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  • Welcome to ALT Magazine & Press: Hazawi Prize Announces 2023 Shortlist: (Sana'a, Yemen) - The shortlist for the 2023 Hazawi Prize for Yemeni Literature has been revealed, announcing the ten writers who have been selected as finalists for this prestigious award.
  • Now in its second yearly round, the Hazawi Prize recognizes exceptional contributions to fiction in Yemeni literature. Organized by the Hazawi Cultural Foundation, this annual prize aims to promote Yemeni literature and support creative writers.
  • This year's shortlist features both emerging and renowned Yemeni authors. The ten works advancing to the final round of judging are:
  • - Abdullah Faisal shortlisted for his novel, Spirits and Secrets.
  • - Aisha Saleh shortlisted for her novel, Under the Ashes
  • - Farouk Merish shortlisted for his novel, A Dignified Stranger
  • - Ahmed Ashraf shortlisted for his novel, A Painful Belt
  • - Ghassan Khalid shortlisted for his novel, A Sky that Rains Fear
  • - Hosam Adel shortlisted for his novel, The Lord of the Black Dog
  • - Asmaa Abdulrazak shortlisted for her novel, Shrapnels
  • - Abdullah Abdu Muhammad shortlisted for his novel, The Road to Sana'a
  • - Najah Bahkeim shortlisted for her novel, The Final Decision
  • - Samir AbdulFattah shortlisted for her novel, What We Cannot See
  • The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony in Sana'a later where they will receive $1,500 USD. Second and third prizes of $1,000 USD each will also be awarded. All shortlisted works are celebrated for chronicling Yemen's rich culture and wartime experiences. This prestigious prize continues highlighting the nation's thriving literary community.

Seeking Cures on Arduous Roads: Postcolonial Analysis of Healthcare and Infrastructure in Arafat Musleh’s “Exhausting Rides”


Hatem Al-Shamea

Assistant Professor of English Literature,

University of Reading, UK.



Arafat Musleh is a Yemeni short story writer. He lives in the USA. His short story “Exhausting Rides,” translated from Arabic by Hatem Al-Shamea, offers a poignant glimpse into the struggles of a poor family in rural Yemen seeking treatment for their ill son. Applying a postcolonial literary lens illuminates how the story depicts the lingering impacts of colonialism on healthcare access, cultural identity, and infrastructure in the global South.

Healthcare Access in Postcolonial Yemen

A core theme of “Exhausting Rides” is the lack of adequate healthcare in rural Yemen, forcing the family to embark on arduous journeys for their son Ayman’s treatment. As literary scholar Leela Gandhi notes, public health was “perhaps the most enduring gift of colonial rule” yet infrastructure often crumbled in the transition to independence (Gandhi 98). Musleh’s story highlights how, decades after the end of colonialism, healthcare disparities persist between urban and rural populations in postcolonial nations. 

Scholars like Jessica M. Marglin have further analyzed how the introduction of Western medicine by colonial powers brought unintentional impacts on traditional healing systems in colonized regions. The superiority ascribed to modern biomedicine by the colonialists degraded and displaced indigenous medical knowledge over time (Marglin 357). Musleh illustrates these dynamics when the family must travel from their rural village to urban medical centers, underscoring the healthcare access gaps.

The family’s village lacks medical facilities, indicated when “the car entered the asphalt road, and the vibrations ceased” as they leave home (Musleh). The narrator’s motion sickness symbolizes the disorientation caused by lack of infrastructure in the countryside. When Ayman falls ill, his parents have “increasingly exhausting” travels to seek “the new therapist” in the city, highlighting the urban/rural divide in medical care (Musleh). 

Literary scholar Edward Said’s concept of “imaginative geography” is applicable, as the colonial core views the postcolonial periphery as lacking modernity and civilization (Said 55). The unequal power dynamics established under colonialism extend into the postcolonial era’s infrastructure gaps. Healthcare is among the promises of modernity denied to rural populations by neo-imperial systems.

Cultural Identity in Postcolonial Space

The family’s blending of traditional healing and biomedicine represents the hybrid cultural identity of postcolonial societies. When biomedicine fails Ayman, his parents turn to a religious healer, the Sheikh, who diagnoses him using spiritual methods like egg-cracking. Anthropologist Talal Asad notes that in colonized societies, “traditional” healing was “denigrated and subjected to systematic discipline” by Western medicine (Asad 59).

