Ye­meni man lit­er­ally up a tree

Poverty-stricken man builds ar­bo­real shel­ter amid war-time suf­fer­ing

The Star Malaysia - - World -

SANAA: Ye­meni Ahmed Hoube­ichi is not act­ing out some child­hood fan­tasy when he peers down on the street be­low from his tree-house

War and poverty have forced him to seek out such a lofty shel­ter.

Wear­ing a red shirt, white tur­ban, and a loin­cloth around his hips, the 29-year-old re­counted how he lost ev­ery­thing, and how his coun­try’s drag­ging war has left him home­less and des­ti­tute.

Just a few months ago, he ran a small gro­cery store, “but the prices went up and the debts ac­cu­mu­lated”, he said.

He would sell items to cus­tomers on credit, but they could not pay him back as the cost of liv­ing in­creased when the lo­cal cur­rency de­pre­ci­ated amid a col­laps­ing econ­omy.

In­debted, bank­rupt and un­able to pay the rent for his shop where he also lived, Hoube­ichi found him­self without a roof over his head in the Ye­meni cap­i­tal, Sanaa.

A four-year war be­tween the Iran-backed Huthi rebels and the govern­ment, which is backed by a Saudi-led mil­i­tary coali­tion, has re­sulted in se­vere food short­ages in a coun­try al­ready con­sid­ered the poor­est in the Arab world.

“I was late on the rent by only one month, which made the owner an­gry, so he asked me to leave,” Hoube­ichi said.

“He kicked me out. He threw my stuff onto the street. I felt ashamed, ev­ery­body was watch­ing me as if I was an in­sane per­son.”

It was then he hit on the idea of liv­ing in a weep­ing fig grow­ing on the busy Street 30 in rebel-held Sanaa.

His new home among the leaves has a door made of left-over wood from his old shop, while sheets and blan­kets draped be­tween the branches pro­vide both a makeshift roof and a soft plat­form on which to perch.

There are a cou­ple of pil­lows, and some bags hold his few pos­ses­sions. He eas­ily clam­bers up and down.

“It’s bet­ter than be­ing on the street, and no one comes ask­ing for rent,” said Hoube­ichi wryly.

A small so­lar panel pro­vides some elec­tric­ity, and the lit­tle money he makes mon­i­tor­ing chil­dren play­ing at a foos­ball ta­ble is just enough for food.

“There is no work. I hardly earn any money from the games cen­tre, and work is go­ing to get worse be­cause school started and the stu- dents re­turned to class,” he said.

“It just enough for food, for one meal a day.”

More than 22 mil­lion Ye­me­nis -three quar­ters of the pop­u­la­tion -are in need of food aid.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund (IMF), Ye­men’s econ­omy is ex­pected to con­tract by 2.6% in 2018, while in­fla­tion has been pro­jected at 42% in­evitably lead­ing to higher un­em­ploy­ment rates.

Hoube­ichi’s strug­gle is not un­com­mon as the war has pushed mil­lions to the brink of famine.

Jalal Qasim, 45, teaches Ara­bic at a school in the south-western city of Taez by day and sells ga­so­line on the black mar­ket by night.

“It’s a very dis­tress­ing sit­u­a­tion,” he said, adding that a teacher’s salary “isn’t enough for his per­sonal ex­penses, let alone his fam­ily ex­penses, like rent”.

Nearly 10,000 peo­ple have been killed and more than 56,000 in­jured since 2015, re­sult­ing in what the UN has called the worst hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.


Tem­po­rary relief: Hobeishi pos­ing for a pic­ture in­side his tree house in the Ye­meni cap­i­tal of Sanaa.

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