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'The servants': Yemen's underclass struggles against a tradition of prejudice

Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

A boy plays on a makeshift swing near a slum area of the Akhdam community where he lives in Yemen's western port city of Houdieda on Oct. 14, 2012.

Even their name indicates their status:  'Al-Akhdam,' which is Arabic for 'the servants.' Yemeni Akhdam are distinguished by their African features and the menial jobs they perform. Widespread prejudice places the Akhdam at the bottom of Yemen's social ladder.

Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

A man from the Akhdam community cooks chicken feet outside his hut in Yemen's western port city of Houdieda on Oct. 16, 2012.

Akhdam are Arabic-speaking Muslims, like the rest of the population, but do not belong to any of the three main Arab tribes, that make up traditional Yemeni society. Asked about the origins of the Akhdam, Yemenis say they are descendants of Ethiopians who crossed the Red Sea to conquer Yemen before the arrival of Islam some 1,400 years ago - making them outsiders in their own country. Most live in slum areas in the outskirts of the capital Sanaa and other main cities. They reside in small huts haphazardly built of wood and cloth, without basic services such as running water, electricity and sewage networks. 
According to the World BankYemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab region with a per-capita GDP of $1,209.

Editor's note: Photos made available Nov. 12.

Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

Children from the Akhdam community play in a slum area in Sanaa, Yemen, on Oct. 24.

Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

A boy stands at the door of his family's hut in a slum area of the Akhdam community in Yemen's western port city of Houdieda on Oct. 14, 2012.

Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

Ahlam Salem, 15, moves in an alley in a slum area in Taiz, Yemen on Oct. 11. Ahlam, a member of the Akhdam community, had her legs amputated by surgeons eight years ago to remove malignant tumors.

Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

A woman from the Akhdam community holds her son in a slum area in Yemen's southwestern city of Taiz on Oct. 11.

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