Postcards from Yemen

Postcards from Yemen

A Yemeni farmer lounged on the ground by the side of the road, gazing at the beauty of the green mountain landscape, where the terraces were planted with corn, barbary figs and qat. Absorbed in contemplation, he didn’t move or react to any noise, a world away from the war tearing apart his country.

In travels across Yemen, these “in-between” moments are found everywhere _ Yemenis fitting their normal lives in between the destruction wreaked by four years of civil war.

That destruction has been terrible, with starving children, families driven across the country to seek safety, homes, schools and hospitals flattened, rampant militias inflicting bloodshed and torture. The country is split between a north held by Shiite rebels known as Houthis and a south held by forces loyal to the government and the Saudi-led coalition that supports it.

Shabwa, Yemen Ibb, Yemen

 

In this July 24, 2018 photo, women make their way on the road in Shabwa, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

In this Aug. 3, 2018 photo, women walk on a road in Ibb, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

In this Aug. 3, 2018 photo, women walk on a road in Ibb, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

But on both sides of that divide, Yemenis deal with the chaos in very similar ways and press ahead with their lives. Amid the conflict, it is easy to forget that _ and forget how stunningly beautiful the country is with its majestic mountain landscape. In the south, the mountains are harsh, barren and dry. Crossing north, the landscape transforms. The temperature drops a few degrees. The mountains are steeper and are wet, lush and green, watered with monsoon rains.

Yemen’s roads are arduous. A route that should take two hours can take 14 because of bad roads and the need to avoid battle zones and land mines. Along the highways are the tattered and abandoned remains of advertising billboards, a small reminder of the ruined economy.

 

Shabwa, Yemen Ibb, Yemen

 

This July 24, 2018 photo, shows the al-Qaida flag painted on rocks near the southern flag with Arabic that reads, "Yes to liberating the south," and "the Organization of al-Qaida: Have a Safe Trip," on a road in Shabwa, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

This Aug. 3, 2018 photo, shows the Houthi slogan with Arabic that reads, "God is great. Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse the Jews. Victory to Islam," on a mountain in Ibb, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

In the south, the many armed factions make their presence known with slogans painted along the roadsides. On the bare rockface of one hill in Shabwa province was spray-painted a flag of the once-independent South Yemen with a slogan calling for separation once more: “Yes to the Liberation of the South.”

Next to it, someone else has added their own sign of allegiance, the black flag of al-Qaida, with a _ helpful? _ message to passing drivers: “The Organization of al-Qaida: Have a Safe Trip.”

Once north, there is only one voice on the walls: constantly repeated in red, green and white paint, the Houthis’ trademark chant, “God is great. Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse the Jews. Victory to Islam.”

In this July 27, 2018 photo, a Yemeni girl walks into a tent at a camp for displaced persons, in Marib, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

In this July 27, 2018 photo, a Yemeni girl walks into a tent at a camp for displaced persons, in Marib, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

The in-between moments can be very small. Like a man in the Houthi-held town of Ibb who drove a truck whose roof was crumpled in, nearly smashed on top of him. He laughed, as if knowing how ludicrous it looked. The image was mirrored in the south by a trucker driving a vehicle so damaged it seemed incomprehensible that it still moved., Discarded vehicles, damaged by accidents or the war’s violence, are strewn everywhere on roadsides. But they are abandoned only after Yemenis squeeze whatever life they can out of them.

In government-controlled Marib, an ice-cream vendor circulated on a bicycle, playing a recording of a bell jingling to draw customers. There were no children around, but some militiamen _ AK-47s slung over their shoulders _ stopped him to buy some. The gunmen sat in the bed of a pickup, slurped their ice cream and then smoked cigarettes. Elsewhere, local residents picnicked, swam and took selfies at the reservoir at Marib Dam.

 
Text Example

This map shows the route taken during an AP investigation in Yemen in 2018.(AP Graphic/Nariman El-Mofty)

 

Women carrying out chores, men working or watching flocks are seen everywhere along the drive, north or south. As are children. In Ibb, a group of boys posed outside an abandoned van they like to play in. They stood proud in a startling array of outfits _ one boy in traditional robes, another in a black pants and a black button-down dress shirt, neatly tucked in as if he were about to visit relatives, another in an almost hip maroon blazer.

The dilapidated husk of the van behind them had four flat tires half sunk in the dirt, a tarp tied over the roof to keep off the sun. Names were scrawled on the sides _ Murad, Youssef, Arafat _ left by boys with nothing to do while whiling away hours. On an interior wall of the vam was plastered a poster of UNICEF, one of the international agencies struggling to help Yemen’s children.

Stuck on the van’s door was a tattered, worn-away propaganda poster, commemorating Sept. 21, 2014, the day the Houthis took over the capital Sanaa, the opening shot in the civil war. Its slogan, once defiant and now torn in half, proclaimed, “Revolution in the Face of Aggression!”

