Life in Jeddah / The Shops! / What's Going on in the Gulf?

Shopping: The Yemeni Sooq


The Yemeni Souk (in Jeddah KSA)
by Halema Mudaffar | Asharq Al-Awsat

Written by


The Yemeni Souk, located in the Al-Hindawiyah area of south Jeddah, is one of the city’s oldest markets. Those who visit it today get a feel for earlier times in Jeddah and a more relaxed way of living. Everything is slower and more relaxed, not least because of the narrow streets and the number of people thronging them.

Sulaiman Ali, a 60-year-old man, was standing in front of a three-legged wooden table. He was selling Yemeni bananas — smaller and sweeter than the ones we normally buy — and other fruits as well as traditional Yemeni food items. In addition, he was also selling a variety of kitchen appliances — none of them very new. He noted that the souk was usually crowded and full of people. “We are busy all the time except during lunch. Things get really busy in the evenings right up to midnight. It’s very common for people to come here to the souk and want to take our pictures. What are we? Movie stars? No matter, we are proud to do honest work and earn honest money.”

A large number of people in the souk are visitors; they are not from the area and have come there for a variety of reasons. Abdullah, an English teacher in a government school, said he comes to the souk every so often. “Many things that my mother used to make for me when I was a child are now found only here in the Yemeni souk. Now my wife is making the food my mother used to make but in order to buy some of the ingredients, we have to come here. I live in north Jeddah but I enjoy the Yemeni souk because people are so relaxed and pleasant and it gives me a glimpse of my past and Jeddah’s too.”

There are a number of old women in the area; many live there and others do their shopping there. They normally buy traditional food and fruit. Coming to the souk is also very much a social activity for them. In addition to the women who come to shop and buy, there are others who are working. It is common to see Yemeni women in one area and Africans in another. All the women know each other and if one has to leave her place for any reason, her friends will take care of her goods and even sell things for her. When she returns, the money is handed over.

Aminah, a 40-year-old Yemeni businesswoman, said, “I am from Yemen and I have been working in this market for many years. I sell all kinds of fruit. My husband is sick and I have five children to support. The whole family depends on me for help and I work hard because I want my children to get a good education. Thank God, they are all doing well in school and I am waiting for them to graduate and go to work so I can retire.”

In other parts of the souk are found old kitchenware. Ahmad Ali said, “I sell the traditional kitchen utensils that are used to make south Yemeni dishes. I also sell henna and many women come here to buy it. Thank God, there is no shortage of customers who come to see what we have and to buy. There are even some rich people who come here to buy old and unusual items which they display in their sitting rooms.” He points out, “Everything here in the souk reflects Yemen. We have been here for many years and we feel like one family. We have very good relationships with each other which is how life used to be and how we like it.”

One thought on “Shopping: The Yemeni Sooq

  1. An Electrifying Experience: Need a Part? The Sooq Has It
    Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

    Jeddah, Aug. 9 – When a piece of equipment like a washing machine breaks down it is a problem to determine which part is broken – obtaining the part, however, is often more of a problem for English-speaking residents in Saudi Arabia who do not have any idea about where to begin such a search.

    Even if they do find the particular dealer, the language barrier often prevents them from obtaining the part they want, or in understanding when or where they will be able to obtain it.

    The search for any parts, it often turns out, leads to a special area of town where a specialized souk exists which caters to customers in need of replacement parts and equipment.

    When a watch is broken, for instance, it is fairly easy to go to a store or repair shop where it can often be fixed while the customer waits. If your car is malfunctioning, if you can drive it to the dealer, you can obtain the proper service.

    The Search Begins
    With some items, like washing machines, the search becomes a little more involved. Hopefully the machine is a well enough known brand that if you visit any washing machine store and give the proprietor the name, he will be able to point you in the right direction.

    Such a search, for Speed Queen parts, recently led first to an appliance dealer on King Fahd Street. When given the brand name several times and with the part held high in the air, the dealer indicated that the only place it would be available was downtown in the souk.

    Hit or Miss
    After parking in the main downtown lot, the search proceeded to the nearest washing machine dealer on Gabel Street where there appeared to be at least a dozen such stores. Several proprietors just shook their heads saying, “no Speed Queen.” Then a third pointed down the street past the Queen’s Building and toward the bank area.

    Trail Gets Hot
    Another dealer past the Queen’s Building indicated the part was available at the “electrical souk” near the banking area. A proprietor near the banks pointed on up the street saying “souk, souk,” and several blocks on at another dealer, he pointed back the way we had come, so the trail was getting hot. Finally one store owner pointed directly across the street and said the electrical souk was right behind a large gray building.

    The bright lights and brand names on the electrical souk made it fairly easy to find the dealer you are looking for. After asking at one we were directed to “Lane Seven” and were relieved, after spending hours searching to see “Speed Queen” displayed prominently on a sign.

    Not Done Yet
    The accomplishment of even finding the electrical souk, for someone who doesn’t speak Arabic and who never even knew that such a place existed, is like discovering buried treasure. The problems, however, weren’t over yet.

    Upon entering the store, it soon became obvious that no one there spoke any English. The broken part was pulled out, and the dealer, when told, smiled, got up and came back with a very similar-looking piece.

    Not in Stock
    We thought our troubles were over but the dealer, taking the broken part, compared numbers, shook his head and indicated the two parts were not the same. Desperate, we offered to buy the other part anyway and try it, they did look the same, but he refused to sell it to us.

    We were directed to leave our broken part there and the dealer placed it on a shelf behind his desk. We had no idea whether he planned to order one, how long it would take or whether we should return for a new one.

    With all parties becoming frustrated with the lack of communication, we left the part there, took one of the dealer’s business cards and departed. Several days later we were able to give the card to a friend who speaks Arabic and ask him to call the dealer to find out what in the world was going on.

    When the friend talked to the dealer he was told that yes, the part was ordered and now available any time we wanted to pick it up. The visions of waiting months for the part and doing our wash by hand immediately vanished. We were unable to determine where the part came from but were glad to get it and will know in the future exactly where to go when we need any electrical parts. That seems to be true of any part you need, there is always a souk where it can be found – if only you can find the souk!

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