Important things in life: the journey of a Yemeni immigrant
By Cesilia Faustina
Photography by Cesilia Faustina
Finding the importance in the little things is a must if you want to make it in this life, according to one Yemeni.
Facing life is no easy task, surely something all of us are aware of. As I sat down with this early 40s Yemeni man, you start to wonder what this seemingly content man is hiding and how happy is he with his life.
“The tricky thing about life is, the more experience you get with life, the more you realize you don’t know,”
Lotfi AlSarori is a business-oriented man working as a Marketing Director for a software company based in Jordan. Originally from Sana’a, Yemen, this hard-working individual travelled across the globe to try and provide a better life for himself and his family.
Yemen is still facing constant turmoil since their civil war started in 2015. Known as the “forgotten war,” it has resulted in many humanitarian conflicts, such as lack of food, difficulties in logistics and more.
As the fight between pro-government parties and the Houthis continue, it is becoming extremely difficult for Yemenis to enjoy a proper life within the country. According to Vox, around 76 percent of the population is in need of some humanitarian aid.
Lotfi understood the difficulties he had to face as a Yemeni and left to Jordan once the opportunity came to light. This does not mean though that he did not face other opportunities and challenges along the way.
The land of the free
This techie always had a passion for software and got the opportunity to expand his knowledge by continuing his studies in the United States.
“I always wanted to be an engineer growing up in my father’s electronic store,” he said.
“My first thought was that I was going to be an electrical engineer and I actually went and worked there for a few years, before realizing that’s not exactly what I had in mind.
“My Pakistani friend once asked me why was I getting into electric engineering, and I told him because I liked computers and he told me I was in the wrong specialty and that I should go into computer science where I could deal more with computers and have more control over my career. He was right.”
After Lotfi went to study at a university in Texas, he eventually changed universities to Utah after deciding software was his goal.
The shift to software
With the aim to start his own business, Lotfi felt software gave him more opportunities to control his career and start his own business; especially when it came to uncertain living conditions.
“If you want to build your own business and change something, you do not have control over that because it requires a lot of setting up, regulation, big capital, too many restrictions, and while in software by only having a laptop and a compiler you can already start making a difference,” he said.
He also managed to do software internships while in the States. Thanks to his experiences, it opened more career opportunities once he moved back to Yemen.
Before the war even started, Lotfi was trying to figure out what company he would like to pursue to help impact his community. Once he came back to Yemen, there came a series of ups and downs.
“I can show you in my graduation book when they asked me what my life objectives were, I said to raise my family according to my principles and standards and take care of them. And the professional objective was to go back home and start my own software company and benefit my community,” he said.
In the homeland
“By the time I got back to Yemen, I had four to six years’ experience in software development. I started as an IT manager in Yemen with this company I wanted to partner up with,” he said.
“I was supposed to be the CTO. That was actually my agreement with the owner’s son, who was my friend.”
Unfortunately, Lotfi’s business never took off and he had to find other opportunities.
“It didn’t work out, but I got many professional life and work experience. I had worked with professional and hardworking people, then I moved on, into consulting for about a year,” he said.
“And then I worked for another company and that didn’t pick up.”
After a series of success and failures, Lotfi finally established his own company, only to reflect the whole purpose of why he wanted to establish a company.
“I established a company and then a couple of years later, I re-evaluated my goals and I thought, ok, I still don’t have the liberty of changing my community, I’m still bound by business decisions and bureaucracy,” he said.
Lotfi eventually went freelance, but his goals started to change with the appearances of his children. He stated how having a family really put things into perspective, and sometimes goals change, especially in a political crossfire.
“You start switching your views. Your goals become less important, you start to focus on your family and children’s goals and how you want to coach them on what they want to be,” he said.
“I started working in other fields, it didn’t matter what I worked as, as long as I put bread on the table. I used to work on installing solar systems for Yemeni companies but clients outside of Yemen. I kept the ball rolling until they got to high school and graduated high school.”
Why the US is not an option
Lotfi has three children in total, two boys and a girl. Both his boys were born in the US and have American citizenships. His wife and he were also eligible for their Green Card, yet, the States continues to not be an option.
“My wife said why look for a job, why not go to the States, and I said I was done with the States,” he said.
“We went to the American embassy and we told them we have residency and we have a daughter that was born in Yemen. We technically could have legally got her a green card but from the embassy, they said no. So that complicated things,” he added.
