‘Why is the world looking away’? Gisela Hofmann on Yemen

Gisela Hofmann is a German friend who, literally, lives for Yemen. Throughout the years, she lived in the country, learnt Arabic and has become a peace advocate.
Gisela sent me a letter asking to publish it. It is her cry, the cry of a woman who has loved ones under constant bombs and castrated by a siege. Gisela cannot visit her ‘family in Sanaa’ and dreams of the day she will be reunited with them.
In the meantime, eight-hundred days have passed since that first bomb dropped on Yemen in the night of March 26 2015. The country has been totally destroyed, official figures estimate over ten thousand casualties, a child dead every ten minutes succumbing to preventable diseases, over fourteen million food insecure, three million internally displaced, a third cholera outbreak which has claimed lives of over six hundred people with a skyrocketing seventy thousand suspected cases.
Yemen has collapsed, Gisela dreams of peace and writes:

”For more than fifteen years, we have been personally associated with Yemen enjoying a close friendship with a family in Sanaa.
Throughout these years, we were able to stay with our friend-family twice a year, every year. We also lived for several months in Sanaa in a rented a flat.
Our visit in November 2014 would be the last for a long time. We did not suspect this at the time. Since then, we are only connected via internet, though this is not continuously possible for a variety of reasons but, basically, our friends have no electricity and have no money.

We are suffering, we feel helpless: we cannot do anything for our beloved family.
Since the beginning of  the Yemen-war and the suffering of the population, this country has been in the shadow of all other political “proxy wars”.
I would like to talk about my friends and family members, I want to describe their current life situation.
My heart is heavy when I think of them. Especially the children and my warm-hearted women-friends. I know how they feel, although I never hear complaints despite the very difficult situation. The humility and pride of these generous people does not allow it.
The following lines are dedicated to Mohammed, Latifa, and Safia and their families (how much I miss them):

“Why  is the world looking away?
I’d like to write  about the current life of the citizens in Yemen. I can report what I am constantly being told by my friends as, for myself, it is not possible in the current situation to return to Yemen: Sanaa airport is under  Saudi-led Coalition imposed blockade and it has also been partially destroyed by airstrikes..
The biggest problem posed by the siege is that for Yemenis there is no way to let vital relief supplies and aid be brought into the country.
If you run a finger on the map, throughout the whole country, you realise that the important main roads, transport routes and sea ports have been destroyed. This means that the urgent transport of aid and relief supply to the suffering people, to hospitals and distribution of safe, drinking water to villages is impossible or extremely difficult.
People outside the cities are abandoned and can depend exclusively on themselves.
Nobody looks, takes care of the population as military strategies are in the foreground. With few exceptions, there are no foreign embassies and/or diplomatic representatives in the country.
It is close to impossible for the  people of Yemen to  flee elsewhere. Even for families living abroad it is difficult to care for the loved ones gripped in the famine-cholera-aggression- torn homeland. Flights to and from Yemen are virtually close to zero and escaping to neighboring countries requires money which Yemenis do not have.

It is neighboring Saudi Arabia leading the war on Yemen. Since 26 March 2015, the Saudi led Coalition has kept Yemen under continuous military attacks.
Like in any given war, the simple, common people are those suffering the unthinkable.
Primarily children, sick people and the elderly.
The children of our friends-family have been out of school for months in a row out of fear of air-raids, or because schools were closed or teachers on strike having received no salary for over eight months.
A friend’s daughter contracted hepatitis caused by contaminated water. In order to receive immediate medical treatment, the family had to sell the last personal possessions. The treatment lasted longer than normal because the child was malnourished. Malnutrition maims the immune system of weakened children making them more prone to diseases.
The father of the little girl  had to donate his own blood to treat her and has, since then, been donating regularly to help others in need.The current situation allows many families to virtually just vegetate, exist, nothing else. A graceful life is no longer possible.
Schools, hospitals have shut down: government personnel have been out of salary for eight – nine months.
In the meantime, prices are soaring. A bottle of gas costs five times as much as compared to the beginning of 2015. Most people cannot afford it any longer: they use what they can to make a fire.
Speculation is rampant: some much-needed items must be bought exclusively in dollars cutting off most of the population.

