By Fakhri al-Arashi
Exiles’ stories are rarely uncomplicated. The story of Iman Al-Qubati, her husband and four children is no exception. Recently, on Turkish Airlines’ inaugural Istanbul to Aden flight, Iman returned with her family to her hometown of Aden after twelve years of absence.
During those twelve years, Iman lived in Switzerland, where, she says, people know next to nothing about Yemen. On board the plane that carried her back to Aden, Iman said, “The Swiss don’t know anything about Yemen… except that it’s a terrorist country; they don’t even know where Yemen sits on a world map.”
For the first couple years of her time in Switzerland, Iman simply had to accept that her country hardly existed in the minds of those who surrounded her in her new home. Iman and her husband eventually held a party at which they introduced Yemen and its customs and traditions to locals. “It was an amazing party,” Iman recalled.
Iman left Aden – and Yemen – because she had begun to feel that efforts to improve her family’s lot were futile. Simply put, she saw no avenues to a better future. “My immigration story came after I became fed up with a life of daily poverty in Yemen… At that time, every day passed as though in a nightmare, as if I was living in a forest and struggling to survive.”
Her present life little resembles the one she left behind. A busy schedule in Switzerland has her working two shifts: in the morning, she translates from German to Arabic; during evenings, she works in a factory. Iman said, “The days and years passed by in the crowded life of Europe. In a way, I didn’t feel it, as most of my family lives abroad.”
As she flew towards Aden, Iman had no shortage of thoughts to share on Yemen’s past and present.
“I feel shame when I see the rest of the world is progressing, leaving Yemen behind. This is the case because of aggressive and flat-out wrong methods and actions by Yemen’s past governments, which continued to pull the country backwards while ignoring human rights.”
A former resident of Aden, Iman said she stands in support of national unity. Meanwhile, she considers southern separatists a destabilizing force. In her opinion, when people join separatist groups, such actions can be seen as a direct result of people’s experience with past governments. “I think we shold assist the new government as it attempts to help the southern people, restore their rights, and build a united and strong Yemen.”
While she’s lived outside of Yemen for twelve years, she still is bothered and hurt when Yemen is portrayed negatively. “Yemen has earned a negative image among European communities; our role is to change this image by introducing Yemen in a proper way. I love introducing Europeans to the true nature of the Yemen we love – not a poor Yemen which has a water shortage.” In her opinion, the main way to change such perceptions is for Yemen to have a strong leader able to instill a new mentality in the minds of the coming generation.
Interestingly, the drive to travel back to Yemen came mostly from Iman’s children, all four of whom were born outside of Yemen. Iman said that Yemen TV, which she has on throughout the day, made a strong impression on her children, leaving them curious to find out more about their heritage. “It’s true that my childrens’ Arabic isn’t that good, but we’re trying our best to keep them close to their homeland and to their mother tongue.”
While they’ve grown up in Switzerland, Iman said her children nonetheless possess a Yemeni identity and furthermore, that they truly love Yemen.
Inspired by memories, her children’s enthusiasm, and perhaps even the very act of traveling back to her home country, Iman said, “I love all of Yemen, and I wish to play some part in building the ‘New Yemen’. I worked as a secretary at the Ministry of Transportation during the years 1997 through 2000 and would love to visit with my friends and colleagues again.”
Upon arriving in Yemen, Iman and her family were received warmly by Waed Bathaib, Yemen’s Minister of Transportation, who was present at a ceremony for the same inaugural Turkish Airlines flight on which she had flown. The Minister had been informed by his staff of the remarkable circumstances surrounding the family’s return to Yemen.
Smiling and posing for photographs with her family, Iman said that while she felt that some in Yemen attempt to sabotage the country’s progress, she would just like to call upon the Yemeni people to help out the transitional government. While terms like ‘home’ and ‘abroad’ can become confusing for the exile flooded with memories of the past and thoughts of the future, in Iman’s case, it is clear that she could never truly leave Yemen behind.