A Day in ‘Amran

The following excerpt is from Social Change in a Yemeni Highlands Town (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985) by Thomas B. Stevenson. Ordering information for this book is available from University of Utah Press. Chapter One is archived here by permission of the author.

A Day in ‘Amran
by Thomas B. Stevenson

Allahu akbar
Allahu akbar
Ashhadu la ilah illa Allah
Ashhadu la ilah illa Allah
Ashhadu inna Muhammadan rasulu Allah
Ashhadu inna Muhammadan rasulu Allah
Hayya ‘ala as-salah
Hayya ‘ala as-salah
Hayya ‘ala al-falah.
Hayya ‘ala al-falah.
Allahu akbar
Allahu akbar
La ilah illa Allah
La ilah illa Allah

It is fajr (first light of the new day). Loudspeakers atop mosques proclaim the first of five appointed times of prayer. Although it is early, some men rise in response to this statement of faith and call to prayer. Many perform the ritual ablutions and prayers in their homes while others attend to these ceremonies in a nearby mosque. Prayer is a religious obligation. At the mosque it is also a social event, providing a time for men to gather and talk, to reaffirm their faith and demonstrate their connection with the community. Throughout the day, men on their way to pray encourage others to accompany them, for religious reasons and for the pleasure of sharing the experience.

It is the muadhdhin's (announcer of the hour of prayer) call that signals the start of daily activities and the almost immediate appearance of men in the streets. Throughout the day people often ask, "Have they called prayer yet?" This is their way of keeping time and maintaining the order and tempo of daily life. Despite the proliferation of wristwatches, all important activities are defined in relation to one's religious obligations.

While men go out to pray, women, who are prohibited by custom from entering mosques, begin to bake bread and brew gishr (a beverage made from dried coffee bean husks) for breakfast. Yemen is famous for coffee, but the local product, like many others, is too expensive for frequent consumption. As fires are lit, smoke belches from small exhaust holes in the sides of houses, indicating that the open hearths are being readied for cooking.

At this early hour, with its very first hints of light, landowners and sharecroppers, who work plots in remote fields, make their way to the day's labors. Some walk beside donkeys balancing the plow, harrow, or nets to be used in the day's work. If there is no need for "heavy" equipment, the men ride their donkeys. With the decline of interest in agriculture in recent years and the concurrent growth of the mercantile sector, only a few townsmen pursue cultivation on a full-time basis. For the rest of the residents, the day begins with sunrise.

As the sun climbs and begins to burn off the haze and the chill that settle in the valley almost nightly, many fires are already going and preparations for the day are fully under way. In the narrow streets of the town, merchants remove boxes of supplies and wares from storerooms around their houses, load them in wheelbarrows, and start off for the suq (market).

The steady flow of merchants coming to open their shops begins; and the guards leave the suq, which they have protected throughout the night. The merchants are in no hurry; the market will not begin to bustle for at least an hour. A number of small temporary businesses have been set up to sell coffee, tea, and gishr to merchants and men returning from prayer. Fires have been laid in large empty cans and shallow bins cut from fifty-five-gallon drums; the kettles are nestled in the coals. Men gather around these vendors for a warm drink to fight the chill. Although the climate is temperate, a heavy dampness hangs in the early morning air. The men in the suq huddle close about the fires or seek out a spot warmed by the first rays of the sun.

As the activity in the suq increases, the coffee vendors close and leave for their full-time jobs. Customers now must wait for the permanent tea shops to open. Even as the vendors depart, their open-air locations are filled by other, more permanent sellers. Since they do not own or rent shops, these vendors pay a small fee levied by the municipality for use of public space.

Several hundred yards outside the market, in an area surrounded by new houses, sheep and cows have been slaughtered for the day's sales. The butchers' tall tripods, used to drain the animals' blood and to facilitate the gutting and skinning, stand empty. Each animal is slaughtered according to religious doctrine. The butcher faces the animal toward Mecca and just before slitting its throat, says, "In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate." As the sun climbs, the butchers filter into the market carrying the meat, still steaming, in wheelbarrows. Some of the men are accompanied by their apprenticing sons, who carry cutting boards, knives, and the occasional balance scale.

In the center of the suq, in the older shops, the ambitious begin to unpack items for display. All merchandise is put away at night to discourage theft. In front of the shops bins of Yemeni raisins, California almonds, American rice, gishr, and others foods are laid out. Intricate displays of imported ready-made clothes are set up. Individual items are placed on hangers and arrayed along the length of chains hanging from the supports of improvised sheet-metal sun and rain shields. Chinese plastic shoes, the popular tennis shoes (buti), and Czechoslovakian leather shoes are laid out in pairs. Stacks of plastic pails, boxes of sugar crystals, displays of razor blades, and Indian leaf tobacco all have assigned locations. Many items overflow into the narrow display area that is also the street, making room for the seller inside his shop. Later, when the crowds come, this will hamper traffic, but now it is not a problem. Wheelbarrows; all sizes of pots, pans, and kettles; chain; lanterns; nails; and assorted tools are arranged in front of "hardware" shops. The pattern for locating and displaying items is inflexible. The dried red pepper (bisbas) must go here; the sugar (murasi) must go there.