There are those who have lost everything because of an airstrike: home and loved ones. Yemen is in a constant mourning.

The world is wrapped in silence, passively supporting these eight-hundred days of war crimes against the Yemeni population. Syria and Iraq have overshadowed the plight of Yemenis.
In spite of pain and suffering, there is life, though. There are tireless people, fighting with heart and intelligence for the future of Yemen. These people fight  with peaceful means vehemently against Yemen’s unjust, forgotten war.

A termination of the aggression is imperative. If I look at the situation of Yemen I feel anger along with an inexpressible sadness, because I see what  this country has become.

In the 1980s, at the time of  Ali Abdallah Saleh’s leadership, perhaps the country began slowly to open and move forwards. Yemenis saw progress in their own land and enjoyed international recognition.  After the Unification of South and North Yemen in 1990, a flourishing period began, starting from tourism. People from all parts of the world visited the long closed, untouched, historical country. Tourism became the largest employer of Yemen. Now even archaeological sites have fallen victim of indiscriminate air-raids, even towns and monuments protected by the UNESCO. Treasures of mankind have been lost, forever.

An immediate halt to the inconsiderate arms deals and sales to those aggressing Yemen, would represent a huge step towards the end of the war  on my second home. It would push the sides involved in the conflict to find solutions, involving only diplomatic means.
Had it happened before, many Yemeni children would still be alive and the homes of countless Yemenis would not be in rubbles.

Last February there was a defence and arms exhibition, ‘only’ 2500 km from Yemen. Weapons worth billions of dollars were sold while back in Yemen a nation was and is starving to death.
This forgotten country needs more attention. It is important tell to the world about the suffering of Yemenis who are at their limit. They cannot take it any longer.
The first article of our German basic law states: “Human dignity is untouchable”.
It should apply also to Yemenis. ”

Gisela Hofmann

A Young Yemeni Artist’s Dream

Wars are not only made of statistic, pain, horror, bone chilling stories.
There are dreams behind anyone trapped under the bombs, blocked in a siege, going hungry to bed, who has been maimed and those who have lost everything.
There are plans and expectations, passions, hopes.
In this regard, I received a message from a Yemeni friend and I share it hoping we can assist young Louay and, who knows, others like him.
The message read:

”Do you know anyone interested in drawing .. I want to find supporters for someone I know.
His name is Louay Nabil al Farazi. He is just seventeen, lives in Sanaa and comes from a modest family of six.
Louay started drawing when he was only 5.
You know the war in Yemen, the situation… so far no one has helped him.

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Louay, young Yemeni artist, 17


Louay has a dream: to complete his studies and access to the international drawing field. Maybe join an institution for Arts outside Yemen. As Louay says: I would like to deliver my work to the biggest number of art lovers. Maybe find work in simple animations.  
What he needs is… cost-saving: the drawing material. Can anyone help him?

Sending material to Yemen, considering the two-year old siege imposed on the country might be hard but perhaps someone inside of Yemen has a stock of drawing material he would like to donate. Or maybe someone abroad can find Louay a way to join a school, exhibit his work or be part of a project featuring young artists. Possibilities are endless.

The page of Living in Yemen on the Edge in Facebook will be diverting any message received to Louay’s friend.
There are dreams behind those trapped in any war: they deserve to become reality.
In the meantime, you may see some of his work here (cover image also by Louay Nabil al Farazi):

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by Yemeni artist Louay Nabil al Farazi

 

 

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by Yemeni artist Louay Nabil al Farazi

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by Yemeni artist Louay Nabil al Farazi

Keep fighting, if you can hear me, keep fighting

We made up during the war when you returnt to Sanaa because you were injured. Silly things, futilities had divided us but I was so proud of you: going to the front, too young, just for your country. 
Finding each other, again, has been one of the few sensible things I have ever done  in my life.
I told you I loved you and still cared for you the same way. And you taught me to open my mouth during airstrikes and that no, fear was not admitted. Fear for what?
You are in ICU now, injured again. They brought you back from the front last night.
There are so many things I would like to tell you because you are too young to succumb to this war.
Just know I love you and miss you, always.
Keep fighting, if you can hear me, keep fighting. For yourself now.
My Little Brother, Hamoudi.

