News / Middle East

Couple Aims to Preserve Yemen's Past Amid Present Chaos

Initiative Aims to Preserve Yemen's Past Amid Present Chaosi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Elizabeth Arrott
August 23, 2012 7:15 PM
Continued strife in Yemen often overshadows the rich cultural heritage of one of the world's oldest civilizations. VOA's Elizabeth Arrott reports from Sana'a, Yemen, that there now is an unlikely effort to preserve the country's past and make it relevant to the future.
Elizabeth Arrott
SANA'A, Yemen — Continued strife in Yemen often overshadows the rich cultural heritage of one of the world's oldest civilizations. Now there is an unlikely effort to preserve the country's past and make it relevant to the future.

The ancient land of Yemen is known more today for its fight against poverty, tribalism and terrorism.

Perhaps it's not the best place for an American couple to build a house. But that's what scholars Stephen and Kate Steinbeiser recently did, giving themselves the added challenges of making it environmentally sustainable, in a traditional Jewish design, primarily out of mud.

"When we first started, the neighbors around us, who generally have more modern homes built in cement, kind of made fun of me as the foreigner new to the block and not knowing what I was doing," said Stephen Steinbeiser.

Undaunted, Steinbeiser, the resident director of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, hired architect Abdullah al Hadrami. Together they devised a plan showcasing Yemeni craftsmanship while paying homage to this Sana'a quarter's once vibrant, now dispersed Jewish presence - a brave statement in a country al-Qaida calls home.

“It was all done by hand and so, for example, there were three workers who cut 2,240 stones from basically this bizarre shape into more like squares," he said.

  • The mud house revives the traditional architecture of the once Jewish quarter in Sana'a, Yemen. (E. Arrott/VOA)
  • Workers preparing the mud for plaster. (Photo courtesy AIYS)
  • A worker chews qat after working with plaster. (Photo courtesy AIYS)
  • All metalwork was hand forged, including the doorknocker and nails. (E. Arrott/VOA)
  • From right, Kate and Stephen Steinbeiser and architect Abdullah al Hadrami in the mafraj, a traditional room to chew qat. (E. Arrott/VOA)
  • Light from a stained glass window on the main staircase. (E. Arrott/VOA)
  • An alabaster window, upper left, is a traditional Yemeni feature. (Photo courtesy AIYS)
  • Architect Abdullah al Hadrami, behind a door leading to the porch. (E. Arrott/VOA)
  • A Star of David is often used to ward off the "evil eye" throughout Yemen. (E. Arrott/VOA)
  • Extra mud bricks make a temporary wall in the garden. (E. Arrott/VOA)

All the metalwork is handmade, by a blacksmith in Old Sana'a.

"This is kind of a simplified version of a more traditional lock... There is actually a hidden latch here that allows this to come out from the bottom and for the door to open. Yemenis are very clever with locks,” said Steinbeiser.

There's a traditional mafraj - or room to chew qat, a national pastime.

“We don't use it for chewing qat, but most Yemenis do, and the point is that you're at a high point, you know, of a city or place, and you're surrounded by windows so you can look out,” he said.

The main feature though, from traditional Yemeni architecture, is the use of mud: mud bricks, mud plaster, with, in some places, a coating of animal fat to seal it tight.

“This room is a very cool room of the house, especially in the summer. Mud architecture has that effect. It's basically a type of insulation that allows temperature to remain constant,” said Steinbeiser.

Not only does the mud make air conditioning unnecessary - it offered another benefit during the tumultuous uprising of last year.

“My Yemeni friends will reassure me by saying, 'Well, if there is a bullet that goes through the walls, it's not a big deal. It's mud. You just patch it over and it's fine,'” Steinbeiser said.

Few foreigners have stayed during the hard times. And for honoring Yemen's past, the Steinbeisers have changed their neighbors' opinions.

“When they saw the finished product and they saw it was really a kind of testament to Yemeni craftsmanship, Yemeni ingenuity and Yemeni heritage, they fell in love with it,” he said.

The house also is a commitment to Yemen's future, a small promise of continuity and self-reliance in a country struggling to find its way.

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid