My Yemeni Village (Part-3)

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To read the previous part of this story, click here.

Market day, called suq as-sabt in Arabic, is an exciting time for everyone. When I am not in school, I usually go with my uncle to help him sell his frankincense. The incense looks like small yellow or light green pebbles. We burn some in a majmarah to convince customers of its purity. Other sellers in the market offer incense in the form of bark, balls of gum, and even as cookie-shaped disks mixed with sandalwood.

Yemen has always been famous for its high quality honey. Bee keepers selling their honey in stalls always have a lot of customers. The honey is usually one of two types: a clear white variety or a golden yellow type. One spoonful of this rich honey can cure many ailments, masha Allah. My mother even cooks with this healthful mountain honey.

The marketplace is always full of very skilled artisans selling their wares. The rope makers, saddle makers, jambiyyah (dagger) makers, and potters each has his own special area. Pottery makers offer beautifully crafted sharbat al-arus jugs that are used on special occasions like weddings. Basket makers display wonderful baskets of different sizes with conical lids and goatskin leather bottoms. The smaller ones are used to store herbal remedies while the larger baskets hold the best dates which we will eat in Ramadhan.

Today, I am looking at th e jambiyyahs for sale. Will my father buy me one of these, I wonder.

In the past, there were important centres in the Middle East for the manufacture of swords and other weapons. Damascus in Syria was one such centre. But for centuries, quality swords and daggers have also been made here in Yemen.

Some dagger blades are still produced in Yemen, but most are now imported from Japan. Fathers still choose a well-made dagger (or jambiyyah in Arabic) as a gift to their sons on reaching manhood. Here is the jambiyyah my father received from his father. In order to purchase it, my grandfather first went to the market and chose a well-made blade. Later a hilt (handle) and scabbard (holder) were bought.

Jambiyyahs can be very, very expensive. The most valuable ones have hilts made of rhinoceros horn. Sometimes beautiful old Islamic coins are also set into them. Today, because the African rhinoceros is an endangered animal, rhino horn is no longer imported. Water buffalo horn, camel nail and occasionally ivory are now used to make the hilts. For the less expensive jambiyyah hilts, even plastic is used.

My father and other men of the village wear their jambiyyahs only for decoration, not for fighting! The jambiyyah is held in place by a wide embroidered leather belt.

Insha Allah, my father will soon buy me a jambiyyah. I have told him I would like one as beautiful as the one he got from my grandfather! 

For thousands of years, mountain villagers of Yemen have been growing their crops in narrow terraced fields. Here on the edge of Al-Ashrafiyyah village  you can see our family's small terraced bed of fresh onions and chick peas.

The large water cistern (called a birkah in Arabic) was built a long time ago by villagers. It is filled by underground springs and the heavy seasonal rainfalls of late summer or early fall. The water is used to irrigate all the fields lying below. Village children love playing near this pool of water. It is four metres deep-an ideal swimming hole! In fact, my cousin taught me to swim here when I was six years old! We also use this water for making ablutions and there is a small musallah nearbyfor praying.

On some terraces, coffee is grown. This important crop has been cultivated here in Yemen for hundreds of years. Many people say our coffee is the best in the world. This is probably true because our villagers examine their coffee bushes daily. The cherries (unpicked coffee beans) must not all ripen at the same time. Moreover, no chemical pesticides are used. To kill pests that might attack the growing coffee, a traditional method is employed: smoke from fires lit under the coffee bushes, effectively controls pests.

I remember spending many long summer days guarding the fields of growing wheat. My brothers and I would use slingshots made of plaited goat's hair to keep wild baboons from eating the crops!

To read the next part of this story, click here.

Luqman Nagy

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