(I remember these words of Leo Buscaglia now:

‘There was a girl who gave me a poem, and she gave me permission to share it with you, and I want to do that because it explains about putting off and putting off and putting off – especially putting off caring about people we really love. She wants to remain anonymous, but she calls the poem
“THINGS YOU DIDN’T DO” and she says this”:
Remember the day I borrowed your brand new car and I dented it?
I thought you’d kill me, but you didn’t.
And remember the time I dragged you to the beach, and you said it would rain, and it did?
I thought you’d say, “I told you so.” But you didn’t.
Do you remember the time I flirted with all the guys to make you jealous, and you were?
I thought you’d leave me, but you didn’t.
Do you remember the time I spilled strawberry pie all over your car rug?
I thought you’d hit me, but you didn’t.
And remember the time I forgot to tell you the dance was formal and you showed up in jeans?
I thought you’d drop me, but you didn’t.
Yes, there were lots of things you didn’t do,
But you put up with me, and you loved me, and you protected me.
There were lots of things I wanted to make up to you when you returned from Vietnam.
But you didn’t.”

Why World

School becomes a privilege during a war.
In the meantime, you help your family making ends meet selling sesame sweets in the streets. You happen to pass by a school and your soul crushes. It’s the big divide: the world of others and yours. The lucky ones and you. Those whose parents can afford a private school and your parents who rely on you to bring food home.
War hurts on so many levels.

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The above picture has gone viral on social media: it was taken in Sanaa a couple of days.
Presumably we all felt guilty, powerless, useless in front of a child whose childhood has been stolen. It’s not only a matter of poverty: we are dealing with a war which is always bigger than the will of an entire nation.
There are no children left in war:  they become grownups overnight, with the first bomb dropped.
I woke up this morning receiving a message from Acram Mothana Haider, a Yemeni friend who is nothing short of a living poem. He also had seen the picture and decided to cope with the emotions in his usual way: with words. He attached the picture of the first flow of words and within an hour, he made a public post.

‘The poem I have written is dedicated to you my readers, I hope to enjoy it.
قصيدة أهديها لكم أيها الأحبة عنوانها (لم أنا أيها )العالم!’

Why world,
worst and weird,
At nest of minds
Where virtues
Have its rest
And there imbibed
Queues of boys
Eying up
To whom the phrases
Are uttered out,
While miserable
Sesame lad
Standing behind
Immovable and shy,
Peeping and meditating
“O’ my God!
Blocking me some coins
To be involved
I wish I could join.

How sweet the words are!
While uttering out of their mouths
What kind of books
Their bags contain?
How fair their pens are!
Even I have not seen
Are they red or yellow or brown?
How those boys look like?
When they laugh
How sweet their faces seem!
When they repeat anthem’s sounds.

Now, sesame got blushed
Breaking into pieces
And politely said
“May I come back to
The oven, I have been first made”.

Acram Mothana Haider
Thursday, 2/3/2017 – 11.54 A.m

 

As of today, roughly 2 million children continue to be out of school in Yemen and schools are repeatedly airstrike targets: Why World.

War is boring

Some days back I was told:  War is always war. This is the world and we can’t change it. You people waste your time. Sorry, you are boring me.
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‘I have a feeling we are working for nothing’.
‘Exposing the aggression against Yemen, you mean?’
‘Everything.’
‘I know: I have the same feeling all the time. With everything I do.’
‘But why?’
‘Because we cannot change the world and we cannot stop anything happening around us.’
‘Do you think we can’t?’
‘I also think the opposite: I am a human being and have no alternative than continue fighting in my own way. With what I can.’
‘Yes, I know.’
‘I usually do not cry in my life. Yet, have never cried so much like in this last year. This is why I say we have no alternative: just continue doing what we are doing.’
‘Yes, I know. So true.’

