Yemen: Gaza, My Grandmother and Candles

Yemeni blogger Maysaa Shuja has written a profoundly thoughtful post about candles, electricity, and the possible introduction of nuclear energy to her native country – a country which cannot supply a steady stream of electricity.

And while the outpour of sympathy for Gaza and its electricity problems continue, Maysaa Shuja talks about how her enterprising grandmother, may Allah rest her soul in peace, taught them the value of candles at their greatest hours of need.

Maysaa explains:

رحم الله جدتي لم تعش حتى تدير أمور غزه بعد غياب الكهرباء و تفيدهم بخبراتها، و تعلمهم ما لايعلمون عن انطفاء الكهرباء و سياسة التوفير في الشمع و الاستخدام الأمثل لها.
أنا يمنية اعرف الشمع اكثر من من معرفتي بالكهرباء، و اتذكر انقطاع الكهرباء ثلاثة ايام متواصلة. و لازلت احمل انقطاع الكهرباء مسؤولية ضعف نظري و اي ضعف في درجاتي الدراسة حينها و ربما اي فشل في حياتي.
لذلك ادرك تماماً معاناة الغزاوية في انطفاء الكهرباء ليس لأني صاحبة القلب الكبير و لا لأني امتلك مشاعر قومية و دينية من اي نوع لكن ببساطة لأني مررت بمعاناتهم و لازلت امر بها كل يوم لكن معاناتي لم تتصدر عناوين الأخبار و لم اكن محظوظة حتى يكون لي عدواً واضحاً مثل اسرائيل احمله مسؤولية بؤسي.
May Allah rest my Grandmother's soul in peace. She has not lived long enough to run Gaza's affairs after they have lost their electricity supplies and make them benefit from her experiences. She could have taught them what they didn't know about electricity cuts and the policy of saving in using candles and the best way to use them. I am Yemeni and I know about candles more than I know about electricity. And I remember how electricity was cut off for three complete days. I still blame the cuts in electricity for my poor sight and any drop in my grades at that times and perhaps even for any failure in my life. This is why I fully understand the suffering of Gazans without electricity, because I have a big heart and not because I harbour nationalistic or religious sentiments – but merely because I have gone through their suffering and still go through it everyday. But my suffering doesn't make news headlines. I also haven't been as lucky to find a clear enemy like Israel to make it shoulder the responsibilities of all my misery.
الشمع في بلادنا حق لابد منه و لا مفر منه و كلما زاد انطفاء الكهرباء كلما زادت شموعنا رشاقة و صغراً، و من كثرة انطفاء الكهرباء حتى سيطر على جدتي- رحمها الله- هاجس اختفاء الشمع، فقررت احتكار الشمع بالبيت فأي احد يشتري شمع صادرت منه شمعه و أي احد خزن شمعاً كشفت تهريبه .
مارست جدتي سياسة التقنين في استخدام الشمع و لم يعد بالإمكان استخدام الشمع في البيت دون طلب لجدتي التي تقرر صرف الشمع حسب تقديرها للحالة الانسانية فمن يذاكر قد تتجاوز و تعطيه شمعتين و من يقرأ كتاب ليس مدرسي اعطته شمعه و من يتحدث حرمته من الشمع لأن الشمع لا ضرورة له في الحديث و من يدخل الحمام اعطته شمعة صغيره مشدده على كراهة الإستحمام بالظلام.
كانت جدتي ما أن تنطفيء الكهرباء حتى تدور بالبيت في نشاط تراقب الشمع و تشرف عليه و كيفية استخدامنا له فمن عبث بأعقابه حرمته من الشمع و تشددت معه إذا ماطلب منها الشمع فيما بعد، و تظل في نشاط حتى تعود الكهرباء فتجمع جدتي الشموع و تعيدها لمخرنها الأمين.
In my country, candles are a right. The more electricity cuts we get, the smaller and thinner our candles become. Because of the increased cuts in electricity, my grandmother, may her soul rest in peace, started imaging that candles were disappearing. She then decided to control the use of candles in our household as she would confiscate candles from whoever bought them and anyone storing candles would be discovered for his peddling.

My grandmother implemented a policy of rationing of candles and no one was able to use candles in our house without her permission, as she decided who got candles, after assessing their humanitarian needs. For those of us who studied, she might exceed the ration and give us two candles; those who read a non-scholastic book, got one candle; and whoever talked, was deprived of candles because it wasn't necessary when talking. For those who needed to use the bathroom, they got a small candles as she loathed taking baths in the dark.

As soon as the electricity was off, my grandmother would actively go around the house, inspecting the candles and supervising their use. Those who played with their candles were deprived of them and she would be strict when they asked for candles later on. She would continue on this task until the electricity was back on again, when she would collect all the remaining candles and return them to their safe storage.