It is still quiet. While sharecroppers and landowners set off to observe conditions in their nearby fields, day laborers gather around the many construction sites. Villagers coming to the market avoid the main road, wending their way through piles of sand, stone, dirt, and other building materials scattered about these sites, before reaching a street leading to the suq. Since this is not a "market day" (one of two days in a regional market round that attracts customers from distant villages), those who come today are men who live in nearby villages in ‘Amran district. Some bring a donkey load of alfalfa (lucerne) to be sold for cash to a broker in the market. Others come carrying bulging cloths filled with spring onions and scallions from mosque-owned and private gardens. Still others bring crates of tomatoes and sacks of onions and potatoes harvested from their fields. Some of these men will sell their produce to a greengrocer; the rest will set up shop in the area where produce is sold.

An hour after sunrise the tempo in the suq nears its peak. The streets are filled with hurrying, jostling people trying to see the goods for sale. In the midst of the sounds of many conversations is heard the occasional shout or burst of laughter.

"Sabah al-khir! (Good morning!)," someone shouts to a man just entering the main market area.

"Sabah al-khir wal-‘afiya (Good morning and good health)," comes the reply as the two shake hands and each makes a gesture of kissing his own hand.

They exchange a bit of news or, most often, trade formal greetings and excuse themselves, using the formalized expressions "Can I do anything for you? (Ay khadma?)" or "By your leave (Khadirik)". Then they continue on with their morning rounds.

In the residential areas, mothers send their children off to play in the streets. At 7:30 a.m. the national anthem is broadcast through loudspeakers atop the elementary and the joint middle-secondary schools. Even before the music begins, small parties of children are ambling through the old, unattended cemeteries and around construction sites, on their way to school.

The Egyptian teachers, identifiable by their larger size and Western clothing, stroll along the paved road that leads past the two schools. They offer a sharp contrast to the wiry, more graceful Yemeni striding toward the market in "traditional" dress, either long, flowing calf-length shirts or skirts and modern sport shirts, and a Western sport coat. Each man wears a large sheath (jihaz) fastened about his waist in which he keeps his dagger (jambiyya), the male symbol of adulthood. Each wears a brightly colored cloth around his head. Most also take an old or worn cloth, tossed over the shoulder or draped about the handle of the dagger for carrying items home from the suq.

In the market, men have begun to shop for the day's food, purchasing only essentials this early in the day. Later there will be time to look for a good price on a 50- or 100-kilogram sack of imported flour, sugar, or rice.

"Give me a chicken for ten riyals," demands a villager and the shopkeeper's head disappears into a French-made freezer, his dagger thumping the plastic front.

"No, not this one. It still has blood on it," says the villager, pointing to a bit of rose-colored ice. He passes the chicken back and the shop owner searches for another one, taking time to fill the orders of a few customers who have clustered about the front of the shop. Finally he offers a second chicken.

"Give me another one, this is too small. Give me a bigger one," demands the customer.

"At your service," comes the reply in a most matter-of-fact tone. "Do you want one for twelve riyals?"

"I want a bigger one for ten riyals. Give me a nice one like yesterday!"

"We don't have any more. They're coming in a few hours!" yells the shopkeeper, referring to the daily carloads of frozen chickens brought from the capital.

As the shopkeeper attempts to fill the orders of other buyers, the first customer tries to complete his business.

"All right, give me the first one. How much is this rice? Is it American?"

"Six riyals a kilo. See its trademark," replies the shopkeeper as he extracts a small oval piece of paper from amid the grains identifying the rice as a product of Louisiana on both English and Arabic.

‘Amranis state a preference for locally grown foods, but most cannot afford their higher price and buy a variety of imported items like eggs, frozen chicken, flour, and fruits. With worldwide inflation, the influx of monies from Saudi Arabia, and labor-intensive farming practices keeping prices of local goods beyond customers' reach, many ‘Amranis have found it more profitable to enter the commercial sector than to continue agricultural production.

Vendor-customer squabbles are more pronounced in the vegetable and meat sections of the market. Butchers and greengrocers hold a low status within the social system and, since prices are not fixed, customers believe these vendors are more inclined to cheat them. People of all statuses frequently allege that the butchers are the least honest of all men in the suq and feel they should be more strictly regulated. This attitude reflects the fact that butchers have a commodity people now consider essential, although this was not always the case.

"Give me half a kilo of calf meat," demands a customer, tossing a twenty-riyal note in the butcher's lap. "That isn't from a calf, it's from a bull," he shouts as the butcher pulls the cowhide cover back, revealing the meat.

The butcher points to the calf's head sitting on the edge of his cutting board, a sign of what he has to sell, and swears it is from the animal he slaughtered this morning.

"Trust me," replies the butcher calmly.

"That's the same head you had yesterday!" says the customer, although he lacks conviction.

