To my Brother

We have a broken camera, a jumpy internet, little electricity but we search, we rush.
We have chosen to do what we do to honour the martyrs of Yemen and injustices alike.
You always leave a door open to news about Palestine and tell me: When war is over, we will take care of our Brothers there.
Battles never end, with you.
We mourn different friends in Syria, where you studied until the war in 2011 brought you back to two revolutions, a coup d´etat and war on our country.
Wars never end, these days.

At times you tell me of your brothers killed in action and it is you to console me when I barely know what to say: ´We are honoured to have martyrs, my Dear´. And you move on to the next news. Because we need to honour the martyrs with new work. We never take a day off.

When I tell you to take cover during airstrikes you reply: ´You must be joking´ and laugh. You know how to make me worry. That is: even more, as I have this tendency to worry always, anytime, any place, especially about you.
Like all Yemenis, yours is the heartbreaking habit of apologising I was caught in the war.
I stopped replying to you.

Yesterday was your birthday and at the end of the month you will graduate. I will save all your pictures of the party as it´s the first time I have a Brother in life. l feel I can go crazy out of happiness and pride.
You say I am your best-favorite Sister.
When I asked you: ´How many do you have?´, again, you gave me a very Yemeni reply: ´Eight!´

We made a promise, tonight, to work even harder for our common dream.
Happy Birthday Brother. We will pass through this war.

Eidomeni and the criminals

We tear gassed women and children and babies and elderly in Eidomeni  today.
We used helicopters and rubber bullets. We beat them.
Refugees have been stranded since February asking for the border with Macedonia to be opened.
We do not want them in Europe, their country of origin wants them back as slaughter meat.
We set up ´detention camps´ which is a term used for criminals.
What is the crime of refugees?

The real criminals are those waging wars and sitting at the EU Parliament closing borders. Same criminals who pay Turkey to set up additional detention-transit-camps.
The real criminals are those who silently approve and claim ´These people should go back to their country and fight´.
The real criminals are those who do not even know there is an Eidomeni.

I agree with my friend when he says: I thank Allah  we Yemenis cannot escape from our war.

Yemen: the root of the nation

If you believe that Yemenis will give up an inch of their land to any foreign power, you are not counting the root of the nation, those millions who do not accept any bribe, who are not corrupted, who do not and will never sell their soul to the devil.
Those who believe Yemen is their sacred land and who fight, always, defending their soil.
Even on just one leg.

(For  Living in Yemen on the Edge , April 10 2016)

Ceasefire should start tonight but mercenaries of Saudi Arabia keep advancing in Marib, Al Jawf and Taiz in this very moment. Notwithstanding the heavy losses, they try.
It´s almost midnight in Yemen and this is our message: #لنتعايش #LetsCoexist

(with Qassim Alshawee in Sanaá)

Landmines and wheelchairs in Sanaá

There is one basic fact difficult to divulge and get through: prior to the aggression on Yemen by Saudi Arabia and coalition of mercenaries with the silent approval and support of US Intelligence, situation in Yemen was already unbearably difficult.
What is known as the current Yemen had been a battle field of almost 20 conflicts, some overlapping, others extremely long, few still continuing.
A General I briefly met in 2011 prior to the revolution which ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh told me his job was to ´mine-clear certain areas of Yemen´. He had been working on it since 1992, almost 20 years.

A report by OCHA on children tormented by landmines dated July 2013 states: ´Landmines have plagued the people of Yemen for decades. In the 1960s, they were laid along the border that separated the north and south of the country, and they were a tragic feature of tensions throughout the 1990s.
More recently, Government and militant forces have been accused of using landmines between 2004 and 2011 in conflicts in Sa’ada Governorate in the north and Abyan Governorate in the south. In 2011 and 2012, antipersonnel mines were reportedly also used in and around Sana’a, and in March 2012, Yemen’s Ministry of Defense reported landmine casualties in Hajjah Governorate on the country’s north-west coast.
The number of mine-related civilian casualties climbed significantly in the third quarter of 2012, following an announcement by the military in June that they had ousted militants from Abyan. As a result, thousands of people who had fled the conflict returned home to areas that had been heavily mined.´

In the same report:  ´The Yemen Executive Mine Action Centre (YEMAC) is doing much of this work with the support of the UN Development Progamme […]. Between July 2011 and February 2012, YEMAC and its partners destroyed almost 290,000 explosive remnants of war, including almost 90,000 anti-personnel mines as well as anti-vehicle mines, shells and improvised explosive devices´.

We are talking about hundreds of thousands of bombs, with no exaggeration. This, prior to the war on Yemen in 2015.
Let it sink in that what has come after will require decades, if not a century, to assess, digest and clear.