America’s immigration law has become stricter over the years and many immigrants go through complications in trying to apply for their Green Card.
More than 44.5 million immigrants resided in the US in 2017, according to the American Community Survey. This number has continued to grow throughout the years with immigration being a core topic in 2016’s presidential elections. The immigration policy in the US has been going through many criticisms and backlashes within recent months, especially since the election of Donald Trump.
Once the embassy refused to give his daughter citizenship, Lotfi and his wife decided to just stay in Yemen.
He also mentioned that it was not all that easy living in the States, especially after September 11.
“A few years later, after 9/11, with the treatment of Arab and Muslims there, it was very hard on us there. My wife wears a hijab,” he said.
“Constantly being watched and having people stare at you, we didn’t want to deal with this, so I thought I could always go back. That was one of the main reasons we went back.”
Eventually, Lotfi and his family managed to move to Jordan after receiving a job opportunity.
After moving to Jordan thanks to a job offer from a local software company, his family and him managed to create a new home in this foreign country.
Jordan is the second highest country with refugee intakes. Refugees make up a great deal of the Jordanian population with 89 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants, according to UNHCR.
A majority of those refugees come from Syria, however, being in the crossfire of war-torn countries, Jordan is storing a huge amount of refugees from various countries within the region.
“I didn’t think I would like living in Jordan but because of the way the interaction is here, not only me, I mean for Yemeni’s and non-Yemenis,” he said.
“The hospitality of Jordanian people, especially with us, is great. It works for me and my family.”
Lotfi said having had the privilege of experiencing different cultures and locations, it truly had changed the way he saw the world.
Creating a different perspective every time, moving from one country to the next has turned him into a global citizen.
“My way of thinking has changed a lot. Looking back when I was in my twenties, I thought I had a lot of things figured out in terms who I should do, what I should pursue, what the meaning of life is,” he said.
“The tricky thing about life is, the more experience you get with life, the more you realize you don’t know.”
This ambitious figure started to understand what he wanted in life and felt the need to create a positive impact for society.
“So one of the major changes I have come to accept is – I know it sounds cliché – to work for the betterment of humanity,” he said.
“Not be selfish, because if everybody can think like this, we can live on this planet peacefully and actually go against the agenda certain people have to benefit by dividing us.
“People will always find ways to divide us, whether by race, religion, continent, accent, whatever, we should, in today’s information age, communicate with people throughout the world.”
He also stated how people change and how goals change, that it was just a part of life, stating his own development throughout the years.
“My set of goals were to, before, it used to be simpler and it went up and down. At first, it was to start a software company and improve the community around me, to uplift this level that we have reached, especially in this area of the world where we are not keeping up with science and encourage them that we can make a difference in the world,” he said.
The Yemeni stated that accomplishing his goal was no easy task, especially within Yemen, where software would be the least of the country’s concerns.
Trying to accomplish his goal within a war-torn environment was a hard experience, leading him to depression. It was at this point that Lotfi discovered the important things in life.
The little things in life
“What kept me going were the small things, the little successes; putting bread on the table, making your mom happy, that in some aspect is more important, because you cannot get to the big goal if you do not pay attention to the smaller ones and the people that will help you get there,” he said.
“So the little things are important, you don’t have to start the next big thing to be able to serve humanity and people around you because if everybody does their part, help the people around you, learn something, help the other person do something, then that by itself is a great success.”
Lotfi realised his goal did not have to be as he thought it was. He stated that his “company” no longer needed to be in the form of a tangible office, but it can even just be a website, as long as he made the impact he hoped for.
“For my next plans, I plan on focusing on the little things, because life is nothing but moments spent with the people you love,” he said.
Ending our conversation, this ambitious individual left off with some words of wisdom from his life experiences; encouraging everybody to appreciate more of what you currently have.
“The little things are important, you don’t have to start the next big thing to be able to serve humanity and people around you because if everybody does their part, help the people around you, learn something, help the other person do something, then that by itself is a great success,” he said.
Lotfi AlSarori is the Marketing Director for a software company based in Jordan. He has been working in software for most of his life and is originally from Yemen. He wishes to establish his own company or platform that will help to impact his community, no matter where it may be.
This husband and father is looking to create a better future for his family and wished to continue to be a global citizen.