War, poverty force destitute Yemeni to build home in a tree

Indebted, bankrupt and unable to pay the rent for his shop where he also lived, Ahmed Houbeichi found himself without a roof over his head. (AFP)
Updated 11 October 2018
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War, poverty force destitute Yemeni to build home in a tree

  • Indebted, bankrupt and unable to pay the rent for his shop where he also lived, Houbeichi found himself without a roof over his head
  • Houbeichi’s struggle is not uncommon as the war has pushed millions to the brink of famine

SANAA, Yemen: Yemeni Ahmed Houbeichi is not acting out some childhood fantasy when he peers down on the street below from his tree-house. War and poverty have forced him to seek out such a lofty shelter.
Wearing a red shirt, white turban, and a loincloth around his hips, the 29-year-old recounted how he lost everything, and how his country’s dragging war has left him homeless and destitute.
Just a few months ago, he ran a small grocery store, “but the prices went up and the debts accumulated,” he said.
He would sell items to customers on credit, but they could not pay him back as the cost of living increased when the local currency depreciated amid a collapsing economy.
Indebted, bankrupt and unable to pay the rent for his shop where he also lived, Houbeichi found himself without a roof over his head in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.
A four-year war between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the government, which is backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, has resulted in severe food shortages in a country already considered the poorest in the Arab world.
“I was late on the rent by only one month, which made the owner angry, so he asked me to leave,” Houbeichi said.
“He kicked me out. He threw my stuff onto the street. I felt ashamed, everybody was watching me as if I was an insane person.”
It was then he hit on the idea of living in a weeping fig growing on the busy Street 30 in rebel-held Sanaa.
His new home among the leaves has a door made of left-over wood from his old shop, while sheets and blankets draped between the branches provide both a makeshift roof and a soft platform on which to perch.
There are a couple of pillows, and some bags hold his few possessions. And he easily clambers up and down.
“It’s better than being on the street, and no one comes to you asking for rent,” said Houbeichi wryly.
A small solar panel provides some electricity, and the little money he makes monitoring children playing at a foosball table is just enough for food.
“There is no work. I hardly earn any money from the games center, and work is going to get worse because school started and the students returned to class,” he said.
“It just enough for food, for one meal a day.”
More than 22 million Yemenis – three quarters of the population – are in need of food aid.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Yemen’s economy is expected to contract by 2.6 percent in 2018, while inflation has been projected at 42 percent — inevitably leading to higher unemployment rates.
Houbeichi’s struggle is not uncommon as the war has pushed millions to the brink of famine.
Jalal Qasim, 45, teaches Arabic at a school in the southwestern city of Taiz by day and sells gasoline on the black market by night.
“It’s a very distressing situation,” he said, adding a teacher’s salary “isn’t enough for his personal expenses, let alone his family expenses, like rent.”
Nearly 10,000 people have been killed and more than 56,000 injured since 2015, resulting in what the UN has called the worst humanitarian crisis.


Iran, U.S. tension is a "clash of wills": Guards commander

Updated 6 sec ago
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Iran, U.S. tension is a "clash of wills": Guards commander

  • The commander said they will have a “hard, crushing and obliterating response” for their enemies
  • Tensions between Iran and US escalated after Trump restored sanctions
GENEVA: The standoff between Iran and the United States is a “clash of wills,” a senior commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday, suggesting any enemy “adventurism” would meet a crushing response, Fars news agency reported.
Tensions have spiked between the two countries after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East in a show of force against what US officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.
“The confrontation and face-off of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the malicious government of America is the arena for a clash of wills,” Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri said.
He pointed to a battle during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war where Iran was victorious and said the outcome could be a message that Iran will have a “hard, crushing and obliterating response” for any enemy “adventurism.”
On Sunday, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!“
Trump restored US sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them this month, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.
Trump wants Iran to come to the negotiating table to reach a new deal with more curbs on its nuclear and missile programs.
Reiterating Iran’s stance, the spokesman for its Supreme National Security Council said on Thursday that “There will not be any negotiations between Iran and America.”
Keyvan Khosravi was also quoted as saying by the state broadcaster that some officials from several countries have visited Iran recently, “mostly representing the United States.”
He did not elaborate, but the foreign minister of Oman, which in the past helped pave the way for negotiations between Iran and the United States, visited Tehran on Monday.
“Without exception, the message of the power and resistance of the Iranian nation was conveyed to them,” he said.
In Berlin, a German diplomatic source told Reuters that Jens Ploetner, a political director in Germany’s Foreign Ministry, was in Tehran on Thursday for meetings with Iranian officials to try to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and cool tensions in the region.