Every personal memory now makes reference to prior and during the war (during because the war is still raging on Yemen).
There is one scene I have clear in mind. It belongs to the end of 2014.
As part of a national effort to reach those less fortunate, the Yemeni government had bought wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, prostethics and cranes for the disabled and was doing medical checkups in Sanaá. Those who could not be helped in Yemen were going to be flown either to India or Egypt for medical treatment.
The maimed were all from prior wars. Sanaá had been invaded by buses coming from almost all the governorates.
In our hotel we were hosting  people coming from the villages (mainly  from Hajjah and Amran). Some could barely walk, others were crawling. Limbs were missing in children and adults alike (mines do not stop exploding simply because a war is declared over).
In the lobby, in our offices, we had mountains of folded, shining, new wheelchairs ready to be distributed.
It was hectic, with loud voices.
Until I heard no more: before my eyes  the scene of mothers  taking pictures of the family united in front of the new gift, the wheel chair. They were smiling, they were joyous.
Who, in Europe, would take a selfie with a wheelchair?
I had to rush to the back of the  office crying and suffocating in tears. I was strangling myself with tears. I had just realised some families required 2, 3, 4 wheelchairs just for their children.

These same people are being bombed, every day, in Yemen. With an abundance of infamous, internationally banned cluster bombs.
Alhmdulillah, Yemenis say.

Yemeni children take death as a part of life

No food, no medical aid and medicines allowed to enter Yemen thanks to the Saudi-led land-air-sea siege on Yemen. A siege which has entered its second year, just like the war.
What was meant to be a brief military campaign carried out mainly by airstrikes, has turnt into a catastrophe which is paving the way to a genocide.

Yemeni children wonder what have they done wrong to the King of Saudi Arabia and how they, just children, can pose a threat to the Kingdom´s security.
Many children have starved to death, 320.000 are food insecure and malnourished and many children have already died of illnesses. Hard to get any more horrific than this in a country where, since memorable times, 58% of the population lives with less than 2$ per day.
Yemen is rich in culture, history, scenery, landscapes, traditions but when it comes to money, the vast majority of its inhabitants barely reach the end of the day while next meal remains uncertain.

According to the synthesis of the latest UNICEF´s report on the impact of the war on Yemeni children on NPR´s The Deadly Consequences To Children Of Yemen’s War :

At least 6 is the number of children killed or maimed daily.
934 the number of children killed during the past year as a result of “grave violations.” One thousand three hundred fifty-six were injured. 
10,000 approximate number of children under five years old who died over the past year “from preventable diseases as a result of the decline in key health services such as immunization against vaccine preventable diseases and the treatment of diarrhoea and pneumonia.”
848 U.Ndocumented cases of child recruitment for the fighting.
51 U.N.documented cases of attacks on education facilities.
At least 6 million children living in poverty
320,000 children facing severe malnutrition
10.2 million  children at risk of “going without safe drinking water and sanitation.”
More than 1.8 million number of children “forced out of school” because of the violence.
1,600 schools that are closed because of the fighting.

To keep on bombing and wage war on the country, with this reality on the ground, implies a will to destroy Yemen. Thoroughly.
Yemenis may be strong and resilient. They accept anything as everything is a will of God, but the country collapsed immediately during the first month of bombardments.
Numbers and statistics are appalling.

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In Sanaá, the story of  Ahmed is just emblematic of the situation inside Yemen.
He is thirteen years old. He has experienced, already, being under thousands of bombs since the war on his country erupted. He has experienced enough fear, sadness and desperation since March 26 of last year.
But Ahmed is not like any other kid. He has hepatitis and no medicine in sight. Ahmed has grown fast and accepts his fate. There are no medicines in the few operating and still standing hospitals in Yemen (95% of hospitals have either been bombed or had to shut down due to lack of gasoline, water and medicines) and clock is ticking against him.
Absurd as it seems, there is no way of helping him.
Most likely Ahmed will leave us and the world will never know that there was a kid called Ahmed, Yemeni, and had dreams like any other kid and that our silence against this genocide inflicted on the Yemeni population helped him on his last journey.
Someone will have to explain all this to his parents.
Ahmed, on the contrary, accepts his fate. The afterlife cannot be worse than this last year.

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Abdullah
and Ali Qassim are two Yemeni brothers, both with cancer.
Luckily, they managed to leave Yemen and are currently being treated in Jordan.
Today, Friday, the first Friday of the month of Rajab which marks the anniversary of Yemenis entering Islam, some  called on the nation to pray for them.
Abdullah and Ali are fighting a double battle: beat the cancer and, once they return to Yemen, survive the war.
They accept whatever comes and never complain.