 

Marib, Yemen Ibb, Yemen

 

In this July 29, 2018 photo, a boy poses for a photograph at a displaced persons camp in Marib, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

In this Aug. 3, 2018 photo, shows the dilapidated husk of a van behind them with four flat tires half sunk in the dirt on a mountain in Ibb, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 

Marib, Yemen Ibb, Yemen

 

In this July 29, 2018 photo, men stand together at a displaced persons camp in Marib, Yemen, (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 

In this Aug. 3, 2018 photo, a farmer gazes at mountains where the terraces were planted with corn, barbary figs and qat, on the side of a road in Ibb, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Bayda, Yemen Ibb, Yemen

 

In this July 31, 2018 photo, shows mountains on the road in Bayda province, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

This Aug. 3, 2018 photo, shows green mountain landscape, where the terraces were planted with corn, barbary figs and qat, in Ibb, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 
This Aug. 2, 2018 photo, shows the home of Bouthaina Mansour Al Rimi who became a symbol of Yemen’s conflict, after an air strike by a Saudi-led coalition on Aug. 25, 2017 hit their home, in Sanaa, Yemen. The red marks are made by family members and they commemorate the days since her home was struck. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

This Aug. 2, 2018 photo, shows the home of Bouthaina Mansour Al Rimi who became a symbol of Yemen’s conflict, after an air strike by a Saudi-led coalition on Aug. 25, 2017 hit their home, in Sanaa, Yemen. The red marks are made by family members and they commemorate the days since her home was struck. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 

Marib, Yemen Ibb, Yemen

 

This July 30, 2018 photo, shows ancient Bilqis Temple or the Sanctuary of the Queen of Sheeba, in Marib, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 

This Aug. 3, 2018 photo, shows antiquities site, top, known as Samara Castle, in Ibb, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Marib, Yemen Ibb, Yemen

 

In this July 29, 2018 photo, a man drives his damaged vehicle on the road in Marib, Yemen, (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

In this Aug. 3, 2018 photo, a man drives a damaged vehicle on a street in Ibb, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 

Shabwa, Yemen Ibb, Yemen

 

In this July 24, 2018 photo, men gather under trees in Shabwa, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

In this Aug. 3, 2018 photo, a famer leads her sheep on a mountain in Ibb, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 

Shabwa, Yemen Ibb, Yemen

 

This Aug. 7, 2018 photo, shows the carcase of a cow near a destroyed car on a the road in Shabwa, Yemen, (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

This Aug. 3, 2018 photo, shows a damaged vehicle neglected on the road in Ibb, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 

Marib, Yemen Ibb, Yemen

 

In this July 30, 2018 photo, a boy takes a 'selfie' with the Marib Dam in Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

In this Aug. 3, 2018 photo, men chew qat, a narcotic leaf, as they make their way on a motorbike in Ibb, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 

Shabwa, Yemen Ibb, Yemen

 

This July 30, 2018 photo, shows a damaged billboard with Arabic that reads, "Yemen is in our hearts," in Marib, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 

This Aug. 3, 2018 photo, shows paint on a roadside with Arabic that reads, "boycott America, Muhammad, God is great. Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse the Jews. Victory to Islam," in Ibb, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Marib, Yemen Sanaa, Yemen

 

In this July 29, 2018 photo, a boy collects water from a fountain on a roadside in Marib, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

In this Aug. 6, 2018 photo, boys jump on the back of a pick-up truck in Sanaa, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 
This Aug. 5, 2018 photo, shows a wedding boutique with a defaced advertisement of a model on a placard, in Sanaa, Yemen. Most wedding boutique advertisements showing women models are defaced in the capital city. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

This Aug. 5, 2018 photo, shows a wedding boutique with a defaced advertisement of a model on a placard, in Sanaa, Yemen. Most wedding boutique advertisements showing women models are defaced in the capital city. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 

Marib, Yemen Bayda, Yemen

 

In this July 27, 2018 photo, a girl begs on the street in Marib, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

In this July 31, 2018 photo, a woman begs in the middle of a highway in Bayda province, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 

Bayda, Yemen Marib, Yemen

 

This Aug. 6, 2018 photo, shows mountains in Bayda, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

In this July 30, 2018 photo, shows women enjoying the Marib Dam in Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

 

Marib, Yemen Ibb, Yemen

 

In this July 29, 2018 photo, African migrants walk on a highway in Marib, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

In this Aug. 3, 2018 photo, a man walks on a road in Ibb, Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)


Text from the AP news story, Photographing Yemenis’ in-between moments amid civil war, by Nariman El-Mofty.

 

Visual artist and Digital Storyteller at The Associated Press