One adventuress shares her personal experiences growing up in Yemen, and her experience riding a horse for the first time! She shares the truth of life behind the veil and the hardships of being a woman in an arab culture. Her eye-opening story is both courageous and honest and sure to make readers thankful for the freedom they have to ride horses and travel.
Author: Krystal Kelly
Travel to Yemen
In 2018 I made a daring move and traveled undercover to Yemen to see firsthand what was really happening there. It was an intense trip to mainland Yemen and once I made it back home safely, I realized I would never be the same again. I was fascinated with the country, the people and the terrible things happening there. But I felt like the world was ignoring Yemen and no one was doing any efforts to help. I felt the news and media portrayed all the wrong things and felt that many Yemeni people I had met desperately wanted a voice, a means of speaking up and sharing with the world what life is really like.
It was fate that only a couple of weeks after returning from my trip to Yemen that a Yemeni woman made a brave post on Facebook about her first ever experience sitting on a horse. I reached out to her immediately, hoping to hear more of her story and be able to share it with others.
This is what she had to say about life in Yemen as a young woman and her dream of riding horses and traveling the world:
Due to the situation in Yemen she requested to remain anonymous so please leave a comment below if you wish her to see your messages.
Question: What made you want to sit on a horse?
Many things, I love adventure. I want to live my life; I want to try new things and I want to challenge my own environment and tradition. I am 27 years old, single and studying in college right now so I have many big goals and dreams. Riding a horse was one of them.
Q: Does your culture allow a woman to do so?
My culture doesn’t allow women to ride horses. We are Muslim in Yemen and women must wear a burka and niqab (veil) over their face. Actually, we don’t even discuss something like women riding horses in our community. It is “understood.” So, in my whole life I have never seen a woman riding a horse. I’ve never even heard it was possible.
Q: What did it feel like riding a horse for the first time?
Oh wow, it felt so amazing and I felt very proud. I can’t describe exactly how I felt but I was very happy and I felt like I was president of the world. It was a powerful feeling and required a lot of courage.
When I was 8 years old and a child I sat on a horse for a picture. But riding a horse at this age was something else, especially because in Yemen women cannot do a lot of things. Riding a horse is one of those things. I don’t know for sure if they will kill a woman for riding a horse, but it is something abnormal here. Women can’t think about it so when I did it, I felt like superwoman. I was so proud!
I felt freedom!!!
I’m a veiled woman as are 90% of woman here. The other 10% wear burka and hijab and not the face covering but it is less common. Being a veiled woman means you cannot run or dance or jump, etc. Of course, wearing the veil makes me hot and uncomfortable, Yemen is a desert country after all and temperatures here are very hot. Some girls like wearing the veil and feel very honorable to do so, but personally, I don’t like it at all. But I have to wear it.
Riding a horse while veiled, let me tell you, THAT is something you probably will not see every day for sure! I think I’m the first one who did it! I think the men who saw me riding a horse, some of them will be okay with it and some of them they will think I’m a woman who needs to be hit or even killed! But believe me, in that moment, I didn’t care if they killed me because I was riding a horse!!! I don’t want this life if I can’t live it like I want!
Q: What are your dreams/goals?
I really want to have my freedom and to be able to live my life in the way I see it’s right for me. Living here I feel I don’t have this freedom.
Oh, my wishes about travel… For years and years and years I try to travel, but I could not for several reasons. First, I’m a woman who doesn’t have the rights to decide her life and the second reason is because of money. If I have money, I will be able to travel easier. I will never stop dreaming about travel and riding a horse in some faraway place that looks like me.
Q: What is the situation like there?
Situation now in Yemen it is very difficult because of the War. Many people are very poor and there is no jobs or salary to live on anymore. It’s getting harder to live here, especially if you’re an ambitious person like me.
Q: Tell us about your culture and what it’s like being a woman in Yemen.
Being a woman in Yemen is a very hard thing. Imagine you don’t have rights to choose anything in your life. You must have a man in your life, even if he is bad person who gives you permission to do anything and everything. This man can be your father, your brother or your husband but everything must always come from the man’s decision. I’ve noticed that a lot of men decide and do a lot of things wrong but still it’s a “man” and so he has the power.
Imagine you couldn’t choose your clothes and the way you look. You also could not choose the man you want to marry. Not all Yemeni people are like this, of course, but unfortunately the majority are.
If a woman does a “wrong” thing, for example, change her clothes or falls in love with a man, she could get killed. But if man does the same things it is ok and sometimes that makes him more masculine and more powerful.
Talking about this really gets me angry and depressed!
The Truth about Wearing the Veil
What’s it like having to wear a niqab, you ask? Well, having a niqab (face-covering) is difficult to describe to someone who has never actually worn one day in and out. I will say it is not nice. In Yemen women did not actually have to wear the niqab and burqa until more recently in history. But somehow it has become part of the culture here and once a woman wears it; it is very difficult to have it removed. And although many might not like to wear it, there is still, of course, provocation from the men to wear it.
Wearing a niqab makes breathing more difficult. And the body is very hot. But I always ask other woman if they wear niqab by their desire or if they were forced or if it is for religious reasons… as I sometimes feel I am the only one not happy in niqab. Some of the women I asked love the niqab, it makes them feel safe from unwanted eyes or more religious. And some, like me, are by force.
Women in Yemen
Woman in my age, 27 years-old are a different topic altogether. Most of them are married and have children. And if she isn’t married yet then she desperately wants to be. Most women here are like that.
Me? I’m the opposite! I don’t want to just get married and get pregnant and give birth and clean the house. No! I don’t want that, I really don’t… but I feel pressure from everyone who ask me why until now am I unmarried? And some people go into shock if they learn I’m 27 and not married! Any place I go, I hear the same topic, which can be really annoying!
I want to live my life. And I want to do stuff I love. I want to have a business and be a rich woman! Then, IF I see the right guy, I will marry him but that is not a big deal. Sometimes I feel I don’t fit in here! I don’t see myself, or other’s like me I can relate to. When I talk to women, they disagree with me. Sometimes I wish I would think like them and just wish for a husband and kids…
Being a woman in Yemen is like living in a prison, for me at least. You have to wear what other women wear, think how other’s think, and no one can accept you might be different. It’s a difficult situation for me to happen to be a woman.
A Scary Moment
Once a man in the street tried to kiss me and touch me. I was sooo scared and started yelling. But I couldn’t tell my family because they would never allow me to go to school again, even though I wasn’t the wrong one! They would blame it on the way I was walking or something else (as if I was asking for it!).
I try my best to tell every woman that they have the right to control their own life. If you want to ride a horse, just do it. I know it’s difficult and might be dangerous, but believe me it’s worth it!
I don’t know if there is something that western woman can relate with or if they feel like there are some things they cannot do. But please, please, please be thankful for your life.
You don’t know how lucky you are!
You can ride a horse without fear. I keep thinking about it, my experience riding a horse. I want to do it again! But horses are not a common sight here in the city. It’s only one park which I found them and unfortunately if I go to the park with my family or if there are too many men and people, I don’t dare attempt it.
But I keep thinking about it every single day.
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You can read more about Krystal’s experiences in Yemen in her travel blog article.