Can you stand my gaze?

I may not be able to neither read nor write, but like my country fellows, I know the alphabet of a decent human being, my alif-ba-ta.
I know what is haram and what is halal, forbidden and lawful.
I know where I come from: I come from Yemen, thousands year old land which was here before all of  your tribes made their appearence.
I stand on my soil, my valleys, my desert, rivers, mountains, peaks and seas.
In my blood I carry the history of humankind: your caravans had to cross  my land to reach destination, your boats had to kiss our shores to escape the solitude of the sea.
My queens have taught the world the basics of governance.
We taught you the art of hospitality, how to count, how to irrigate unfriendly scorching desert, build damns and houses scratching the sky from what the earth gave us.
Remember these words, young man: I stand with my people. We are one firm nation.
Together, we stand with each martyr of ours. Our heartbeats speak of Yemen, over and over again.
It´s my nation which gives me strength. It´s my God which gives me hope.
I may be homeless, wounded, widowed, childless, but I know no foreigner shall ever hold dominion over Yemen.
I know my alif-ba-ta, young man.

Look at me, straight in the eyes and ask yourself if you can stand my gaze.
The gaze of all the blood spilt.
I speak for every mother made childless, every child made futureless, every man made martyr, every home turnt into rubble, every child born dumb, blind, defectful because of your bombs.
I speak in the name of the Yemeni people and remind you that you can take this anniversary of yours, March 26, and celebrate your own downfall.
You may U-turn your war-planes, silence your cannons, sink your warships and swallow your bombs.
I speak for Yemen, young man. We are here to stay.

(short collection of brief sentences I have been told by elderly Yemeni women commencing on March 26 2015 to March 25 2016)

photo: Yusra Ahmad

Tareq Abdullah and no chance of survival in war-torn Yemen

Tareq Abdullah is only 10 years old.
He comes from an extremely indigent family of Hodeidah, Westerm Yemen, and  life has balanced the lack of money in his days with abundancy of illnesses and grief.
Tareq happens to be deaf, suffers from renal failure and has an enlarged heart.
With such a clinical record, chances of survival in war-torn Yemen are close to nil.
Chances of having a decent life in the current situation, none.

In Yemen, devastated by daily bombardments, the few hospitals still operating are on the brink of collapsing and there would not be, anyhow, a way of treating him. The country is under an air-land-sea siege and little or close to nothing, including medicines, are allowed to enter.
More than 20 million people, 80 per cent of the population, require humanitarian assistance.
So far, the request of humanitarian aid of $ 1.800 million for 2016, released the past month of February, has received a mere 12 %.

Tareq´s days are counted.
Tareq cannot afford even to dream. The world is distant to him and has failed him from birth, from day one.

We do not want Tareq to be forgotten. We do not want Tareq´s case to be considered a collateral damage of the war.
Is there, somewhere, in the world, someone out of the 7 billion people, who can help us?
Tareq´s case has been documented by the Rehabilitation and care Fund for people with disabilities in Sanaá (Bayt Meyad – behind the office of Education – Al-Sabyen Directorate Tel: 00967-1-619774 Fax: 00967-1-619231/5) and we hope, so hope, our plea will be heard.

Manal, a light for thousands of Yemeni disabled

Manal is in her mid-twenties, an active, passionate and smart young woman. Yemeni, she holds a University degree from the Faculty of Arts in Sanaá in English literature and, indeed, she masters perfect English. The feeling you have when you talk to her, see her moving around, watch her dealing with people and friends, is that Manal is full of energy, determined though extremely humble.

´´I am planning to study abroad. I would like to have a master degree in management, one day´´, she says but her situation is not easy. She does not know when she will ever be able to travel abroad as she is looking for a ´´scholarship anywhere´´ whilst no one helps Yemeni students, especially these days. Born in the 90s, she has already witnessed a war in 1994 between South and North Yemen, the Arab Spring of 2011, the revolution in 2014, a coup d´etat in January 2015, countless number of terroristic attacks and almost one year of aggression against her country. Not a simple aggression: Manal, like all Yemenis, has been under airstrikes almost every day since 2am of March 26, 2015 when neighbouring Saudi Arabia, along with a coalition of nine countries, decided to restore the government of fugitive president Abd Rabbuh Mansoor Hadi. No matter the circumstances, the sleepless nights because of the missiles pouring from the sky, you know tomorrow morning Manal will be at the office working – restlessly – with her best smile, paying attention to virtually everyone, running around.

When I first met Manal, she apologised she could not send me an email: her office was in an area under air-strikes. I received the email the day after, and it was Friday, weekend for her.

Sometimes I wonder if she gets any sleep at all. Manal has opened a group in Facebook: Yemeni Peace & Coexistence where peace and coexistence are words she personally chose (and she likes to stress it) and is busy online till late, discussing important issues, never forgetting anyone´s birthday or need, uniting Yemenis.