"The liar is a Jew," comes the reply. "This is from today. Strike me blind if I lie," he declares as a mild affirmation of the truth and proceeds to cut bits from various sections of meat.

"Give me some more! This isn't worth twenty riyals, and take away the fat. I don't want any bones!" demands the customer as he makes a feint at grabbing back his money.

Finally satisfied, he demands a plastic bag in which to carry the meat and moves on to look for other items.

"How much is a kilo of potatoes?" he asks a greengrocer seated in the center of this older section of the suq.

"Five riyals, and that's cheap. The bag cost me fifty-two," replies the vendor as he sucks on the stem of his water pipe.

"Five!" bellows the customer attempting to attract the other vendors' attention.

"Everyone is selling for five today," comes the retort with an air certainty.

The customer glances about and, seeing no one beckoning with a lower price, squats to select his potatoes. After they are weighed and bagged, he will probably haggle a bit over the price. If the vendor wishes, he may add a few more potatoes to the purchase; if not, the customer will add a few of his own choosing in spite of the vendor's fainthearted objections.

A characteristic inquisitiveness accompanies some purchases. "Why are you getting mutton today? Is someone sick? Did your wife give birth? Do you have guests?" These are typical questions that arise over any perceived change in buying habits. Mutton or lamb is considered essential for certain occasions and proper for others if within one's mean. People are quick to notice when one has changed his buying patterns. Such critical observation extends well beyond the affairs in the suq.

While the haggles and squabbles are common and repeated daily at most stops, they are less frequent in the new commercial sections on the main road where prices and quantities tend to be fixed. Only a few items can be bargained for, particularly local produce and some imported goods. Others, like imported eggs, frozen chickens, and fruit, have fairly rigid prices. Each man has a somewhat fixed series of shops he tends to visit, either because he is a friend of the owner, thinks he gets better prices, or because he has an established credit relationship.

It takes only slightly more than half an hour to make most of the essential purchases. Soon men are carrying their food home in bulging scarves, meeting and exchanging pleasantries with others going to and from the market. Occasionally they enlist someone to drop purchases off at their homes. A few, particularly those with highly successful businesses or other sources of wealth, hire low-status individuals to make their daily purchases. This practice was more common in the past when men of status considered the market an area to be avoided.

‘Amrani men do not like to return home during the day. After purchasing items from the suq, a man will stand in the street in front of his home and call the name of his eldest son - a signal for someone to come down and take the food. It is shameful (‘aib) to call an adult woman by her name in public. Addressing her by her eldest son's name in this situation is considered protective of her honor; and, as some informants suggest, it is also a way of protecting against the evil eye.

By nine o'clock the level of activity begins to slowly wind down, since most people have completed the bulk of their essential shopping. Now that the necessities are at home, it is time for most men to concentrate on the business of the day. Often they merely wander about, checking prices of bulk goods, meeting friends, or drinking tea in the suq. Most men have some place to go, and it is often said that one advantage of having a shop is that it affords a place to be.

Many men have been at work since shortly after sunrise and, because of the demand of farm chores and construction work, will not find time to get to the market. If they are day laborers doing construction projects, the owner may pay for an even make the purchase of the day's meat in addition to giving them a cash wage. Men at work in the fields usually have a friend or a family member make their purchases.

Since the end of the eight-year civil way, the market has mushroomed in size. The area known as the suq lies just outside the High Gate of the madina, which literally means "city," but which actually refers to the walled portion of the town. The suq is a concentrated area of shops, some forty or more years old, others built within the last six to eight years. Most are small, and many are simply used as storerooms for new shops in other sections of the town. The suq shops are distinct in their older style of construction: uniformly of stone, with large wooden doors and with floors raised several feet off the ground to prevent rainwater from seeping in and damaging goods, which in the past were primarily grains.

Several traditional, status-linked occupations are practiced in this older commercial section of the market. Clustered in open areas amid the shops along the narrow, primary road leading to the High Gate are the butchers, greengrocers, itinerant beggars, and the disabled men who perform religious tasks. Like vendors without shops, they take up positions in front of shops used for storage. The butchers' special section, with stalls raised high above the ground, is in poor repair and meat usually is sold in improvised locations nearby.

In this same section are the blacksmiths' shops. Although their fires are small and clean-burning, this portion of the market is often buried beneath a dense low-hanging cloud of smoke coming from the public bath (hammam). The baths are heated with fires made by burning bones from butchered animals and hard wood, a combination that produces a thick black smoke, particularly when the fires are first lighted. As the only public bath in the district, it is always busy. In line with the segregated nature of Yemeni society, specific days are assigned men and women for bathing.

Government offices, located in rooms above the High Gate, overlook the suq. This gate is one of three openings in the tall, thick wall that surrounds what was, only seventeen to eighteen years ago, almost the entirety of ‘Amran. The suq and the public bath lie just outside the wall. The area surrounding the High Gate is considered the center of the town and the hub of many activities, but its importance is waning as residential and commercial areas are springing up elsewhere.

