Thursday, July 31, 2008

Food Market

Walking through the food market today the heady trance brought on by the sweet-tangy smells and glorious colors of abundant mounds of spices was broken by a stark conversation on the price of food in Yemen. Although the conversation was locally centered, the global undertones were hard to miss. When I was here in May 2007 it was impossible to walk down the narrow, tarp-covered spice aisles without bumping someone and replying “hello” in response to a chorus of “Welcome!” from half a dozen friendly Yemenis.

The slender aisles are quieter this time. We saw no one scooping up grain or beans in our time waiting out the rain. No one stopped to buy coffee, garlic, or fenugreek to make the magnificent Yemeni dish of ‘salta.’ We were told by our guide that the price of food in Yemen has gone up drastically, yet of course the population of Yemen has not precipitously fallen commensurately. Which leaves a person to ask: How are Yemenis getting their food? Where are they getting it? What are they doing without it? What are these merchants in the market doing in response to decreased sales? What do they forgo buying as a result of depressed sales? How does that further impact the economy? Who isn’t eating and what is the long-term implication of a country skipping meals that currently faces a staggering 40% unemployment rate, 20 million people with access to 90 million personal weapons, where 75% of the population is under 25 years old and has a 50% illiteracy rate?

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