At a hairdressing salon next door to one of the Muhamasheen communities in central Sana’a, a member of the community gets his face whitened and his hair cut.
Although not true for all the Muhamasheen, one of the caste’s distinguishing features is their dark skin. This has resulted in many having become painfully self-conscious and has even caused some to go to great efforts, both physically and financially, to hide this fact. One popular remedy is to use bleaching creams to try and lighten the skin.
Yemeni flags fly over Tahrir Square in the country’s capital, Sana’a.
With the resignation of its dictator of the past thirty years, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Arab Spring of 2011 brought high hopes to many in the country. Unfortunately, such optimism was short lived once it was realized that although Saleh was gone, his regime retained power. The result has been not just a failure on the government’s part to change, but also the creation of a power vacuum as players from both the military and government fight for influence in the new government.
A view of Sana’a from inside the capital’s old city during the evening prayer.
Sana’a is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, having been founded over two millennia ago. Today it is home to almost two million people as well as Yemen’s government, who chose the city as their new capital in 1948.
A group of Muhamasheen boys play football against another team in Sanaa’s Tahrir Square.
Tahrir Square has gained iconic status in Yemen since becoming the centerpiece for many of the country’s protests during the 2011 Arab Spring. Today the square is mostly occupied by tribesman loyal to Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Most Muhamasheen have little support for Yemen’s former president, though they do not let this get in the way of a good game of football.
Sitting at the top of a hill on an uninhabited plot of land in central Sana’a, a member of the nearby Muhamasheen community chews qat in the early evening hours.
The Muhamasheen are among Yemen’s poorest and most marginalized people. Although the country’s caste system was mostly disbanded when Yemen gained independence in 1962, the Muhamasheen’s caste was not. Today the group work mostly as street cleaners in Sana’a and live in slums on the edge of the city.
Solomon rests on the steps of a mosque in the old city of Sana’a, after a night of sweeping up other people’s rubbish.
Each sweeper, or team of sweepers, is assigned a certain area of the city to sweep. Each night it is their responsibility to make sure they clean their area of all rubbish and dust.
In a quieter alley in Sanaa’s old city, two young boys sweep up dust and refuse that have accumulated over the course of the day.
Being high up on a mountain plateau, in an environment with little vegetation, Sana’a is often covered with a cloud of dust. When this settles it is essential that it be swept up on a regular basis so that it does not accumulate to an unmanageable degree.
A group of children sit around their teacher, Mohammed, as he teaches them various lessons in addition to those they learn in school.
With almost 80% of the Muhamasheen illiterate, education is one of the group’s largest obstacles in being able to integrate further into society. While most Muhamasheen children in Sana’a do attend school, discrimination within the education system still occurs. As a result, some communities have taken it upon themselves to educate their children further at home.
Two men have a conversation on the edge of Sanaa’s old city.
Due to its strong Islamic culture and a somewhat tumultuous political system, which has kept foreigners out of the country, little has changed for decades in Yemen. While this may have protected Yemen from many destructive foreign influences, it has also meant that there has been relatively little foreign pressure on the government to try and influence public attitude toward the country’s minorities.