About 47,400 people live in Bani Sad district, many in a manner that seems from another time. Three villages within the district - Al Hagri, Saraa and Bani Sad - are organized around ties of kinship, a structure known as mikhlaf, in which tribal and family relations define all aspects of social, political and economic life. The central government does not play much of a role. There are no police, no courts, no post offices. The only authority is the sheik, or leader, of the Bani Sad tribe.
Al Hagri is a cluster of rustic stone compounds overlooking a small, flat plain the community uses for subsistence farming. Ahmen Yehia has lived here all his life.
Yehia has no idea how old he is. He looks to be in his 70s, but his is a hard life. His home is one room, built of stones and dried mud. He is poor, illiterate, sick and reasonably representative of the entire population of his village - about 120 families.
"I am very poor," he says when asked his age. "I don't have any money to eat. I don't read or write. I don't know, I don't know."
There are 160 school-age children in Al Hagri, and all are barefoot, dirty and idle. The women and the donkeys haul water up from the river in jerrycans. There is no electricity anywhere except at the sheik's big stone house, which has a generator. There is a one-room schoolhouse and it does have a light bulb, but that burns only when the sheik runs his generator.
According to the United Nations Development Program, which is working to help organize the community to help itself while also providing some small financial assistance, "the total annual family income from the farm may be estimated at between 2,000 and 4,000 rials" - the equivalent of about $10 to $20.
But it is not just their poverty that makes Yemenis angry and susceptible to a virulent ideology that demonizes Westerners, Jews and other Muslims who do not share their views.
Many of those identified as leading terrorists in Yemen come from relatively well-to-do urban families. They are driven by ideology - not poverty - but they have been able to hide and flourish within the pockets of despair that define the life of most Yemenis. There is a widespread sense among the people of having been abandoned, left to drift in their own misery.
"We don't hate our country," says one tribal leader from an impoverished province in eastern Yemen who spoke on the condition he not be identified. "We hate our government. It doesn't take care of us."
Michael Slackman is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.