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Yemeni Journey

Rising Above Going Without

Life is a constant series of adjustments. From year to year, from one month to the next, from day to day and hour to hour- all the time, taking note of our surroundings and situations and adjusting, even if it is minutely, for the changes that have taken place both within ourselves and in our environment.

I remember when we first came to Yemen. We lived well below the poverty line when we lived in America, and I yet I thought somehow that when we moved here we would break above its surface due to the huge difference in prices. I found, though, that it really made little or no difference. What we couldn’t afford in America, we couldn’t afford here either. This ended up being a good thing, as it removed from us the burden of not being able to get the things we were used to, and having to adjust to a new style of eating entirely. I’ve always been a “from scratch” cook. I rarely used mixes and prepackaged food seldom made an appearance on our shelves. When I was a single mom, I worked in a natural food co-op so that I could afford to cook in a healthy manner . When I married, I carried this love of simple, wholesome, good food into my family’s life and onto our dinner mat.

Still, there are challenges unique to each area of Yemen I have lived in. For example, the selection of produce is strikingly limited. In general you can buy potatoes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and hot peppers. In some places at some times of the year, this is supplemented with carrots, okra, eggplant, zucchini,green peppers, arugula, parsley and cilantro. These, along with rice or flour, make up the bulk of our diet. As for fruit, we can usually afford bananas, and sometimes Yemeni apples. We also buy beans and lentils for our protein, with a chicken or some fish every month or two. I have had to make up my own style of cooking to fit into the parameters of what we can find, and what we can afford. Even our baking changed, as eggs were often too expensive to purchase. We came up with egg-free pancakes and cakes that are almost as good as their richer varieties. To put it simply, we adjusted, and because we were used to doing without, we were prepared to experiment and explore our options and do our best with what we could get here.

I find, though, that many people simply don’t understand the meaning of living within one’s means; nor do they understand or recognize poverty. They assume that everyone lives as they do, and don’t appreciate what they have. I remember hearing a sister who has only one child and an income far greater than ours complain about only being able to afford chicken twice a week. In a tiny northern village we lived in, a woman mentioned how hard it was to bake a cake from scratch- by “scratch” she meant with a cake mix. Once I said that I missed peanut butter, and a woman informed me that you could buy it at such and such a store- never thinking that perhaps I simply couldn’t afford it. I am known to be very health conscious, and a sister once criticized me for giving my child some cheese curls instead of grapes. The cheese curls cost the equivalent of five cents, while the grapes were a hundred times that. Feeling guilty already, I snapped back, “It’s because we’re poor, can’t you see that?” and turned away. A few minutes later the sister approached again, tears running down her face, and apologized.

This is difficult for many of us- to open our hearts and minds and really see the situation a person is in, and realize that our idea of things is not always true to the reality of other people. I thought we were financially poor when we were in America, but since coming here I have seen the stark face of true poverty in the faces of children dressed in rags, begging at street corners. I have also seen the poverty of spirit that so often infects those who are used to superficial abundance, as they look down on others, or complain of their comparative wealth.

Perhaps the important thing is not so much adjusting our outer lives to this or that. Perhaps what is more important is making internal adjustments, adjustments to our hearts, allowing more room in them for the twin gifts of gratitude for our blessings and compassion for others who have less than we do. The Prophet Muhammad, may Allaah’s praise and salutations be upon him, said,{There is a lump of flesh in the body- if it is sound and healthy, then the whole body is sound and healthy. And it is the heart.} May Allaah rectify our hearts…

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6 comments

ummul qayyim on September 14, 2011 11:51 pm Reply

Assalaam 3alaykum

Came across your blog by accident, but am enjoying your posts. May Allah make it easy for you. I’m hoping to go to Shihr soon in shaa Allah, markaz fayoosh to study, so your posts are a good insight for me.

Khadijah on September 19, 2011 4:33 am Reply

Alhamdulillah, I am glad that you found me. Fayoosh is the markaz of Sheikh ‘Abdur Rahman al-‘Adnanee, it is not here in Shihr. His brother is the Sheikh here, mash’Allaah. Alhamdulillah, the heat will be the same, though (SMILE). May Allaah make it easy for you to grow in ‘ilm and righteous acts, ameen.

Faith on January 24, 2013 7:41 am Reply

As Salamualaikum Khadijah,

I stumbled upon your blog by way of Sister Mai from Mai to the extreme (Mashaallah), And I am enjoying your every post Alhumdulilah.

This post really resonated with me, because I myself, have never been with out much Alhumdulilah. Even living in Egypt, I suppose we were considered wealthy compared to the average families, but we also brought with us the american extravagance. Shopping in the commercialized stores, buying produce and meats there, the same snacks, and only complained when we could not find chocolate chips. Astaghfirullah! But once we got accustomed to truly living there, we seen the error of our ways. Especially now while sitting back here in the US. If I had the chance, I would do it all over again, but Alhumdulilah we come to these conclusions at all! My heart is often broken by stories or witnessing the poverty of people, any people, but especially among the children. And I am inspired more than anything to cut out my own extravagance and wastefulness, to help the people who are hardly getting by. May Allah preserve them, Ameen.

I pray to Allah that he rectifies my own affairs, and my heart. And I also pray that he Showers his blessings upon you and your family abundantly. Allahumma Ameen

I truly Love you for the sake of Allah,
As Salamualaikum Wa rahmatuallahi Wa barakatu
-Faith

Khadijah on January 24, 2013 11:44 am Reply

Wa Aleikum Assalam wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu
Alhamdulillah, I am happy that you found me and my blog, Mai is very dear to my heart, and Allaah is the One Who joins the hearts. From what I saw when I lived in Yemen, what you describe is actually the most common for people who go there from the Western countries. They do their best to maintain their standard of living, or even go beyond it because the money goes farther when they are there. Very few people can make the entire paradigm shift and move on to a much simpler life, mash’Allaah. Umm Hiyaat, my son’s mother in law, has lived in Damaaj for over a decade now. She once told a sister who had just moved there that if she wished to make a Western outpost in the village, focusing on trying to recreate what she had in her own country, she would never be happy; but if she focused on seeking knowledge, then she would be happy. One thing is to look at it as a simpler way to live, rather than a lowering of one’s standards- because those standards are often set by the Western societies from which we come.
Ameen to your du’as,and I love you for the One for Whom you love me!

Abu Humairah on January 30, 2013 4:35 am Reply

BaarakAllahu feeki ya Umm Mujaahid. When I read this post, I said how come I have seen this before now? It made me realize that I am yet to exhaust all the articles here, I have to do better.

Reading this made me cry. I was really poor when I was growing up, the African kind of poor that’ll make the Western poor look like kings. I have been blessed with an ample income -and all praise is due to Allah alone- and reading this made me realize that I have taken way too many things that were way beyond my reach, things I could only dream of before, for granted now. May Allah forgive us and make us from His grateful servants.

This is a real reminder for me..may Allah bless you and increase you in good!

Khadijah on January 30, 2013 12:47 pm Reply

Alhamdulillah that you found it and that it touched you and made you reflect, and always all praise is due to Allaah alone. Sheikh Muqbil often advised the people to accustom themselves to living a life of austerity, because we never know what our situation will be from one day to the next. This has worked well for us, mash’Allaah. Mash’Allaah, you have tasted poverty, and now you are able to enjoy abundance, what a beautiful blessing from Allaah that you have known both. Ameen to your du’a!