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Sanaa's park exercises help people cope with stress of war

A park in Sana'a, Yemen, on July 21, 2021 [Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images]
A park in Sana'a, Yemen, on July 21, 2021 [Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images]

After dawn prayers Hatim Ali Hadi dons his tracksuit and heads to a park in the Yemeni capital Sanaa for group exercise sessions which help take people's minds off the problems caused by the war going on around them.

"These exercises, this running and weight loss brought back my life and health," says the retired engineer, who has shed 40 kilogrammes in weight and stopped chewing the addictive green stimulant qat.

It is mostly men in their sixties and seventies who use the walkways and low walls of Sanaa's public park daily to do the light fitness drills selected by retiree Naji Abu Hatim, who started the movement he now calls the "Best Team". Women in Yemen do not generally exercise in public.

Abu Hatim says the sessions were comforting.

"[Life] outside this park is full of anguish. We look forward to this morning hour because it is far from all worries, far from all sad news," he says.

Seven years of conflict in Yemen have split the country in two, disrupted healthcare systems and plunged millions into poverty. Yemenis must also deal with the psychological stress of living through conflict.

With no fees and no dress code for the exercise sessions, the idea is to encourage wide participation and groups have popped up in other parts of the city.

READ: Death toll from deadly blast near Yemen's Aden airport rises to 12

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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