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Yemenis’ in-between moments amid civil war

Armed Yemeni tribesmen from the Popular Resistance Committees in the west of Marib province, east of the capital, Sanaa on May 21, 2015 as they continue to battle Shiite Houthi rebels. (AFP)
A Yemeni farmer lounged on the ground by the side of the road, gazing at the beauty of the green mountain landscape, where the terraces were planted with corn, barbary figs and qat.

Absorbed in contemplation, he didn’t move or react to any noise, a world away from the war tearing apart his country.

In travels across Yemen, these “in-between” moments are found everywhere — Yemenis fitting their normal lives in between the destruction wreaked by four years of civil war.

That destruction has been terrible, with starving children, families driven across the country to seek safety, homes, schools and hospitals flattened, rampant militias inflicting bloodshed and torture.

The country is split between a north held by militants known as Houthis and a south held by forces loyal to the government and the Arab coalition that supports it.

But on both sides of that divide, Yemenis deal with the chaos in very similar ways and press ahead with their lives. Amid the conflict, it is easy to forget that — and forget how stunningly beautiful the country is with its majestic mountain landscape.

In the south, the mountains are harsh, barren and dry. Crossing north, the landscape transforms. The temperature drops a few degrees. The mountains are steeper and are wet, lush and green, watered with monsoon rains.

Yemen’s roads are arduous. A route that should take two hours can take 14 because of bad roads and the need to avoid battle zones and land mines. Along the highways are the tattered and abandoned remains of advertising billboards, a small reminder of the ruined economy.

In government-controlled Marib, an ice cream vendor circulated on a bicycle, playing a recording of a bell jingling to draw customers. There were no children around, but some militiamen — AK-47s slung over their shoulders — stopped him to buy some. The gunmen sat in the bed of a pickup, slurped their ice cream and then smoked cigarettes. Elsewhere, local residents picnicked, swam and took selfies at the reservoir at Marib Dam.

The in-between moments can be very small. Like a man in the town of Ibb who drove a truck whose roof was crumpled in, nearly smashed on top of him.