Valentine’s Day in Yemen: Nothing says love like petrol

With fuel either hard to get or expensive amid a civil war, a gift of petrol says more than roses do

Noura Abdul Hakim, a 28 year-old in Sana'a who received these four bottles of fuel as a gift from her friend Sarah on Valentine's day. Courtesy Noura Abdul Hakim
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Keeping the flame of love burning has just acquired a new meaning in Yemen, with people receiving fuel as Valentine's Day gifts on the streets of Sanaa.

Noura Abdul Hakim, 28, was delighted when her co-worker showed her love and appreciation this Valentine’s Day in the form of a full tank's worth of petrol for all the times Noura drove her around.

“When we go out, we take my car because she doesn’t have one" ,” said Noura, who works as a secretary. "Sarah wanted to say ‘thank you’ and to save me the hassle of waiting at a fuel station all day."

Noura and Sarah's expression of friendship sheds light on fuel shortages and the economic crisis in northern Yemen.

Aid groups like the Norwegian Refugee Council say Yemen has virtually no electricity grid, and so any fuel shortages are felt everywhere – from private family homes to public hospitals that perform kidney dialysis and operate ventilators.

This has had knock-on effects across the country, on top of the disruption and damage to daily life caused by the ongoing six-year war.

Photos of Noura's petrol gift went viral on social media, resonating with many Yemenis.

Wael Mahmoud filling a container with fuel that his wife said she would appreciate as a gift to use for their power generator rather than roses for Valentine's day. Courtesy Ali Mahmoud

In the southern city of Aden, where fuel is available but has tripled in price, bus driver Muheeb Mohammed summed it succinctly: “Love is petrol. At terrible times like this, love is petrol. It’s better than getting flowers or a gift on Valentine’s Day.”

In rebel-held Sanaa, women are traditionally expected to stay at home. They are certainly not encouraged to mingle with men .

But with the fuel shortage in the capital affecting daily life, more women are being taught to drive just well enough to get fuel at segregated petrol stations, where the queues for women are significantly shorter and the chance of getting fuel when needed is much higher.

Noura says Sarah bought her gift on the black market at three times the usual price.

Noura would normally pay 6,000 Yemeni riyals ($23) for the petrol that Sarah paid 18,000 riyals for.

"Her gift is such a big deal to me," she said, smiling.