Photographs from Yemen: What’s at Stake

May 13, 2015


Throughout the Old City spray painted slogans stain a labyrinth of ancient passages, forcing them to incite “Death to America.” Along my office commute in the morning-fresh air or among veiled crowds racing sundown in the market, a threatening imminence droned like white noise in my head. “You could be next.”

Tribal kidnappings were on the rise and foreigners were becoming lucrative commodities for AQAP, the most powerful branch of al-Qaeda, which is headquartered in the country. Expats were whisked away at gunpoint from bustling commercial districts in broad daylight and few locations were out of reach.

Toward the top floor of my 11th century home I knocked on a door but my call went unanswered. It was true. My friend had been abducted. My house had been watched, we had been watched, and I could no longer stay.


What’s at Stake

But the Yemen I saw in 2013 was primarily a Yemen of peaceful, hospitable people trying to make the best of their country’s declining condition after the Arab Spring. When Yemeni friends pretended to harass me as members of the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia, Yemenis strangers intervened at my defense. When I met a man whose innocent brother was recently killed in a US drone strike he spoke to me as an equal. When it was possible that I was being followed by al-Qaeda my driver pledged to stay with me at risk to his own life.

As the current war intensifies and international powers line up to co-opt proxies, it’s the innocent civilians who will bear the brunt of the conflict. In their honor, I’m offering this glimpse into life in Yemen to serve as a reminder of what’s at stake.

Sanaa Skyline

The skyline of the Old City in the capital of Sanaa with buildings over three times the age of the United States. Like a living museum.


There were upward of 25 AK wielding tribesmen outside my office one day. They seemed to be protecting someone inside the bank but once the camera came out they went from being guardsmen to models, all lining up to get their photograph taken.


Bab al-Yemen, the epic entrance to the Old City.




The Old City is divided into a series of quarters, each with their own communal garden, held in trust to the Imams. These beautiful vegetable patches are just catching on in the “developed” world, but take a walk any day through ancient Sanaa and you will see the neighborhood tending their crops.



wall of buildings sml

The ancient architecture has a variety of perforations that allow light to illuminate the building without exposing the woman inside


Many Yemenis still don’t have running water in their homes and must stock up on their water supplies at ancient wells that are still in operation.


Souk Sanaa



Very fresh chicken.




The Saleh Mosque, built by the ousted dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh as a tribute to himself.


Shower Grunge sml

Old mud brick architecture that predated plumbing means that modern piping runs along the outside of the walls like living on the inside of a skeleton. Shower on the left, bidet on the right. Leakage from pipes like these is one of the main reasons buildings in the old city and deteriorating and collapsing.

Kitchen Grunge sml

I may use modern equipment in my kitchen but the ancient stoves are still there as well. The 3 holes in the mud ledge at the back were used as fire places for cooking. Ventilation holes are located toward the ceiling. Smoke may be one of the reasons the communal kitchen is located on the top floor, but I’m also told that this room traditionally holds this location so that the women could look down through the windows without worry that men would see them.

P-3 orion

 Over the summer the US declared that AQAP was ready to undertake the largest terrorist plot since 9/11. And so the families of Sanaa spent the end of Ramadan with the booming sound of US surveillance aircraft circling overhead as expats like myself imprisoned ourselves in our homes. This was one of numerous mornings that the all-seeing-eye hovered over my home like a winged shark, all while American drones embarked on the most extensive campaign of “targeted” assassinations in recent history.

Man jugs

Row of Houses

carnival like stand sml

A vendor at Sanaa University. As the poorest country in the Middle East even the capital is severely lacking in infrastructure.

Begining of Change Square copy sml

Just behind me is a concrete memorial to the martyrs of the 2011 revolution, however this tarp construction perhaps serves as a more meaningful and descriptive monument to the revolution, marking the beginning of “Change Square,” the protest’s beating heart.

Islah Protest

 Islah, the Yemeni version of the Muslim Brotherhood holds a protest in the streets.


Inside the National Dialogue Conference which brought together political rivals to agree on the principles of the Yemeni constitution after the uprising in 2011. This is the State Building working group, which was to determine the composition of the state.



My friend’s wedding in Sanaa. As the son of a diplomat he was visited by several ambassadors that made their way down the red carpet with armed escorts.


On the floor is Qat, a leafy green narcotic that is ingested like chewing tobacco.


Sept 22nd was the 35th anniversary of InternationalPeace Day, which marks the opening day of the UN General Assembly. The Yemen Polling Center organized a Peace Picture Pen-Pal event that connected the children of Yemen with kids around the world through the common language of imagery. Check out our project here:

Sanaa Window

From the highest tower in Sanaa.

Tiny Store Owner

This tiny store in Sanaa’s ancient souk may be only a meter wide, but it makes up for it in height. These congested shops have a deceivingly bountiful inventory, the top shelves are accessed by the ladder in the back.

The Wall


To learn more about Yemen check out some of my articles below:

After Operation Decisive Storm, bigger storms lie ahead for Yemen

The Trapeze Act of Sanaa: Yemeni Plaster Workers Are Getting High on Khat

…….. and click here for a tribute to my friend.

If you liked this post don’t forget to subscribe! 

, , , ,


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: