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Better know a neighborhood Al-Safia: A taste of Somalia

The Yemen Times
Thursday, October 10, 2013

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In an area of the capital city, you can find Somalia in Yemen. Al-Safia neighborhood is a mixture of Somali and Yemeni smells, words and culture. At Shaibani Café, residents sit outside and sip tea.

A mixed company, some spoke flawlessly in the Yemeni dialect with others spoke broken Arabic.

Mohammed Abdulla Al-Naj’i, the lone Yemeni in one of the huddled circles, sat and listened to his Somali friends.

Al-Naj’i is a father of five and owns a barbershop. He has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years. Each morning, he heads down to the café to talk politics with his Yemeni and Somali friends. The friends say a lot of the time is also spent comparing the economic situation in both countries.

“We can speak with one another because they have learned the Yemeni dialect,” Al-Naj’i said.

Al-Safia in the southeast section of Sana’a, and is in Al-Safia District, one of ten districts in the capital city. The neighborhood is known for its large Somali population.

There are new and old buildings in the area, and a mixture of mostly poor, some middle-class, and even a few wealthy families. Somalis, like other immigrants, seek out the area because with the number of old buildings, it is possible to find low rents in the area.

 “Here we can rent a small apartment for YR18,000 (about $85) per month or a nice apartment for YR30,000 (about $140) and up,” said Zainab Ibrahim, a Somali refugee living in Al-Safia.

Typical of areas with large immigrant and low-income populations, residents say the government often neglects basic services. Al-Safia roads, for example, could use a good paving.

Ibrahim has been living in Al-Safia for 23 years. He migrated to Yemen in 1992, during the civil war. That war is ongoing, he said, and he cannot yet go back.

Somalis, many of whom have grown up in Yemen, say their mixed Somali-Yemeni area has become a little village.

“We learned Arabic from Yemenis and they have also learned about Somali traditions and even some Somali Language,” Ibrahim said.

The Yemenis are also migrants of sorts—internal migrants. They hail from Taiz, Aden, Hajja and Al-Beidha. There are also a number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Abyan who fled their homes after the clashes between Al-Qaeda and the Yemeni military last year.

There are Somali restaurants and cafes in Al-Safia, introducing non-Somalis to even more Somali culture.

One of those restaurants, Bismallah Mashallah, a Somali woman who speaks impressive, if broken, Arabic serves different dishes to her customers.

The restaurant belongs to Maimona Ali, who opened the establishment six months ago. She sells both Yemeni and Somali dishes.

During lunch time, the entire neighborhood smells of Yemeni salta and fish dishes, as well as a Somali black bean, rice and sugar dish.

Al-Safia is most known in Sana’a for its flea market—an area Sana’anis can head over to for second hand furniture. There are also electronics and appliance shops littered throughout.

The hustle and bustle of this little ethnic area is a unique combination of Yemeni and Somalia foods, customs, hospitality and charms. A little bit of Somalia right in Yemen, for those curious enough to venture there.


Bus routes to Al-Safia:

Al-Safia-Al-Tahrir
Al-Safia-Bab Al-Yemen
Taiz Roundabout-Shumaila
Taiz Roundabout-Sana’a University
Taiz Roundabout-Hadda
Taiz Roundabout-Bait Baos
Popular restaurants and cafés
Al-Hana
Khoor Maksar
Al-Shaibani café

Popular Markets
Ans Market
Al-Safia Flea Market
26 September Market


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