Living in the Shadows: Yemen's Untouchables
The Middle East’s poorest state, Yemen is a country in turmoil. While most of its neighbors have grown obscenely rich, fueled by giant oil deposits underneath their soils, Yemen has been forced to watch from the sideline as its own economy has grown increasingly stagnant. Decades of endemic corruption, dwindling resources, and a tyrannical government have left the country only a shell of its former self –with more than 45% of the population now living below the poverty line.
With its plethora of problems, Yemen’s future is unclear. There is little to suggest whether the country will be able to pull itself together after its recent revolution, quell rebellion in the South, or silence al-Qaeda. What is clear, though, is that while Yemen’s government grapples with the many problems on its plate, other issues such as human rights are being laid by the wayside. The consequence of this may come back to haunt the country in the future.
“Al Akhdam”, meaning “The Servant” in Arabic, is a term in Yemen reserved for the lowest of the low. You can usually see these people, mostly consisting of Yemen’s darker skinned population, in the small alleyways of Sana’a, dutifully sweeping the streets of the day’s rubbish. Considered dirty and lazy, the Akhdam have held such jobs for as long as most can remember. Here they make up what would essentially be the equivalent of the untouchable caste in India. Ostracized by the general population in Yemen, they are forced to live and work in the shadows of one of the world’s oldest cities.