Life in the Yemeni honey stands at Global Village is bittersweet. The months working there are a respite from almost a year of painful war back home, but it is time spent in a cardboard simulation of an ancient culture that is being slowly destroyed by conflict.
Omar Al Dhuways is working in a honey shop at the Yemen exhibition at the fair this year but grieves for his hometown of Ibb in central Yemen, a well-watered mountain area he affectionately calls “the green city”.
The city has become host to tent camps for hundreds of families fleeing violence between the armed Houthi rebels and Gulf-backed militias in nearby Taiz. Inured to violence by decades of conflict in his home country, Al Dhuways seeks a way to live in safety in the UAE.
“Yemen is totally messed up, but we’ve become used to this. Bombs fall all the time and you can die at anytime – this has become the normal situation for us,” he said.
“I left Yemen a few months ago and have really enjoyed the quiet here in the Emirates. I’m looking for a way to get work and residency here and hopefully to bring my family over.”
Al Dhuways, though, admits there are things about his war-torn homeland he misses. Like most of the foreign workers who come to run exhibitions in Global Village, Al Dhuways is on a six month visa. When the festival closes on April 9, he’ll return home by bus from Amman, as airports are too damaged from the fighting.
Another Yemeni, Yahya Abed, came to the UAE a year ago from the capital Sana’a, which has seen heavy land and bombardment since a Houthi take-over of the city in September.
“It’s just like the old days there now,” he said, referring to the never-ending black-outs and queues winding from petrol stations that characterised the upheaval during the 2011 protests, which toppled 38-year President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
“I love the UAE. Yemen is like my mother, but the UAE – it’s like my wife,” he laughed. When Global Village is in recess, Abed returns to the Yemeni capital to collect honey for the store, and transports it by land back to the UAE.
Yemen is not yet part of the GCC, so it’s citizens require visas to enter the UAE. Still, over 90,000 Yemeni expatriates currently live in the UAE, mostly in Abu Dhabi.
“Since 1993 over half of Abu Dhabi are Yemenis,” another Yemeni on the stall, Muadh Al Hayashi joked, repeating a well known adage that the tribes of the Arabian peninsula trace their roots back to Yemen.