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US NewsIn Yemen’s war, a photographer finds points of light in the darkness

06:50  22 may  2019
06:50  22 may  2019 Source:   nationalgeographic.com

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In Yemen’s war, a photographer finds points of light in the darkness © Photograph by Amira Al-Sharif

A young Yemeni woman visits a landfill run by the Saudi-led coalition to secure food for her goats in Buraiqeh, Aden Governorate.

Amira Al-Sharif has been displaced by Yemen’s civil war. Though the photojournalist longs to go home, conflict, disease, and the constant threat of arrest for her work have driven her away from her country for now.

Since she was a child, Al-Sharif has trained her lens on the world around her. In Yemen, that world was shattered in 2014, when a brutal civil war made normal life next to impossible. The conflict began after Yemen’s president of 33 years was forced out of office after an Arab Spring uprising. The Houthis, a group of Shia rebels, seized control of multiple Yemeni cities, forcing the new president to flee and plunging the country into civil war.

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In Yemen’s war, a photographer finds points of light in the darkness © Photograph by Amira Al-Sharif

The photographer’s colleague, Adel Allawi, walks through the toxic fumes of an Emirati military-controlled landfill in Buraiqeh district, west of Aden. “He named this picture ‘Return From Hell’ to poetically express his exhaustion toward life under continual war and economic deterioration,” she recalls.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia, backed by the United States and other countries, started air strikes against the Houthis. A humanitarian crisis ensued. According to the United Nations, nearly 18,000 civilians have been killed so far, and 3.3 million are currently displaced.

Al-Sharif isn’t interested in statistics, either. She is dismayed at Westerners’ appetite for photographs of Yemenis who, deprived of food during the ongoing crisis, have been reduced to desperate skeletons. She tells me about people who have not received their salaries in five years, whose lives are now consumed by the basics. Finding food. Scavenging in dumps. Avoiding disease.

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In Yemen’s war, a photographer finds points of light in the darkness © Photograph by Amira Al-Sharif

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Cholera is rampant among Yemenis, fueled by close living conditions, immune systems weakened by starvation, and a lack of information on prevention and treatment. In 2017, more than a million Yemenis caught cholera, and the disease is again on the rise. Nearly half of the cases are in children 14 years and younger.

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In Yemen’s war, a photographer finds points of light in the darkness
But Al-Sharif is uninterested in highlighting those facets of Yemeni life. She prefers her photographs of Yemenis going about their business, children at school and at play, women living and loving, flowers blooming. She captures the light in Yemen that stubbornly persists in the shadows of war.
“I’m so happy in Yemen,” Al-Sharif says. “I’m free in Yemen.” She tells me about her family’s nonstop celebrations, her friends, the beauty of Jabal Haraz, a mountain region where villages are nestled high in the mist. In Yemen’s war, a photographer finds points of light in the darkness © Photograph by Amira Al-Sharif

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Al-Sharif’s choice to focus on hope within despair is strategic. “Everybody has their own miseries,” she says. “They don’t want to see other miseries.” She hopes her photos can short-circuit the impulse to look away. Yet she fears she isn’t doing enough.

“People communicate to strength,” she says. “To hope. To life. To blooming. To resilience. People want light.”

Amira Al-Sharif is a Yemeni photographer who focuses on women's issues and social taboos, particularly in Yemen. See more of her work by following her on Instagram.

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