The Opium of Yemen

This post is also available in: العربية (Arabic)

You continuously watched their quarrels, those quarrels that often escalated to fist fights, throwing pots, or a beating with a stick. You sided with your mother, you pitied her, and sometimes it drove you to hate your father. Perhaps because she is the more vulnerable party in this relationship, perhaps because she is always right, perhaps because she is closer to you, and more loving, perhaps all these things combined.

 Photo Courtesy of Anwar Al Sabri Photo Courtesy of Anwar Al Sabri

Every time your father grabs something from the house, he sells it, and promises to replace it when he receives his salary, but nothing that leaves the house comes back again. After each battle between them, your father comes out victorious, and your mother returns to her tears. You look at them from afar, helpless and confused, turning your head from one side to the other.

When your father came back from the market, holding his “bundle” in his hand, the joy glistened in his eyes, and he would joke and laugh as if he were another man entirely from the one he was only two hours ago. You yearned for these brief happy moments in your father’s life to have the chance to talk to him – something that seemed impossible otherwise.

–   Dad, is qat a drug?

Your father smiled before saying:

–   And who told you?

–   I heard the imam at the mosque, saying that it is haram, that it is a narcotic, which is harmful to health and a waste of money and time and..

–   Don’t listen to him, these extremists call everything haram and harmful ….

You had spoiled his joy and his smile began to fade. Quickly you went to fetch his lunch before he relapsed to his bad mood.

The next day you saw your father open the barn to take out the lamb you were keeping for Eid. Your mother was close by, and when she saw him, she rushed towards him and grabbed his head. She tried to stop him, with the courage of a rural woman, but he pushed her and punched her so she moved away. He dragged the lamb outside, wrapped his turban around its neck, and marched to market.

When you went to your mother she was sitting with her head buried in her hands, this time she wasn’t crying, but sorrow left its traces on her face. You watched her, thinking to yourself; maybe her tears have dried from crying so often.

 Designed by Waleed Al-Ward Designed by Waleed Al-Ward

The days passed by slowly and heavily, your home grew more miserable and poor. As for your father, he continued to chew qat every night. In the morning his mood was bad, scrambling for ways to pay for qat, in whatever ways he could. One day, when your mother was tending to the cattle before sunrise, your father dragged his feet to the kitchen. She would not have noticed him, had he not stumbled on a pot and made a noise. At first she thought it was a stray dog. Dogs often came in when your door was open, or maybe a cat looking for food. You ran to the kitchen quickly and saw your father carrying the gas cylinder on his back, but when you told him, “it’s still full, it’s only been a few days since we bought it,” he did not answer you, and you saw his eyes sparkle with fury. It was a sparkle you knew better to avoid, but this time you decided to stand in his way. You grabbed him with one hand and stretched your other to reach for the gas cylinder. You were determined to take it away, so you ignored your father’s warning and the signs of his immense rage. He hurt you deeply when he uttered curses at you and at himself, and then pushed you and you fell on your right side. He walked away without looking at you, and you knew he would not turn back. Your arm lay crushed and twisted under your body and the pain made you scream as loud as you could.

He turned back when he heard your shrilling cry. He knew you were calm and patient, and would not scream had you not been under great pain. He placed the gas cylinder on the ground and examined your little arm. It had broke when he pushed you and you fell on the hard kitchen floor.

He carried you on his back and ran. Your head was leaning on his neck and your left hand held on to the collar of his shirt. There was something beautiful about this moment to you, and you may have wished for it for a while, but the pain spoiled it and you could not even take pleasure in the moment.

 Designed by Waleed Al-Ward Designed by Waleed Al-Ward

He called your neighbor who owns a small old car, and together they took you to the clinic. The pain was severe and your screams continued until you received an injection of painkillers. Your mother could not bear waiting at home and she soon followed you to the clinic. When they put the cast on your arm, your pain finally settled. You looked around you and there was a ring of familiar faces. Your neighbor said smiling, “Thanks to Allah for safety son – may you never see evil again.”

They were all staring at you and looking you into your eyes, only your father was avoiding you. For the first time you saw him broken by guilt. When he heard them ask how it happened, he attempted to leave the room and slowly moved away from the side of your bed.

“Father came to help me quickly as I slipped on my feet. I fell on the hard kitchen floor and broke my arm.”

When your father heard your words he stopped. He turned his face back to you and tears filled his eyes, but he did not let them fall. He still had some strength to hold them back until he was alone, but you were sure they would soon stream down his face.

Weeks passed since that incident and your father did not chew qat, not even once. When you asked him why, he replied, “I do not want to break your arm again.”

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