The shops along the tarmac road have a character different from those in the suq, and they reflect the town's strong commercial base. These newer shops are rented primarily by nonnative ‘Amranis, men who have left their villages to relocate in the town. This is where they intend to invest the earnings of years of work in Saudi Arabia. Many of their shops are distinct from the older ones. In addition to common imported goods like the Chinese air-pot thermos, or a variety of canned goods and perfumes, emigrant shopkeepers sell specialties such as clothes and shoes, building materials, or (in one case) cars and trucks. There is even a laundry. All of the shops are open and bright. The newest are larger, with goods neatly arranged on shelves and all wares kept inside.

Interspersed among these shops are hotels (often merely large rooms filled with cots), restaurants, and barbershops that meet the needs of a growing, often itinerant, population. Even for those without capital, ‘Amran has become a place to make a living. Many come to work on the numerous construction sites that dot the area, others to take up positions in restaurants and hotels acting as "servants", positions no ‘Amrani will accept. Crowds often gather in front of shops offering the latest cassette tapes from Sanaa.

In front of the newer shops, taxis await a full load of passengers. Drivers roam about, calling "Sanaa" or "Rayda" depending on their destination. Taxis bring villagers to ‘Amran to shop or for medical treatment in pharmacies or at the government operated clinic and also to take villagers and ‘Amranis to the capital, an hour's drive away.

Along with taxis and other vehicles busily transporting people, there is an almost daily arrival of large Mercedes trucks loaded with cement, flour, sugar, rice, salt, lumber, steel, freshly bottled Pepsi Cola, or an array of canned goods destined for wholesalers. The rumbling of these trucks attracts small bands of young men who chase after the vehicles in hopes of finding a few hours or work unloading and storing the goods.

Most activity seems concentrated in the commercial sector, but the transport and sale of goods and the provision of services are only part of the occupational structure of the economy. The demand for new houses and shops has created many jobs and encouraged specialization in carpentry and construction.

In the past, construction techniques allowed for little variation, and all houses were similar in architecture and even in interior furnishings. New building techniques are now common. Cut stone was part of traditional construction, but its use was limited to the foundation and the first floor. Today one hears the constant pinging of hammers on chisels as the skilled, highly paid stonecutters chip away at large rocks, forming smooth faces for the exteriors of homes and storefronts.

Construction areas resound with the clinking of metal on stone, and the thunderous roar of truckloads of stone and dirt being dumped. The moistened dirt is mixed with straw to bond the stones together. Cement blocks, made in "block factories" along the main roads, are used when money is scarce. Sometimes stone, cement block, and the traditional mud and straw bricks (libn, sg. libna) are combined in one house.

The newest homes are single-story dwellings with perimeter walls enclosing a garden or open space and the house. The basic house design includes a central hallway with rooms on each side, virtually all of which are living areas. This architectural style reflects the fact that their owners are not engaged in agriculture and do not need rooms for storage of annual produce or agricultural implements. Even though there is an enclosed compound, most families do not keep livestock. Exceptions to this pattern occur among long-time residents who have built new houses but maintain storage areas in their old homes.

The older houses provide a striking contrast. They are tall, usually four stories high, and share walls with neighboring houses. In the madina, the first two floors of houses are used for storage of animals, tools, and grains. Living quarters are found only on the top one or two floors, where the bathroom and kitchen are also located. Usually the upper floor room with the best view is used as the main reception room. The madina is then an area of row houses, with the new residential areas best described as suburbia.

Despite the modernity of the newer houses located elsewhere, some people still consider the madßna the place to live. Many men view its narrow winding streets, where only friends and neighbors enter, as a safe place for their women. Here women can conduct their daily chores with little concern that their modesty and family honor will be compromised. Perhaps it is the desire to avoid "compromising" situations that explains why men do not like to return to their homes during the day. Certainly, many, particularly older men, travel through the streets mumbling bits of the Qur'an, giving public notice of their presence. Yet, despite the "safety" of the madina, it is not uncommon to find the narrow streets blocked by cars, the occasional pickup truck disgorging a load of firewood, and the small street-corner shops run by children selling Pepsi, candy, and shrub (a mixture of water and juice concentrate) to equally small customers.

By midmorning, the pinging of hammers on stone is smothered by the rhythmic thumping of exhausts from diesel-engine powered generators in the carpenter shops where electricity drives imported band saws, table saws, routers, and other tools. Although the carpenter shops open late in the morning, they have a booming business in making doors and windows for the many new homes, and they stay open until nearly eleven at night. ‘Amran does not have an electric power station, so the carpenters' long hours serve a dual purpose. First, the generated electricity is available for running the power tools; and second, it can be sold to others. The principal demand period for electricity is in the evening for television sets (broadcasts begin in late afternoon) and lights, so carpenters work late to meet the demands of both their businesses. Numerous power lines, streaming from each of the many workshops, are suspended precariously from makeshift poles, and large trucks often snag these lines and pull them down. Even though viewed by most as a minor inconvenience, this is a serious problem for shopkeepers who need electricity for five or six hours daily for their freezers full of imported chickens. Generator or engine breakdowns bring a flurry of activity as shopkeepers enlist friends to help them string new lines to a working power source.