One year ago Manal started working, as Project Manager, at the Rehabilitation and Care Fund for People with Disabilities in Sanaá. The job would be difficult in any moment in a country like Yemen where there is virtually no national health service, 50% of the population lives below the poverty line, where lack of food, water, electricity, basic infrastructure is the reality on the ground. The incomprehensible war waged on her country has basically devastated everything. According to the United Nations, Yemen is witnessing the worst humanitarian crises of our times.

Her enthusiasm, when talking about her job, what she sees every day, is cracked by a deep sorrow: ´´The tragedy of this aggression on people with disabilities in Yemen is apocalyptic. They are suffering and have been forced to face many obstacles during these past, harsh, twelve months. It´s like a horrible, nightmarish year with the killing of thousands of innocent people.´´

´´I am particularly concerned about the impact of this war on people who have to deal with physical disabilities for the rest of their life and this includes visual and hearing disabilities. We had an unprecedented increase in auditory disabilities, for instance, and it is a result of the pressure generated by massive explosions. Visual disabilities are usually a result of sharpers and cluster bombs which cause strong pressure leading to the explosion of windows with a direct attack on one or both eyes.

Physical disabilities regard, mainly, amputation of legs or hands as a result of direct injuries, that is: being hit by flying fragments or collapsing buildings. Many of the people seeking help – and now considered handicapped – were injured by the internationally banned cluster bombs.

Appalling, for the first time in our history, we have started witnessing new-born babies with birth defects, babies mentally impaired or even having cancer due to the gases and toxic emissions of bombs dropped on the entire country´´.

Manal gains strength when she talks about the Fund´s role: ´´We offer all the requirements needed, starting from basic prosthetic devices such as bathroom chairs, crutches, medical mattresses to avoid skin ulcer, walkers, optical sticks for blind people. We provide medicines for most of the disabled who are registered with the Fund and arrange for surgeries in public and private hospitals, all sponsored by us. When possible, we finance medical trips abroad if the disability or the case cannot be handled in Yemen.´´

She adds that the Fund sponsors and provides physical therapy services throughout a network of over 25 centres in various governatorates. Educational services are a huge pride for Manal: ´´We take care of circa 120 associations and centres which provide an academic platform allowing the disabled to study. The project stretches throughout large portions of Yemen and grants scholarships for postgraduated studies.´´ When I ask her who is financing all these activities, Manal replies: ´´The Fund used to generate its income from donating companies and here comes the disaster! Most of the companies have been destroyed by the air strikes and we lost all the support. We can no longer offer even the basic assistance to anyone and the main issue is that the number of disabled people is increasing due to this unjust war.´´ Every day Manal goes to her office and knows there will be something like 100 new people asking for help. ´´It is heartbreaking´´, she admits, ´´when you know you can do little for anyone´´. But she is never discouraged, at least not for long. Manal has been writing to all organisations abroad. Personal letters, signed with her name, asking for help in the name of the Fund.

Today Manal has been busy with one of the biggest achievements of the Fund: the graduation party for 26 hearing impaired students who graduated in architecture and engineering. Thinking all this happened in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, and in time of war, you can only shiver with pride and emotion.

´´There are so many things I want to accomplish in the future. I want to continue working in the humanitarian field, especially relating to people with the special needs, especially working close to the poor with disabilities. I want to travel abroad, have a master degree in management, gain many information from different important people, return to Yemen and help my country.´´

When I ask her if I could use her real name, Manal, in the article, she smiles: ´´You can use my real name and my last name too. My name is Manal Al Marwani. ´´

Rehabilitation and care Fund for people with disabilities Republic of Yemen-Sana’a Bayt Meyad – behind the office of Education – Al-Sabyen Directorate Tel: 00967-1-619774 Fax: 00967-1-619231/5

December 5, 2013

Before the bombs and the fights
Before us entertaining the children
with popcorn and fried bread
to keep them away from the failures of humankind.
Before the broken glasses and the
replacement of windows.
Before us mourning the friends we lost
and the ones who became so after reading their stories on the papers
Before the world going
even madder.
Before it’s too late
can´t we,
live in peace?
Before it’s too late
can we,
for a change,
divert our efforts to
the famined,
the raped,
the ill,
the sad,
the neighbours,
the displaced,
the wounded?
Before it’s too late
can we,
for once,
do differently?

