Safaa al-Faqih is one of the few women in Yemen to work with semiprecious stones. Photo taken on April 18, 2018 in Sanaa
His fingers bleed under his fingernails, but sitting at his workstation, Safaa classifies semiprecious stones on a spinning wheel and seems to be at peace in a Yemen yet at war for more than three years.
Green tennis and black niqab, this young craftswoman is one of the few Yemenis to practice this profession. She passes a blue agate on a hot flame and turns it slowly, with bare hands, before introducing it into a mold.
„Every day these stones tell me a different story,“ Safaa al-Faqih told AFP in the capital Sanaa. „I’m learning“ and „I’m discovering something new every day“.
While the deep blue stone is still hot, the young woman gathers her long black abaya and moves to a grinding disc where she runs her finger on the stone every second to feel its sweetness.
The stone is slowly transformed from an irregular sphere into an agate, called „aqiq“ locally, perfectly symmetrical and shining in the light.
Safaa al-Faqih in the workshop where she works the stones in Sanaa, April 18, 2018
Such a stone is often adorned with beautiful silver jewels, which are traditionally crafted in Yemen: rings, necklaces, bracelets for women and curved daggers, called „jambiyas“, for men.
Agate is of particular importance in Muslim communities because the Prophet Muhammad would have worn a silver ring adorned with this stone.
– „I love this job“ –
Yemen also has a tradition of jewelery-making linking Muslims and the ancient Jewish community of many skilled artisans.
Before the war stopped the rich artisanal industry, Sanaa in particular was famous for its silversmiths and embroiderers who created the country’s characteristic shawls.
„I love this job,“ says Safaa. „Sometimes my fingers cut or I get sick, but I like to sit among the precious stones, I love the stones themselves, it’s a real passion for me,“ she says, though she is gaining a living.
Safaa al-Faqih explains that she „loves“ her profession as a stone craftsman, it’s „a real passion“, in Sanaa on April 18, 2018
In a country dominated by men, Safaa attributes to his father the merit of having pushed him to fight for a place in this profession.
In 2011, she and others lobbied for women to be admitted to a public vocational school for men. They finally succeeded and joined the promotion that year.
„There was some opposition, especially from men, to me doing this job, but my parents supported me,“ she says.
– Queen of Saba –
Safaa studied and practiced jewelry making in the city of Sanaa, where in September 2014 Iranian-backed Houthi rebels entered.
In March 2015, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia entered the war against these insurgents in order to restore the internationally recognized „legitimate“ government, but more than three years later, the conflict continues unabated and unresolved. .
Safaa al-Faqih shows rings made with semi-precious stones, April 18, 2018 in Sanaa
The war killed nearly 10,000 people and caused widespread destruction as well as „the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,“ according to the UN. Several regions are on the verge of famine and the ports are almost blocked.
But Safaa’s passion is part of a long love story between Yemen and semi-precious stones. What is modern Yemen today was once the land of the Queen of Sheba and it was there that she would find her stones and her gold, which she would then have offered to King Solomon in Jerusalem.
Thousands of years later, the war may erase this story.
The cultural riches of this poor country in the Arabian Peninsula are under the threat of a brutal conflict that jeopardizes the historic city of Zabid, the old neighborhoods of Sanaa and the ancient walled city of Shibam, World Heritage sites. Unesco.