About midmorning when the carpenters begin work, men who have nothing of importance to do or who have a bit of free time go to the suq for breakfast (although they could just as easily eat at home); many bring freshly baked bread with them. In the market they are assured of meeting friends. There are restaurants and tea shops as well as vendors in the market selling boiled potatoes and hard-cooked eggs and, in season, slices of watermelon. In many shops a person can buy a Yemeni-made Pepsi and munch on Yemeni-manufactured biscuits or share the shopkeeper's breakfast. Regardless of where he spends the morning, he will have some breakfast. The disabled and poor are given bread and tea as they sit in the entrances of mosques awaiting anyone wanting prayers said or part of the Qur'an read for the seriously ill or recently deceased. They are rarely left idle, for it is both an obligation and a blessing to help the unfortunate and also to commemorate a death with Qur'anic reading in the mosque or at home.

While men gather in the suq to meet friends, women do the same in the relatively safety of their neighborhoods. It is not uncommon to see women (who quickly veil themselves at the approach of a man) in the more secluded residential areas, gathered on stoops, chatting as they pick bits of dirt and chaff out of locally grown grains. All the while, they exchange bits of information and make plans for the afternoon's visiting. Snatches of gossip also are traded. The worlds of men and women rarely overlap, but many of the daily patterns are similar.

The rumble of motors is not limited to the town. During the day, it is heard in the countryside where water is pumped from wells and sent flowing in irrigation ditches. Not all fields are irrigated, although the town lies in a region with a good water table. The main variable is one's distance from a good water source. Some areas that could be irrigated mechanically are not because they are close to natural watercourses that fill and flow during the rainy season. Landowners and sharecroppers alike move quickly to stem the flow to one field while opening the channel to another. Prudent use of water is essential because it is expensive. The cost is based on the expenses of operating the pump, and some crops require more water than others. Even as men are adjusting the water distribution, other groups of men and women are squatting in fields cutting alfalfa, an important cash crop. As the crop matures, it is harvested to meet the demands of livestock owners in town and nearby villages. Middlemen sell most of the alfalfa in ‘Amran' suq, but occasionally growers market it at other stops in the weekly market round.

In spite of, or because of, the thriving economy, leisure has become a new "occupation" for some. For men who have no particular workCthe elderly, those recently returned from Saudi Arabia, fathers with sons working in Saudi Arabia, students on vacationCor who have only temporary day-to-day employment, the suq has become a place to wander and hang out. Tradition-oriented ‘Amranis frown on this behavior, and men of importance pass through and rarely stop in the s„q, but it has become an acceptable place for many people to spend time. This new image of the suq has emerged because groups of men who traditionally avoided the mercantile sector now play a major commercial role in the town. It is natural that their neighbors, friends, and acquaintances spend some time visiting during the morning while these "new" entrepreneurs tend their shops. Emigrants congregate in shops run by those from their village or natal area.

As the midday prayer (zuhr) call approaches, the level of activity in the suq picks up. Most of the interest is centered on the qat suq. Here one always find crowds perusing the day's supply of qat, checking prices, types, freshness; but as noon approaches men are keenly aware of the need to buy their supply of leaves for the afternoon's chewing.

While interest grows in the qat suq, other sectors of the market begin to close down. Only a few butchers are left trying to sell the remains of the day's slaughter. The gold, silver, and money changers slowly stow their valuables. Most of their customers are villagers, who come to convert some of their Saudi riyals to Yemeni riyals; by midday they are on their way home. Gun and ammunition vendors also are closing shop, as men's interest shifts to qat.

‘Amrani men always bargain for qat. No one pays the price asked except when the supply is limited. Buyers are as suspicious of qat sellers as they are of butchers, but for reasons not related to status. Sure they are being robbed, customers strive to get the best deal. A man may even show his purchases to friends announcing the cost as somewhat lower than it was.

"What have you got?" asks a man muscling through the crowd around a qat seller. "Give me a look. What is the qat from?"

Picking up a wrapped bundle, a buyer carefully opens the covering to see how much qat is actually under the many layers of protective, non-qat, leaves. He is particularly careful to note the number of tender young leaves since these make for the best chewing.

"How much is it?" he asks.

"Forty," comes the reply.

"What's your final price?" he queries.

"Thirty-five, and I'm only making two riyals," responds the seller.

"Thirty," offers the customer, but the vendor simply takes back the qat.

Later, the customer finds some other q~t to his liking or comes back to the first seller. If demand is heavy by then, the price may have gone up.

"Give me long branches of qat," shouts a man.

"Here's some locally grown," says the vendor and hands long stalks to the customer.

"Where's it from?"

"From Dhawan."

"How much?"

"Fifty."

"Forty."

"Forty-five," says the seller. "That's my final price."

"Okay, but give me something for cigarettes."