When the war happened, we had no more money for popcorn to entertain the children.
Or oil to fry the bread.


photo via Te Conozco Bacalo




My dead people usually never talk to me. They never appear, guide me. They never even smile to me, in my dreams.
Once my people leave, they leave for something like forever. The rest of my lifetime without them is the eternity  I face.
Last time we met was in the 90s, just before Christmas. We never managed to fix a cracked relationship, though.
Relatives got in our way I believe, or other people: all strangers to me.
You were not an easy Grandmother, I was not a delightful member of the family.
You were a conservative, I found out later in life; at the time, to me, you were just different from my friends´ grandmothers.
You were the one who tried to explain to me that no, squatters are not entitled to homes just because they have no job and those bedsheets hanging out of windows stating ´Homes for all´ mean nothing if you do not pay the rent. And your tone meant ´Period´.
Two decades later you bought the apartment upstairs just to get rid of noisy tenants who used to party till late. An empty apartment to give room to silence.
When you asked about the newspaper I was writing on, I rushed with words. I was so proud to tell you it was financed by the provincial Communist party: it gave officiality to the project.
Your mouth moved and I made things worse adding ´´The place where we meet is very basic. Just chairs and a table. There is a poster of Ho Chi Minh..´´. I told you you were different: you knew who he was.
To you I was an activist just because for Christmas my cards were bought from Greenpeace. But you were proud I remembered Christmas and sent my cards at the beginning of December so to make sure the receivers felt thought. Etiquette .
Thanks to you and Grandpa, I managed to have a different perspective on the world and do things unthinkable to my friends.
If I can walk well now I owe it to you: you always took care of my orthopedic shoes. I hated them. I wanted to have shoes like yours: normal, light.
My passion for books comes also from you but I did not share your passion for hiking and skiing.
I remember your perfume, in this moment. And your skin. Our holidays together, your stories from what seems to be another world.
You passed away and no one had any reason to inform me. I found out after long.
We had not spoken in more than a decade.
My dead people usually never talk to me.
But you did appear in my dream. In a night when the planes seemed just over my head, when I felt I was forgotten by everyone, when I was thinking that if it had to end that same night, I would not be able to understand the meaning of life.
A night I was hugging the dogs and falling asleep every now and then to wake up to the sound of the missiles.
You appeared sitting in my room, on the corner of a bed I had placed close to the window to feel, stupidly, more protected while I was sleeping on the floor.
You were wearing a red jersey dress, Grandma. You looked just the same: skinny and classy.
While holding a piece of paper with some telephone numbers, you looked at me and said: ´´I will protect you´´.
Now I know you have never abandoned me and you know what I do in life. You know I have fallen in love with a far away land, its history and people. You know I am looking for kindness and compassion in the world, that I am still an idealist, support all the lost causes, never keep quiet, have never compromised. You know how tough it has been, at times.
I am aware I am not whom you wanted me to be, Grandma. But do not worry: I am not a squatter.
I have always paid my rent.

picture: Atlantic Monthly. CA Illustration Annual, 2007, Chris Lyons


It is unlikely we meet again any time soon.
You will not call me on a Friday morning to arrive at my house with baskets of food and sauce to cook spaghetti together. You trusted only my skills of boiling water. All the proper food came from you. Already cooked.
We would speak our broken mother tongue, universally known as the language of lovers and romanticism, though we both forgot it too soon. We were constantly checking verbs and accents; we rarely got them right.
You will neither take me out for lunch to places only you know.
Once, during the 2011 revolution, we went to the outskirts of Sanaá to a restaurant which looked unbelievably dirty; the people were, instead, unbelievably nice and caring.
All those check-points just for food, I still do not understand it.
But you were always hungry and now I see how my memories of us are often related to food.
At the table, you used to tell me to wear glasses in order ‘to see food better’. I used to reply: ´´I don´t need to see more food on my plate, what I have is more than enough to fill the entire neighbourhood.´´
Two revolutions, a coup and a war got in our way.
We had to stop our long conversations upstairs, in the mafraj – the sitting room on the last floor -, waiting for sunset, with the dogs paying attention to every word we said.
You knew everyone and I, the introvert, knew few. You were busy socialising, I was busy introverting.
Sometimes I hear your voice and remember the stories of when you arrived to Yemen in 1974. ´´When I landed at the airport, I did not see the building. It was made of an entrance door and an exit one. It was something like just a room. And from the airport to Sanaà, my mother and I, cried. There was nothing.´´
I presume we will not be going to visit your Eritrean friends any time soon, now.
No more smoked coffee, so-and-so music and story telling from other lands.
No more birthday parties dancing flamenco on Ethiopian music, afternoons with our Russian friend or over-analysing political quagmire.
Tonight I miss you. I miss you telling me ´put curtains on your windows before some majinoon (crazy) shoots you´ and majinoon was accompanied by the gesture of someone having a long beard. And me looking at you, crossing my eyes as if you were the majinoon.
Tonight I miss your telephone calls during the airstrikes. You were the only one to call so often, even when you were mourning your brother.
I want you to take this picture. It´s the view from one of the windows of my kitchen. I want you to remember that one day we had lunch together just there and this is what we saw.