في الواقع الكهرباء اختراع غربي ربما لا نستحقه لاننا لم نشارك فيه، مشكلتنا معها اننا مستهلكين فقط و مشكلتنا مع العالم إننا مستهلكين فقط و لانكف عن الشكوى، و مشكلتنا مع الحكومات العربية إننا لا نتوقف من مطالبتها بحقوقنا و هي لم تتوقف عن خذلاننا و مشكلتنا مع غزه إنها ليست وحيدة فهي غارقة في الظلام تستجير بآخرين اوضاعهم ليست افضل بكثير.
فالعراق بعد ما بني مفاعل نووي في الثمانينات صار آلان يغرق في الظلام و يستخدم آلان اختراع محلي اسمه لالة و عادوا لبناء الجص عوضاً عن الاسمنت حتى يتأقلم مع اجوائهم، هكذا نحن في تراجع مستمر و الظلم ظلمات و الكهرباء من ظلماته.
In reality, electricity is a western invention, which we probably do not deserve because we had no hand in its development. Our problem with it is that we are consumers only and our problem with the rest of the world is that we are consumers only too – consumers who don't stop complaining. Our problem with Arab governments is that we don't stop demanding our rights, and they, in turn, don't stop from denying us those rights. Our problem with Gaza is that it isn't the only one drowning in darkness and calling for help from other whose circumstances aren't much better. Iraq, for instance, is now plunged in darkness after it had built a nuclear reactor in the 80s. They are now using a local invention and have returned to building homes out of gypsum instead of cement so that they could adapt to their environment. This is how we are, in a constant backwardness and the injustice of darkness, with electricity being one of those injustices.
لكن الوجة الآخر من الكرة الأرضة يختلف فمن المضحك- ليمنية مثلي- أن لندن اعتبرت الشمع جزء من التاريخ حتى وضعته في المتحف و صنعت منه التماثيل و اهدرت هذه الثروة الملحه، لربما لوساعدتنا المملكة المتحده و مدتنا بشيء من الشمع كانت جدتي ستعطيني شمعتين اقرأ فيهم و اوفر ثمن النظارة التي استخدمها.
و اخرون اشد سخافة اعتبروها مصدر جمالي رومانسي بينما كنت احاول ابحث عن كل وسائل الحيلة لتهريب شمعه و اخفائها بعيداً عن انظار الرقابة للحفاظ على الثروة الشمعيه و افنيت ساعات طويلة من حياتي في بؤس افكر بأي أمل تحمله الحياة مع ضوء الشمعه المحدود و تعلم تضييع الوقت مثل السجناء حتى لااموت كمداً.
But the other face of the globe looks different. As a Yemeni, I find it hilarious that London considers wax as a blast from the past and puts it in a museum, making figures out of it and wasting a much needed resource. Perhaps if the United Kingdom had provided us with some of that wax, my grandmother would have given me two candles to read with, and that would have saved me the costs of the glasses that I now wear. Others are more silly, and consider wax as a source of romantic beauty, while I used every means to slyly smuggle candles and hide them away from censorship being imposed to protect the candle stash. I spent long hours of my life in misery, thinking of any hope life would carry for me in the limited candle light. I also learned how to pass time, like prisoners, so that I don't die of heartache.
لكن تأبي إلا أن تظهر لنا كل يوم ببدعة و اخرها إنها قررت دخول عالم الدول النووية و استخدام الطاقة النووية لتستخدمها شعوبها التي تتجاوز اميتها 50% في العادة.
رحم الله جدتي لم تعش اليوم الذي ترى فيه الحكومة اليمنية -التي لم تستطع توفير كهرباء لشعبها- تتحدث عن الطاقة النووية التي لم تكن جدتي ستفهم ماهي؟ و ماذا تعني؟ و لن تستطيع حتى نطق اسمها، و بالتأكيد لم تعرف جدتي اي عبث اصاب ثروتها الشمعية التي خزنتها و قضينا عليها بشره محدث النعمة.
“بدلاً من أن تلعن الظلام اضيء شمعة” حتى لا تقع في شرور اليأس و لعن الظلام المسؤولة عنه الحكومة و لتكن مواطناً اكثر ايجابية و اضيء الشمع المتوفر والحمدلله و شكراً للحكومة التي وفرته، لكن في الواقع الحكومة التي حاولت جاهدة أن تعلمنا الاستهلاك الإقتصادي للكهرباء و جدتي التي حاولت أن تعلمني التقشف في استهلاك الشمع لم ينتج عنه إلا إني تعلمت الإقتصاد في الاحلام حتى لاابكي كثيراً لوحدي في ظلمة الكهرباء.
Yet, governments come up with a new novelty everyday, the latest of which is joining the nuclear powers and using nuclear energy in a country where illiteracy usually exceeds 50 per cent. May Allah rest my grandmother's soul in peace. She did not live to the day when she saw the Yemeni government – which couldn't provide electricity to its people – talking about nuclear energy, which she wouldn't understand what it was anyway! She wouldn't even be able to pronounce its name correctly and surely, she wouldn't know the calamity that has befallen her treasure of candles which she stored and which we totally eradicated.

“Instead of cursing darkness, light a candle” so that you don't fall a victim to despair and cursing the darkness which the government is responsible for. To become a more positive citizen, light one of the candles which are readily available, thanks to the government which provided it. In reality, it is the government which has tried so hard to teach us how to use electricity conservatively and my grandmother who has taught us how to economise in using candles, which has resulted in teaching me how to economise on my dreams so that I don't cry a lot alone on the darkness without electricity.


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