Thursday, January 21, 2010

Genuine Folklore, inspirational persona and a kuni living example; welcome to a quick meeting with Arwa Othman

On Tuesday (19th of January), we (Najla, Areej and Ibrahim) went to visit Arwa Othman, a Yemeni researcher and writer, at the House of Folklore in Al-Ga3. We were warmly welcomed with traditional Yemeni coffee (Qisher) in hand-made cups. And after introducing ourselves to Mrs. Othman with a brief description of the campaign, its message and goals, we started conversing about the Folklore house and beautiful collections she has. Othman narrated interesting stories on women from different areas around Yemen, totally expressing how life was simpler and more joyful in the old days, and how women's gatherings were different and more meaningful than those of the present day (old gatherings, in some areas, included both men and women all together).

We inquired into the reasons why she is interested in collecting all the items she has and keeping them in her small Folklore house. Her response was rather interesting. Unlike what we expected, she argued that her passion towards collecting such items is nothing but a means for personal satisfaction. We also asked her about the role of women in the past, whether it is changing and developing now, but she emphasized that during the 60s and 70s women were more liberal and they were given better chances than what happens in the present day. She also mentioned how religiosity and religious groups coming from the Gulf, has negatively affected the women and their role in society. She, for example, noted some incidents which took place in some areas which are located on high altitude such as Al-mahweet where religious extremism has even affected the dress-code of the people, enforcing different styles that are inconvenient with the environment in which the locals live. That is, women now are more prone to injure themselves climbing rocks and mountains while carrying water or taking care of their animals, because of the black Baltos they have to wear. Also, such religious movements have buried and forbidden the feminine aspects of our culture (including songs, story-telling, and dancing). However, she believes in change; and that, as a youth, we must believe in change or at least a dream of change in order for us to survive.

When we asked her if she has any Yemeni idols, such as queen Sheba or Arwa, she, surprisingly, answered by saying no! In her opinion, humans must not trap themselves in a figure, but spread their wings and try to achieve what those idols could not have done. Simply put, she believes in herself and how to prove her identity as a woman in a male-oriented society. Finally, she showed us her collection and photos which were of a major significance. We definitely encourage you to pay this house a visit!

A very important point our group wants to emphasize is the disappointing truth Mrs. Othman revealed during our conversation. Before visiting Mrs. Othman, we did a brief research on the Folklore House and found several articles featuring her complaining about the current condition of the place. Therefore, she was arguing the government to find another building in order to protect her collections. According to those articles, the Folklore house had been located in the Old City and recently, Othman managed to move to a new safe location and therefore she is grateful to all those who helped her in the process. While talking with Mrs. Othman, however, we found out that her House has never been in the old city to begin with, and so she has never relocated. Her collections are still in jeopardy due to the terrible condition of the House which is getting worse day by day. We feel rather sad for a courageous and inspiring woman such as Arwa Othman, who had managed to become a Kuni, but never managed to get through the fabric of our dominating society.

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