And then there is Ammal Awaddh. Her words would break any soul.
Take a deep breath, read and look at those eyes.
You may cry, afterwards

‘My father bought me these new earrings for Eid.

I convinced him to let me wear them today because no one knows if I will still be alive when Eid comes’
(Ammal Awaddh, 5 years old)

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With Qassim Alshawee from Sanaá

Same war

I used to be so precise. Choosing the right picture for the specific topic.
A picture of Gaza could not be confused with a picture of Afghanistan. Refugees in Peshawar could not be mistaken for the internally displaced of Iraq.
A burqa was a burqa and an abayaa an abayaa and they meant different wars and claims.
Now I look at the pictures and it´s hard to differentiate. Homs in Syria looks like Aden in Yemen and children are starving in Syria and Yemen alike.
Bombs smell the same in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libia and Iraq.
Palestine Mothers cry their sons as the mothers of Iraq and Afghanistan; hospitals are bombed the same way in Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen and people are homeless in an endless number of countries.
Heads are chopped off in far too many nations, both under the name of a government or a state trying to consolidate.
Chemical weapons are used almost everywhere and banned cluster bombs continue to be used in defiance of any, basic, human right.
Bombs, I have been told, are all depleted uranium: no need to get surprised about it.
Humanitarian aid takes months – if not years – to enter the scattered sieged areas of war-torn countries and the UN will continue sine die to admonish those responsible of the siege without any further, practical action.
Scarcity of water is constantly used as a weapon of war with an increase in the number of lives claimed.
Rape has always been and will always be the most effective way to hurt the most vulnerable, the best weapon of war against women and children. Better if the children are girls. The younger, the better.
All the above constantly leads to what we have been witnessing for years: profusion of barbedwire fences in fields called  ‘detention camps’ and smugglers making big business. Along with humans being trafficked in modern day slavery.

No doubt we should obviously be precise, documented. Starting from the pictures.
But in case we make mistakes, we confuse dates and pictures,  we may be excused because at the end, it is clear: it´s all part of the same war. War on humanity.

 

Categories war

Thinking of Z., my friend. A Peace Worker

While my personal life was being swallowed by far too big historical events,  a friend  was leaving everything behind.  Everything means the country she so loved, cultivated with her back parallel to the soil, barehand, seeding a new tomorrow, where she painted and her life rotated with the moons and the rains, the changing of the seasons and the heartbeat of mother nature.
She had to leave. I am sure she never wanted to do so. Notwithstanding the 30-something years of war, she was one with the habitat  and what she was doing, with the earth below her feet and her sheltering sky.
My friend is one of the humblest persons I know and it strikes as being humble is sort of passé these days.

Of herself, only once, she said publicly: ‘Yes I am a journalist . I lived and worked mainly in Pakistan and Afghanistan for 35 years. With a spell in the Gulf too. ‘War Correspondent‘ is the term. But I was much more than just this. A Peace worker who worked for Women/Children’s rights, with farmers to rebuild agriculture, etc.. etc. I had my own Peace Project in what became – and is – a Taliban area of Afghanistan. The latter was, in many respects, the sum of my life’s dream….one which, in time, became a nightmare and I am commenting no further’.

We have never openly spoken about what happened to us. What we saw, how we felt, what we were forced to witness and swallow, the shattered dreams, what eventually we had to leave behind (nothing to do with personal belongings).
She knows I somehow know, I know she would understand.
Point is we both acknowledge some shadows cannot be left behind.
What happened to us is that we acquired what she calls  raw emotions, additional screams: ‘The kind of scream that you and I hear and feel all the time. I pray that you are managing in your ‘new’ life. I am still fighting bouts of PTSD. Time will heal they say, but I know that the pain, the silent scream will never leave me. I, like you, I feel. I cannot simply turn my back and walk away´.

I told her that  I needed someone who tells me she knows how it feels and to tell me I am not alone in the raging tempest.
I dared add: ´Two nights ago I was in bed and I was so sure I could hear children (many) crying. I was awake but could hear them. And I am in the country side. No one close to me. I guess war will never leave us, Z. Some days will be better than others but, in general, no, our wars will follow us. Always´.

´I often hear the crying too. And much more.´ Z. replied.

I woke up thinking about Z., today.
I turn my head West because, physically, she is there,  beyond these mountains. Better: Z. is everywhere.
Even if it´s early morning, I am sure she´s already painting or working on her fruits and vegetables garden. Or writing her next gardening column. Or drawing the lines of her new Peace Project.
Some people cannot stop trying to bring a push forward to our world, even when they carry a heavy heart and hear screams. And much more.