Men smoke shisha water pipes in a cafe in Sanaa, Oct. 1, 2011. (photo by REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)
Yemen’s Modern Coffee Shops: Progressive, Yet Exclusive
by Farea al-Muslimi, Al-Monitor, September 5 2013
SANAA, Yemen — Over the past few decades, Yemen has been known to conjure images of serious conservatism, isolation between men and women and male dominance over issues pertaining to daily life.
However, things look different here: A group of boys, girls, men and women are having discussions in modern coffee shops, which have become popular in the past 10 years and have significantly become more common across Sanaa in the past few years, including the historical part of the old city. The coffee shops, however, are more concentrated in the southwest of the city, where the richest and most open neighborhood, al-Siyasi Hadda, is located. They have become posh meeting spots for the privileged classes that can afford it.
There are coffee shops with foreign names that largely resemble any coffee shop in Amman, Cairo or Beirut, but the difference here is that the stone buildings are more elegant and posh.
Waitresses — hailing from Ethiopia and East Asia, alongside a few Yemenis — wear uniforms and serve you with a gentle smile that you cannot find elsewhere in the city. In fact, you usually cannot so much as look at a woman’s body, even if she were covered from head to toe. One can typically see little more than the standard black abaya, or a niqab for the more conservative.
You can order hot or cold beverages and Western snacks, the names of which are unknown to many people. Moreover, you can spot the most modern and cleanest coffee shops if you do not smoke shisha [sweetened tobacco smoked with a water pipe]. Some coffee shops offer it for high prices, while others do not find it suitable to be served in their establishment. (more…)