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Fright and the Fraying of Community: Medicine, Borders, Saudi Arabia, Yemen

By Ashwak Sam Hauter

Cite As:
Hauter, Ashwak. 2023. “Fright and the Fraying of Community: Medicine, Borders, Saudi Arabia, Yemen.” Cultural Anthropology 38, no. 2: 198–224.


This article addresses the psycho-spiritual intersection of geopolitics and medicine in the borderlands between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, at the margins of war. Set in a Saudi Arabian Hospital in Jeddah, it examines patients’ demand for and physicians’ attempt to secure ‘afiya (psychic, physical, and spiritual well-being) amid regional upheaval and the limits of Islamicized biomedical care. I reflect on the case of a Yemeni migrant/refugee hospitalized in Saudi Arabia for a persistent jaundice, Omar, who speaks of his looming fear that his self/soul would “break” if his request for biomedical care were to be rejected, and who longs to be in the care of a Yemeni indigenous healer. Strangely, then, his fright at the break of the soul/self exceeds the fear he felt crossing a desert military border on foot. Drawing on theories of the soul/self and the psyche, I explore how soul-fracture becomes a figure of postcolonial and wartime affliction, congealing in its evocation the end of neighborly hospitality, the fraying of community, and the breaking of a shared lineage: the abject Yemeni, exiled from their own region and the broader Muslim community.


Yemen; soul; borders; psychic pain; hospital; medicine; geopolitics; umma


Copyright (c) 2023 Ashwak Sam Hauter Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.