They settle for forty-two riyals as the loudspeakers on the mosques begin to announce the midday prayer. Since there are ten mosques, the calls begin at slightly different times and the various mu$dhdhins' litanies blend into each other. A few men begin to close their shops for the day, but most leave them under the eye of a guard (often a younger brother, son, or other household youth) as they go off to pray and then to their homes for lunch. With the prayer call, clouds of smoke begin to rise from houses throughout the town as the women ready the fires for baking. They know their husbands and sons will linger a while in the mosque or chat with friends on the way home; the bread will be ready in time.

Lunch is not a time for relaxing. It is a necessity, and men do not linger over it. Although it is the largest meal, usually four to five courses, most men manage to eat it in less than twenty minutes. In large extended households, or if guests are present, men eat separately from women and children. Once they have finished and adjourned to another room for tea, gishr, or perhaps a brief rest, the women begin their lunch.

Despite the separation of male and female spheres, men find time to play with their children, but prefer to do so outside, away from the house. After lunch they usually take time to chat in the street with neighbors, to joke with their children or give them money for candy.

It is only an hour and a half after the midday prayer call when men begin to trickle back into the suq. In many respects, they are starting a new day. Although afternoon activities for many men are far removed from those of the morning, they begin in the marketplace. Once again it is time for tea and, though the pace is leisurely as in the morning, men harbor concerns about their final selection of a suitable place to spend the afternoon. Those who have no fixed chewing site, or are merely seeing if there are better locations, make such decisions in the tea shops. Here men gather; discuss where they are going to chew; inform their friends of any special events; inspect with a trained eye the quantity and type of qat their friends have purchased; and perhaps, if the supply of qat is good, buy an additional bunch. Those who were unable to get to the qat suq earlier, now crowd around the sellers in what often appears a frenzied effort to get some leaves at an affordable price.

Theoretically, men do not begin to chew until the mid-afternoon prayer (‘asr) has been called and answered. Actually, some begin almost as soon as they have finished lunch. Despite their passion for qat, many men, if not all, realize that chewing is an expensive pastime and that they may spend twice as much money on qat as food. Many like to cite the apparent evils of chewing, most notably its effects on sexual performance. In spite of jokes and hand signals used to demonstrate powerful erections produced by some types of qat, it is well known that the limp wrist sign is a more apt indicator of the temporary impotence that accompanies heavy chewing. Still, although they complain, they chew.

Most men have a relatively fixed site for chewing. Merchants like to chew in their shops so they can conduct business even though consumer traffic is light in the afternoons. Those who do not have a business select various locations, but usually follow a pattern. Most men like to chew with the same people, at the same place, for weeks or months at a time. Only after they have become tired of the same company do they begin to look for a new place.

As in other areas of social life, there are rigidities in qat chewing patterns. The degree of ritualization depends primarily on the number of people gathered and how long they have been coming to the same location. With familiarity, informality increases.

Houses in which men regularly gather are open to all, without invitation. Special announcement or invitation is required only for an event, such as a wedding or an out-of-town guest, or when a man first decides to open his house to friends. In the latter case, once the information becomes public anyone may attend. Men prefer to chew in houses with a mafraj (a well-appointed room often located on the highest floor) that affords both good company and a good view. Guests arrive about mid-afternoon and are extremely cautious in entering the house, since the women do not leave home for their own gatherings until after performing the mid-afternoon prayers. A courteous visitor always calls "Allah" as he climbs the winding dark staircases to the mafraj to warn women that a non-family member is entering the house and to allow them time to dart for cover. (All men should give warning whenever they enter a house, whether their own or a friend's. This shows consideration not only for the women of the household but also for any others who may be visiting.)

Although women clean the mafraj every morning (which includes sweeping out the remains of qat, stacking the thick rectangular arm cushions, setting the water pipes and hoses off to the side, and straightening the floor and back cushions lining the room), there are final preparations yet to be made. When the guests arrive they remove their shoes either in the hall outside the room or just inside the door. At large gatherings, some men carry their shoes so they will not have to search for the in the dark when they leave. As the men enter the mafraj, each takes an arm cushion or two and possible a blanket, then seeks a suitable location where he arranges the cushions and blanket for maximum comfort. Early arrivers almost always arrange their own seats. Later guests may find the room has been laid out by members of the household. After settling into their spots, men usually get ready to chew. If they are regular visitors and are early, however, they help with some of the other chores. It is common for the children or grandchildren of a house to set up and "build" the water pipe (mada‘ah). First they prepare tobacco and then place its holder (buri), covered with hot coals, atop the pipe's long stem. Thermoses also must be filled, ashtrays and spittoons laid out, and cushions and blankets set in place. Guests usually provide a share of the necessities. Men who smoke the water pipe bring a small contribution of tobacco or charcoal.

Once the room is ready and a few men are seated, chewing begins. By the time latecomers arrive the room is filled, each man reclining against thick back cushions with his left leg folded beneath him and his left arm resting on an arm cushion. The right leg is bent so the foot rests on the floor, to avoid insulting anyone by showing him the sole of the foot.

