what he had done to the Egyptian prisoners.