Those who help

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’
To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” – Fred Rogers

June 12 2015 was the closest a missile reached us, a row of houses in front of ours.
We lost 7 neighbors. Three houses, hundreds of years old, collapsed disfiguring a landmark of the Old City of Sana’a. Forever gone, nebulized.
The world, soon after, expressed outrage because the airstrike had hit a UNESCO protected site.
But they don’t know.

Every one has a particular memory of that night: rushing down the stair, holding the knees, rocking the babies, praying, being splashed cold water on the face. Everyone remembers something different, same way everyone was asking forgiveness for everything done in life. In some cases, for future sins. Just in case.
Some were swearing and cursing the aggressor.
The missile did not explode. It had simply thrashed pulverizing the houses, dissolving them.
Jets were still flying and the men simply rushed to the site. They helped. For hours at a time, in the dust and rubbles, they dag bare-handed with the shemag, the scarf, tight around the mouth. With flip-flops or slippers. Or bare-feet. They never stopped. Never, for days.
Friends living 20 kms away, were trying to find gasoline, a carpool, to come and help.
The whole city turnt to our neighbourhood. Everyone offered help.
My phone rang with voices apologizing I had to be trapped in a war no one wanted, I had to witness rock bottom of humanity.
Indeed, there are always helpers. There is always someone paying attention, rushing, digging in the debris.
There is always someone shooting a series of gunshots with Kalashnikov saluting the corpses, once found; someone preparing a cup of tea for you and asking ‘Are you hungry?’, someone praying for the dead and their soul, someone lending the car to rush to hospital with a survivor who, at the end, did not survive long.
There is always someone telling you the story of the Japanese expatriate who used to live in one of the demolished houses and ‘heaven, he must be ever so sad to find out his house is no longer here’.

There will always be nightmares relating to the war, but they will always be balanced by the memories of those who did everything they could to help.
There will, I know.

(In the picture: what was left of  one of the homes of my neighbours. Memories)

I breathe gratitude

”Dear  Editor,
I write to you and attach this most harrowing and tragic photo of a Yemeni father holding and mourning his beautiful dead daughter killed by the bombings of Yemen from Saudi Arabia.
Can you see the sorrow and despair  of this father ?I can and it disturbs me immensely.
We have seen  the tragic pictures of the dead Syrian children on the beach now it’s  time the world saw the dead children of Yemen.
Yemen  is the forgotten  war  the forgotten  people and now the horrors of what the Yemeni people are forced to endure must be exposed.
These people now have no food, no water and no fuel, humanitarian aid have no access to reach them, they are shut off from the world.
These people are eating leaves from trees to try and survive.
Can you imagine being so starved you have to eat leaves? It’s dreadful.
Shame on the silence from the world leaders who are allowing this slaughter  of  innocent  civilians  and worse our British Government  is selling arms to Saudi Arabia .
I know you are a paper for the people and you have reported  on so many atrocities: please I urge and beg you to expose this horror of the Yemeni people.
This photo was sent to me from a friend who is from Yemen but managed to flee to safety.
Thank you for your time in reading this.
With Kind Regards.”

It is called eternal gratitude.
It happens when your soul talks through your heart and the discourse is imprinted, for eternity, in your brain. In each breath.
Eternal gratitude born out of the ups and downs of your daily struggles reordering memories, dealing with PSTD and the fact you know you will never be the same.
When you have already given up on humanity and basics, like friendship.
This letter was sent from a friend – a dear, dear one – to her paper after seeing the picture of a father mourning his little daughter killed during an air raid on our warn-torn soil.
A mother, my dear, dear friend, has spoken in the name of 25 million Yemenis trapped in a war declared on them while being silenced by everyone.
For once, I breathe gratitude. For eternity.

We can wear

Irrepressible passion for things to wear.
Apart from the smile of the day or a cloudy mood around.
Apart from a burden or our halo.
We can wear our job, the things we carry: a camera, a note-book, our daily bag with tools. Goods to sell at the market. A canvas. Even a coffin if that is the case.
We can wear our pain. It’s heavy. Or expectations. They are never ending.
We can wear a language or a hat. Even stupidity, though already abundant.
But to wear leaves, tonight, seems the only standing logic.