Yet Musleh shows the persistence of holistic healing alongside modernity, a “blending of belief systems” that scholar J.K. Olupona argues is common where people “creatively adapt” traditions to new realities (Olupona 201). Literary critics like Simon Gikandi have analyzed how incorporating indigenous practices allows postcolonial cultures to “indigenize modernity” on their own terms (Gikandi 630). The family pursues both approaches, navigating between their cultural heritage and Western influences. This exemplifies the tensions between modernity and tradition in shaping postcolonial identities.

Infrastructural Disparities as Colonial Legacies

The lack of paved roads, healthcare facilities, and transportation in the Yemeni countryside also represents the infrastructure gaps inherited from colonial underdevelopment. Literary scholar Elleke Boehmer notes that European powers exploited colonies as “a source for agricultural, mineral and human resources” with little investment in public goods (Boehmer 11). 

Scholars like Aditya Nigam have further studied how colonial economic priorities created uneven development and dependency (Nigam 63). In Musleh’s story, the family must traverse treacherous roads, evoked through vivid descriptions like “the lurch and joggle of the car on the dirt road” (Musleh). The dismal infrastructure and limited medical access reflect Yemen’s history as a former British colony. As postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha argues, nations like Yemen had resources extracted by the colonizers yet “were deprived of the benefits of modernity” (Rutherford 211). The enduring postcolonial divides between rural and urban areas stem from colonial resource extraction and systemic underinvestment.

Transport Symbolism and Postcolonial Identity

The narrator’s car sickness adds symbolic meaning about dislocation and disorientation in the postcolonial world. He feels comfortable on the bumpy village roads yet sickens on smooth highways, representing the vertigo of a rapidly changing society. The windswept rural landscape also evokes themes of longing and isolation.

Literary scholar Frantz Fanon described such dislocation as hallmarks of the postcolonial psyche (Fanon 14). The story’s transportation metaphors tie into this analysis. Roads represent transitional spaces between tradition and modernity, rural and urban. Movement along these passages disorients postcolonial subjects struggling to redefine their identities. The narrator’s motion sickness encapsulates the vertigo of traversing these divides.

Scholars like Homi Bhabha have further theorized hybridity and liminality in postcolonial identity using concepts like “in-betweenness” (Bhabha 1345). The story’s spatial transitions evoke these “in-between” spaces. The road thereby functions as a metaphor for the ambiguities of postcolonial identity formation.


In “Exhausting Rides,” Arafat Musleh utilizes affective storytelling to humanize postcolonial theory, illustrating concepts like hybridity, imaginative geography, and the rural/urban divide through an intimate family portrait. The story offers a microcosmic glimpse of how ordinary people endure structural inequities in the postcolonial world. Postcolonial analysis reveals how Musleh deftly maps these theoretical constructs onto the geography of the global South, advocating for the marginalized through the power of literature.


Asad, Talal. “Medicine and the Critique of Civilization.” Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford University Press, 2003. 

Bhabha, Homi K. “Culture’s in between.” Artforum international, vol. 32, no. 1, 1993, pp.167-177.

Boehmer, Elleke. Colonial and postcolonial literature. Oxford University Press, 2005.

Fanon, Frantz. The wretched of the earth. Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2007. 

Gandhi, Leela. Postcolonial theory: A critical introduction. Columbia University Press, 2019.

Gikandi, Simon. “Globalization and the claims of postcoloniality.” The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 100, no. 3, 2001, pp. 627-658.

Marglin, Jessica M. “Smallpox in two systems of knowledge.” Dominating knowledge: Development, culture, and resistance, 1990, pp.102-144.

Musleh, Arafat. “Exhausting Rides.” Translated by Hatem Al-Shamea.

Nigam, Aditya. “Marxism and the Postcolonial World: Notes on a Tendentious Relationship.” Rethinking Marxism, vol. 8, no. 2, 1995, pp. 60–76.

Olupona, Jacob K. African spirituality: Forms, meanings, and expressions. Vol. 3. Crossroad Publishing Company, 2000.

Rutherford, Jonathan. “The Third Space. Interview with Homi Bhabha.” Identity: Community, culture, difference. Lawrence & Wishart, 1998.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. Vintage Books, 1979.

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