The plight of Yemen's 'untouchables'
Al Jazeerah - 12/13/2012
Black Yemenis continue to live as outcasts post revolution.
They’re outcasts in Yemen, living in isolated communities. During the day they are street sweepers; at night they return to their homes in garbage-filled slums. Many of them joined the protests at Change Square, hoping the uprising would bring them a better life. But so far, nothing has changed.
Yemenis refer to darker-skinned citizens of the country as "Akhdam", or "servants" in Arabic. They, however, prefer to call themselves "Muhamasheen", the marginalised ones.
Many of them have no access to education, healthcare and regular employment.
The women and children are particularly vulnerable. Unlike most Yemeni women, Muhamasheen women work outdoors until late at night, becoming easy targets for violence and sexual exploitation. The children often go malnourished, and are in danger of contracting many diseases due to lack of sanitation.
They face hereditary discrimination and injustice, which they feel reinforces the idea that they are alien, foreign and lower than Arab Yemenis. Many myths surround the Muhamasheen regarding their habits and supposed origins. One myth is that they are descendents from the Ethiopian Army that crossed the Red Sea to conquer Yemen 1,400 years ago.
“People say we eat our own dead,” Ahmed Hussein says as he stands outside his hut in a slum near the capital Sanaa. “And they prevent us from burying our dead in the public graveyard.”
“We are black, but we are Yemenis,” says Muhammad Ali as he sits in his tent in a slum area in the south-western city of Taiz. “We are Yemenis, and they keep evicting us from our areas,” he says.
Often times they cannot find enough to feed themselves and their families. Many families live in cramped quarters without electricity or sanitation. In the Akhdam slums, it is common to see the one-room huts crammed full with seven to nine family members, all living, cooking and sleeping in the same space just like sardines in a tin.
Finding water is a challenge as well. Most women walk to wells to collect limited supplies of water to carry back to their families.
Racism and discrimination make it difficult for the Muhamasheen to integrate into society and obtain the services that are accessible to most Yemenis. One Yemeni proverb, "If a dog licks your plate, then you should clean it, but if it is touched by a Khadim, then break it", exemplifies the cultural racism facing the "Muhamasheen".
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