By Asma Al-Mohattwari
Under the heat of the midday sun, many Yemeni women take place in front of Bab Al-Yemen in Sana’a to sell an array of popular Ramadan foods, including “Allhouh,” the most popular Yemeni dish during the holy month.
In Ramadan, one of the most important dishes to Yemenis is Shafoot, which is made from Allhouh. But not all Yemeni families are able to make Allhouh, so many of them prefer to buy it from outside. Allhouh sellers take Ramadan as a chance to sell as much of the product as possible because all families should have it.
While many members of the public buy Allhouh, prepare Shafoot, and greatly enjoy eating it, few know anything about the sellers themselves. Many of these vendors suffer greatly to sell Allhouh on the streets of Sana’a, which often requires leaving their homes and children in order to make a profit..
One such woman is Samira, who sets up shop every day on a sidewalk beside Bab al-Yemen to sell Allhouh. She wakes up in the early morning each day to make at least 100 Allhouh, which takes 4-5 hours. Once the Allhouh is prepared, she travels to Bab al-Yemen and establishes herself at her sidewalk workplace.
Samira raises her brown face to the hundreds of daily passers-by in search of customers who might buy her goods. Each day she returns to her 12 children with food and, hopefully, money from her sales.
Samira says her true suffering began thirteen years ago when her husband died, leaving behind him a wife and 12 children. “I am not educated, and I only know how to make and sell Allhouh in order to provide my children with necessities.”
She sells each Allhouh for 100 riyals, and her maximum daily profit is 2000 riyals.
“Ramadan is the month of goodness and Allah will not leave me alone. I am suffering but he will bless me,” she said with faith.
On the opposite corner of the same street sits a young girl who also selling Allhouh. Her expressions are different from Samira’s; her face is full of happiness, satisfaction and hope for the future despite her struggles.
When National Yemen asked Seham, the young girl, who made the Allhouh she sells, she innocently and happily responded, “my mother.” It is clear from her answer that this girl is still young and knows nothing of her mother’s suffering, but actually her happiness appears only at first glance.
Her smiles turned into tears, which Seham tried to hide, when she was asked whether she attended school. “No,” she said, trying to smile though her eyes were hiding a great pain and clearly exposing her desire to study.
Women’s trade flourishes during Ramadan not only in Allhouh but also in other markets such as eggs, aromatic plants, and Maloj, “a kind of bread”.
In the next street of Allhouh sellers, the old women Om Hamden sells eggs. She is 50 years old and has 10 children of her own as well as the 5 children of one of her sons.
She started her work when her husband had an accident and lost his legs. He now stays at home and can neither walk nor work. Om Hamden was forced to sell the eggs that she collects from the 5 chickens she raises in her yard.
Om Hamden earns 500-600 YR from the selling of the eggs and then feeds her children with this pittance.
“The market is different today. I used to earn more,” she said. “Maybe [I make less today] because of the weakness of the financial resources of the people.”
The sidewalks of Bab Al-Yemen are narrating another story. It is the story of Om Kamal who is 55 years old. She said her dream was to educate all her children to help her in the future. Unfortunately, she was unable to achieve this dream.
Poverty led her husband to divorce her and travel abroad, leaving 13 children behind him. She sells aromatic plants known as Shathab. She does not grow the Shathab herself, but rather buys it from her neighbors. She buys it in bulk and then sells it in small bundles. She earns 50 YR for every bundle.
Allhouh vendors and other sellers spread through a number of Sana’a markets such as Al-Sunina, Al-qa’a and Bab al-Yemen, where women from all walks of life—married, widowed, students and unemployed—sell their goods. All of them share a need that forced them into streets to sell foods and other wares.
These women deserve tribute and homage, not contempt and ridicule. They have taken to the streets in order to avoid begging.