As each new arrival is comfortably seated, he begins to open and inspect the contents of his plastic bag. After selecting a bunch of qat with a good number of nice leaves, he stows the others in the bag to preserve their freshness and begins to chew. The process is simple. He breaks the tender young shoots from the stem, places them in one side of his mouth, and chews. He swallows the juices, and the masticated leaves are pushed off to the side. As he adds new leaves, the wad in his cheek grows. He discards the stems with large rough leaves. Shortly these form a large pile in front of the chewer. Chewing produces a heavy thirst and the amount of water he consumes has an influence on the type and speed of the qat's effect.

Virtually all aspects of qat activity are referred to by the word khazn, which literally means "to store." The process of chewing is khazn as is the process of buying qat. Men often ask each other, "Khazant?" In the morning this means "Have you bought your qat?" and, in the late afternoon or evening, "Did you chew today?" Each meaning refers to the process of storing the leaves in one's cheek.

Early in the qat chew, the conversation is lively, centering on bits of information about the day's activities; stories and jokes are exchanges as well. It is not uncommon for one man to become the butt of jokes for thirty minutes to an hour. By this time the chewers are beginning to feel a mild sense of euphoria. Also, the larger the wad in the chewers' cheeks the less lively the conversation, until eventually quiet prevails, broken only by the gurgle of the water pipe. At the beginning of the afternoon, the anticipation of the qat's effects serves to direct conversation to important matters after the interlude of joking and laughing has passed. It is such talk that ultimately fades as men continue to pack ever larger numbers of leaves into their cheeks and begin to contemplate their lives in a rather dreamy way.

Discussions often center on religion, sometimes focused on the decline of Islam and morality since the revolution, more often on particular passages from the Qur'an. It is not uncommon for Qur'anic commentaries to be read aloud. At many qat chews, readings are an integral part of the afternoons' activities, and often men seek out houses where religious discussions are held. This religious interest naturally reaches its zenith during the holy month of Ramadan.

Where people elect to chew is often related to the nature of their work or other connections. Qat sellers chew in one diwan (a large meeting room outside a house) attached to the storeroom of a major qat broker. The Prophet's descendants, the sada (sg. sayyid), and tribesmen who do not have shops chew in houses. Members of a status group tend to chew with others of similar rank, but there are no absolute patterns. Many qat chews are quite cosmopolitan, which may be a result of the new ideas that came with the revolution.

Qat chews also illustrate cultural expectations related to the host-guest relationship. The host should always provide services for his guests and, therefore, occupy the poorest seat, the one nearest the door so he can easily leave to get new supplies of water or to "rebuild" the water pipe. At the same time he should be sure that his guests are comfortable and that those viewed as socially important have the best seats. In reality, a household head relies on his sons to provide these services. In a formal diwan, such as that of a government official, these patterns are more sharply drawn and service is provided by a man hired for the task.

For the few who do not chew qat, the afternoon is a time for sleep, for strolls in the countryside, and perhaps to meet others in the suq. The great majority of men chew, however, regardless of the situation, even if they find it necessary to undertake any sort of work in the afternoon. Taxi drivers and passengers, for example, calmly chew as they commute back and forth from the capital.

Men also chew qat when making obligatory calls on sick friends, seeking resolution of disputes, or arranging the sale of property. Occasionally a worker chews in the house of his employer. Under these circumstances, as at weddings and funerals, lighthearted conversation is the rule.

Shortly after the mid-afternoon prayer has been announced from the mosques, most women are on their way to call on mothers who have recently had a baby, console the bereaved, or attend parties in the home of a prospective or new bride. Although they may attend one or two social gatherings in an afternoon, they are careful to return home soon after sunset prayer (maghrib) call. It is considered inappropriate for women to be far from home once evening falls; the sunset prayer call tells women that they should be in their neighborhoods.

The sunset prayer call notifies men that the day's chewing is drawing to a close. They gauge their supply of qat so that it will run out about a half-hour before the first evening prayer is announced. Leave-takings are marked by quiet sounds; the brushing of qat leaves off clothes, the rustle of coats being pulled on, the squeak of leather as daggers are straightened, and the crunching of qat branches under foot. At the door, men pause to locate and put on their shoes and, as they did upon enter the room, mumble "Salam alaykum" (Peace upon you) and disappear down dark stairways. Although sunset usually means the end of qat chews, they sometimes continue into the evening if important matters are still under discussion. The fact that most men leave at sunset may be related to the obligations of prayer and, perhaps, to the knowledge that women will be returning to their homes.

Whether they spit out their qat wad in the house or chew a few more minutes outside, most men will return to the market. Some go directly to pray; others sip a glass of tea and then proceed to the mosque. The prayers for sunset and evening (‘asha) are usually said together. With sunset and the turning on of electricity in many shops, the incandescent light gives the suq a surreal appearance. Except for the shouting and squabbles among adolescent boys, the early evening is quiet. The affairs of the day have been completed and, having chewed qat, men have little left to say.

This time of day is like the early morning hours when men gather to be with each other but spend most of the time in quiet contemplation. Those not tied to shops in the market gather in groups of two or three to engage in private conversation or to sit in silence together. Although the suq is clearly the public domain, in the early evening it also becomes, under darkness, the private domain. Men do not like to sit at home, and they use the night to create private space outside the home.

