I'm headed down to Bab al Mandeb—a narrow strait, spanning only 12 miles from the Middle East to Africa—to spend an afternoon with Abdalla Abrahem, a fisherman. He has spent is life trawling these narrow waters, but now he's forced to venture ever further afield, near Somalia and Djibouti, to support his family.
Earning, at best, $10 a day, Abrahem lives along the arid Red Sea coastline in the small village of Dobaba (pop. 600), a community in dire need of food assistance.
I arrived in this area after a three-hour drive from Taiz, about 70 miles away from the coast, descending down more than 4,000 feet through a lush, winding canyon dotted with palm trees and camels. By the end of the journey, the temperature must have increased by at least 30 degrees.
Upon arrival, it's shocking to see that a human life actually exists in the middle of this unforgiving landscape. Families try to scrape by on the wind-swept plain. It's one thing to not have enough to eat, but another thing all together to have to buy your own water.
Yemen isn't just food insecure, it also faces a water crisis. Yemenis consume 2.8 billion cubic meters of water annually, but the nation's aquifers supply only about two-thirds of that. Yemen imports the rest. The western part of the country, where nearly 90 percent of the population lives, is expected to run out of water entirely in only ten years.
In search of water, Yemenis are drilling deeper and deeper.
The average depth of a well in the village of Dobaba is nearly 1,000 meters—compared with only 40 meters only two decades ago. Nothing about this village is sustainable; but few can afford to travel the long distance to Taiz. And they can't pick up and move to the city, because their skill sets revolve around the sea.
Apart from the harsh environment and lack of arable land, the roots of Yemen's current food insecurity go back many years. During the 1991 Gulf War, Yemen voiced its support for Iraq. In retaliation, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait expelled as many as 1 million Yemenis. Many families relied heavily upon remittances, and returning migrant workers sent the domestic economy into tumult: unemployment skyrocketed and produced rampant inflation.
More recently, rebel activity and ongoing border conflicts with Saudi Arabia have prevented the country from capitalizing on oil reserves in the north. The Yemeni oil refining industry had relied on crude from Iraq and Kuwait, the supply of which dried up during the war. Meanwhile, the United States drastically slashed its economic aid, further fueling the fires of discontent, which helped spark the growing fundamentalist Islamic movement.
Back in the village of Dobaba, Abrahem's daughter, Shema, attends a government-run girls school. "We are thankful that our children can receive a good education, but we still need food," Abrahem told me as we bobbed along in his small fishing boat. "What good is education when you can't eat?"
When we returned to land, we handed our catch to a local cook and enjoyed the best meal I've had on this trip. While relaxing in much-needed shade, I turned to watch a group of people walking towards us—a boatload of bedraggled Somali refugees had just landed on the beach.
The grass is always greener, I guess, on the other side of the fence.
As I spend my last day in Yemen, hundreds continue to flee civil conflict in Somalia, making this hazardous journey across the sea. Nearby is a makeshift graveyard, where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has buried over 500 bodies recovered on the beaches around Bab al Mandeb.
These exhausted new arrivals, who are given automatic political asylum, will soon be picked up and driven to the refugee camp that I visited last week.
It's been another full day and I'd generally use the word "exhausted." But I realized I have no idea what that word means.