(in the picture: landscape architect and artist Roberto Burle Marx)

 

You are there, in my war frame

They sent me this picture of you, Tnseem. I filed it in ‘My World’ folder.
You are smiling. At last I see you smile.
I am sure before the war started, our paths had crossed ways.
We must have met on the stairs or during Eid. Or on a Friday, weekend day, when you used to come and visit your family. Extended family. When it comes to families, in Yemen, I always lose count and thread.
I am sure I must have complimented you for your beautiful dress.
We must have kissed, as well. Many times, I am sure.
You must have made fun of my Arabic. I am equally sure.
But I do not recall ever meeting you before. Before the war, that is.
My memories of you belong to the war; they are relegated there.
You appear within my war frame.
I remember your perfume, your combed hair and pink clothes. I remember your voice, strident with happiness. Cannot expect anything different from an 8 year old who was eager to meet a young sister coming to life: your mum was expecting and I was praying she was not going to lose the baby because of the airstrikes. Because of fear, uncertainty. Because when you are pregnant and they are bombing, you might fall trying to find a safe place.
I remember you, indeed, but in the days of the bombings, never before.

I feel uncomfortable now, looking at your picture. Not because you seem serene, but because of the load of my memories with you. The contingency of the moment.
I remember one night, during an air raid close to us, in Al Qyadah st, when you rushed to me and said: “Can I call my Dad?” and there were no words to tell you, no hugs enough, no way of hiding my sorrow. I passed you my phone praying your father was going to answer immediately. Praying you would, eventually, forget this same night. And even me.
I remember you hugging a teddy bear, another night (always at night) when we had to take shelter downstairs at the palace entrance while the house was shaking.
I was sure we were not going to make it. We did. The night ended, our lives continued.
During the day, when the airstrikes were fewer, you used to make fun of me, not understanding why I could not cook or make bread. Perhaps you will never find anyone as bad in cooking as me.

I see you smile, at last, my little Tnseam
You are holding your litter sister Lougean in front of the world.
Do tell her we are doing our best to change everything.
Starting from this horrible war because, since she was born, she has witnessed only war.

I dread a word

I dread a word.
Have never really paid too much attention to it until people around me started just not being around any longer.
Until phone calls went unanswered, until someone returning from a battle, a fight, the war, informed me that ‘my cousin’, ‘my brother’, ‘my son’, ‘my neighbor was killed in action’.
Every time, I gasp for air. Every time, I have to sit.
At certain latitudes you soon learn that someone dies in action. That someone is blown up by a suicide bomber, a car bomb, cross-fire.
That the sky is not always sheltering and the earth can swallow your body from now to eternity.
And that some things you cannot control and cannot change.
That you are not invincible and most of the time you have no voice in trying to alter the events.
You start figuring out that, indeed, it’s all a matter of luck, that your time has not come yet; and the same applies to the people you know or your beloved ones.
I dread a word: martyr.
Jamil-Jamal was my neighbor, the brother of someone close to me and the son of a family I considered somehow mine.
His brother Hamudi, during a bombardment, had once told me: “You must not be afraid. Open your mouth in case of explosion: it saves your hearing”. Seeing him under air-strikes always calmed me down even if he was half my age. My courage came from him.
Jamil-Jamal is a martyr. Killed in action. It makes no difference on which side he was fighting.
His pictures are abdundant on the social media. His family pays tribute sharing memories of happy moments, of him in uniform, with a new pair of sun glasses and him just smiling in the street.
For me the strongest memory of Jamil Jamal will always be of the void any given war leaves in our space, in our small universe.
The world is not made of atoms. It’s made of souls. Yours, Jamil Jamal, is still with us in this void.
Travel lightly, martyr

One day someone dressed beautifully

Maybe it’s not in the city.
Maybe it’s in the villages, down the valleys, behind the rocks. close to the sea, behind a water-fall where freedom happens.
Freedom to use what you have, combine the colours, the fabrics, plaid the wool as if it were your hair-dome, weave a basket hat, match a yellow scarf with blue and violet and embroidery and rough wool on your skin. All together.
With silver beads hanging from your head.
One day, in a village maybe close to a water-fall or behind the rocks, someone made art. She dressed beautifully.

In a village, one day

One day, passing by, someone took out the camera and the village girls started laughing.
The picture is blurred, it’s shaky.
The girls are in their country clothes.
Time of the picture is unknown, as well as the author
But the strength, the energy of the moment is still there.
And it’s all in the smiles.
Memorable moments come through smiles, at times
And an unknown photographer with a shaky hand