Evening activity in the market is slow. Men look for the occasional purchase - some fruit to eat while watching television, kerosene for a lanternCor they arrange for workers for a special project.

Even this spotty activity begins to slow down about an hour after the evening prayer call. In the old suq, most shopkeepers begin to stow the assorted containers of goods and slowly padlock their shops. A few, mostly the newer shops, stay open late hoping to attract business simply by being open. Carpenters, getting double use out of their generators, do not notice the change and continue to make windows and door jambs for new houses.

When the last taxi leaves for Sanaa, the driver, anxious to get a full load, drives along the paved road calling for riders. Some men have gathered in restaurants and hotels to drink tea and watch television. By nine o'clock the tea shops in the suq are closed.

As the noises of the market subside, the muffled sounds of televisions, cassette tape players, and radios begin to fill the streets. Television is the most popular entertainer, with its serials and soap operas from Egypt and Syria offering a new form of amusement. Arabic programs are intermixed with old American shows like "Fury" and "The Fugitive." At nine o'clock the familiar strains of the national anthem are heard as ‘Amranis tune in the evening news.

Although most of the town is at home watching television and eating bits left over from the noon meal, some men continue to wander. They visit friends to watch television if they do not own one or merely roam, looking for others with whom to stroll and chat. By eleven o'clock, when the television station signs off, most of the town is asleep. With the end of the broadcast, the day is officially over. Generators are stopped, and, except for barking dogs, the town is quiet for the night.

This description of a typical day in ‘Amran does not reveal the multitude of events, large and small, that quickly change the tempo of daily life. Both common and varied, some of these events are scheduled, others simply happen.

On Friday and Saturday, the suq is filled with many times the normal number of shoppers and a large number of itinerant traders. The latter take part in a regular, but increasingly less important, market round. Later in the week, particularly on Monday and Tuesday, many of the permanent ‘Amran vendors are off selling items in regional markets. In contrast to the bustle of ‘Amran's suq days, these days are notable for their lack of action and the feeling that the real action is elsewhere. Taxis conduct a flourishing business shuttling people back and forth to the markets nearby. Many men merely travel to these markets to keep in touch with events elsewhere. Often their accounts are the central topic of discussion in the after qat chews.

With the end of the cold, rainy months (November to February), planting begins. This has little visible effect on most people; but when the crops have ripened, the harvest will change the daily pattern sharply. Relatively few men are required to plow and sow, but many are needed to reap the crops quickly to save them from sudden rains. In harvest season, men (often shopkeepers) may spend the whole day in the fields cutting sorghum, wheat, barley, and other crops, or in specially prepared threshing areas laboriously separating the grain from the stalks and the chaff. Women also participate in the harvesting chores, and they bring breakfast and sometimes lunch to workers in the fields.

It is natural that major religious holidays change daily patterns, and in ‘Amran these days bring sharp contrasts to regular daily routines. In Ramadan, with its month-long fast, the activities of day and night are reversed. Many men spend hours in the mosques, praying and reading passages from the Qur'an. Others spend the evening and the night wandering through the s„q, which becomes a carnival of sorts, or playing special games. During the day, the suq is closed until late afternoon; the shopkeepers are home asleep, and only those with pressing business are awake. Women's activities are altered less sharply because they must still tend the children, who do not fast.

Both the ‘id al-fitir and the ‘id al-kabir or ‘id al-adha - the holidays after Ramadan and at the time of the pilgrimage, respectively - bring the suq to a standstill. There is no activity; and shops remain closed for three, four, or more days before normal operations are resumed. Even then they are open only in the morning, closing in the afternoon as men gather to chew qat with friends. ‘Amranis spend the days visiting friends and relatives, parading about in new holiday clothes, and leisurely strolling with companions. In the evenings, adolescents and young men play special physical and verbal games.

These are the major weekly and annual events. Even though they are remembered and awaited, they are not as interesting to many people as less formal events that punctuate the rest of the year. Part of this lack of excitement is due to the formal nature of the major holidays. Visiting patterns are known, daily activities are well defined, and everyone knows who will be found playing games until late in the evening.

Less formal and fixed events draw greater interest. Gatherings for weddings and funerals, or for returnees from the pilgrimage or work in Saudi Arabia all require attendance. These are social obligations, and friends, relatives, and invited guests must attend to avoid insulting their hosts. Reciprocity plays an important part in daily life. Wedding days give rise to questions concerning who will represent the family or, in the case of several weddings on a single day, which man will chew at the different houses. There is actually little discussion of where to chew qat, but rather a common concern over the higher prices for leaves and problems of getting a sufficient supply to last through the afternoon and evening chewing. Wakes and welcoming guests also require non-kin participation. Days later people are asking for information about who attended the event, how large were the wedding gifts, who chewed in which room, who were the guests. Accounts of a returnee's days in Saudi Arabia often circulate for weeks. These events attract men both because of their obligation to attend and because of the opportunity to reminisce.

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