مواطن اجنبي

As If We Never Came

Shaima Al Tamimi

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I am child of ancestral movement, mixture, and assimilation. My mother is third generation Kenyan with Yemeni roots, and my father also of Yemeni origin, who emigrated three times before finally settling in the UAE.

The people of Yemen are known for their travels and immigration over many centuries. From our soil of origin we have scattered, planting roots in foreign lands, adorned with traces of where we once came from. As a child growing up in the Gulf, I had little awareness regarding the origins of my Afro-Yemeni mix and identity. It was not until much later, after researching and meeting people of Yemeni descent like myself, including Indian-Yemenis, Indo-Yemenis, and British Yemenis that I discovered an entire subculture connecting us across countries and borders. Our journeys are linked by the languages we speak, the fabrics we wear, and the flavours of our cuisine - vibrant and rich, despite a succession of colonization, wars, and constant migration.

"As if we never came" is a long-term visual project inspired by my family's journey and my personal struggle to understand the complexity of who we are today as Yemeni diaspora. In the face of the near absence of a recorded narrative about our history, I’ve felt the personal need to retrace my own family's journey as a step towards honoring the journey of all Yemeni diaspora communities, encouraging others like myself to own our identity and take back the voice I feel we have lost as bystanders in transit.

Yemen

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Baba's suitcase when he moved to Abu Dhabi. He confidently points out the importance of it being an original Samsonite.

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Baba, Abu Dhabi, 1977.

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A letter to the housing department in Yemen requesting the purchase of a plot of land to build a home. It was ignored.

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Telegram postcards from Mom in Kenya to Baba in Abu Dhabi.

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Baba's response.

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Gallons of Hadrami honey sent by Yemeni families to their homesick loved ones in Abu Dhabi via a weekly 30 hour bus ride.

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Mom always made a big deal about our birthdays. When I turned 7, she could not be there, but she made sure my father hosted a party for me.

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It is said that in order to be pure Hadrami, one has to be of mixed identity. A leso is an East African fabric worn by women and embraced as part of the Yemeni culture to this day.

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50 kilometers enroute to the Yemeni border via Oman, a sticker says "I ask God for Forgiveness."

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My first time going to Yemen.
My first time wearing a Niqab.
My first time going to the Beach with it.

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Recreating old Yemeni beauty rituals using traditional herbs like Henna, Sidr tree powder and honey.

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Diary excerpt of my brother who was 13 years old at the time.

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My brother seen wearing a typical Hadrami sarong inspired by Indonesian patterns and an Emirati head gear.

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"The Frankincense Tree"
The Queen of Yemen, Arwa Suleyhi, would send large wooden boxes of incense to Najaf, Karbala, and Egypt in Ramadan. When it was burnt, the atmosphere of the sacred cities became very pleasant and people knew that gifts from Yemen arrived.

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Hadrami (south Yemen) restaurant in the middle of the desert in Liwa, UAE.

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Asma has a Yemeni father and a Tanzanian mother, and was born in the UAE.

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Let's pray for happiness and endless love for each other.

Sorry for what fate had in store for you. May God give you the patience to endure it.

God is our refuge.

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A friend applies for immigration after four decades of living in the Gulf. It's time move on.

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Shaima Al Tamimi

Yemen

Shaima Al-Tamimi is a Yemeni-Kenyan visual storyteller based in the GCC. Her work is inspired by social and cultural issues reflective of her own personal story, and she explores themes relating to patterns and impacts of migration, identity, and culinary culture. Through the mediums of photography, film, and writing - and via a deeply-rooted documentary approach - Shaima merges historical and family archives with present-day portraits and visuals to create vivid narratives, offering a unique perspective on the life stories of her subjects.

Shaima co-directed "Voices from the Urbanscape" a short doc film premiered at the Ajyal Film Festival in Qatar and screened at film festivals and art galleries in Sarajevo, Cannes Short Film Corner, Berlin, and St. Petersburg. Her long-term documentary photography project “As if we never came” was part of the the Arab Documentary Photography program, supported by the AFAC. She is also a long term contributing member to “Everyday Middle East” and Sony brand ambassador for the MENA region. Her work has been featured in Gulf Photo Plus, Art 29, JDEED Magazine, Khaleejesque Magazine, CNN and Doha News.

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