Then you kept quiet for a while just to add: ‘But I haven’t cried.’ And you laughed. Loud.
‘Because you are strong.’
‘Am not strong. Fact is that all this around us has become a habit.’
‘Any person who goes to the battlefield is strong.’
‘True.’

These are our conversations, at times.
You lost over 30 family members during the aggression against Yemen. You are strong, yet, this we will never be able to change: thirty people of your family will never come back.
War is boring.

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‘I just came back last night from a private trip to Hodeidah. Most of the people are living a miserable life.’
‘I think it’s something like hell on earth, like the last stage prior to hell.’
‘Something like that. Poverty is overwhelming people there. Beggars are everywhere: people literally run after the cars in the streets to get some money. It was not an easy trip because to get from Sanaa to Hodeidah, many parts of the road are destroyed, whether by airstrike or lack of maintenance, but mainly it’s airstrikes which have destroyed the bridges.’
‘What did you see in Hodeidah?’
‘People are just suffering.  Airstrikes, poverty, hot climate, lack of electricity, food, water and medicine. Hodeidah has become a dark city in most of its parts. Whole families gather on the road between Sanaa and Hodeidah, begging those who travel. You know ” Khamis bani Saad”? The agony starts from there and covers most parts of Hudaida Governorate.’
‘You mean it stretches for almost 80 kms?’
‘Exactly. You will start finding poor people as you are approach  step by step the ports city. Yesterday (26 November, A/N)  16 were killed in Hudaida by Saudi Airstrikes. Most of them were children and women.’
‘Yes, they targeted homes…Mohammed, what about Hodeidah?
‘What about Hodeidah?’
‘What upset you the most?’
‘It was gloomy. Like a dead body. The city used to never go to sleep, all night. Now there is not any life aspect after 11:00 PM.’
‘Yes, it used to be very live and loud somehow. People freshing up by the sea..’
‘Life is gone. Long time ago.’

Mohammed Al-Hindi is Head of Foreign Press section in both Yemen Tourism Magazine and Yemen Tourism Journal.
He has been campaigning against the destruction of his country since the beginning of the aggression. His call was reported in a long chat for Living in Yemen On The Edge’s page inSave our Yemen .’

The afternoon we exchanged these words I, by chance, had just re-read these words on Hodeidah by the Yemen Tourism Promotion Board:
‘Al-Hodeidah is the Cinderella of the Red Sea and its captivating bride. It is one of the most beautiful cities of Yemen (…) the most diverse and most beautiful one (…). Its nature exhibits a wonderful dress of greenness and beauty round the year. 
Its exhibited dress is perfumed with the fragrance of Jasmine, the redolence of pine and the scent of musk. (…)
Al-Hodeidah is the Yemen’s fourth city in population terms and it developed as the leading port of the Ottomans when the coffee trade at Mukha dwindled and still retains its old Turkish quarter. At night the markets light up, with men selling fruit under lamps, and in the early morning the fish market is a hive of activity. 
Wealthy merchant families have opulent houses constructed in the Old Turkish area of Al-Hodeidah. These buildings have lavishly decorated plaster work interiors and superbly carved balconies. Upstairs, decorative stucco work and niches in walls pressed with colored glass and mirrors scintillate with painted peacock designs – a recurring theme throughout the Tihama and indication of the Indian influences seen in the region as a consequence of sea-trade.’’

While writing and remembering the mellow atmosphere of the no longer existing  coastal city of our memories, Twitter is filled with posts on Saudis’ new move on Hodeidah:

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It has been so for over a year: fishermen have been targeted over and over again. Many bodies have never returnt. Families starve, the port of Hodeidah has been crumbled to pieces and the air-land-sea siege is blocking aid from entering Yemen.
People will continue to beg for 80 km on the side of bombed roads, rushing to cars and emaciated families will be consumed by famine. But  war is boring.

For further information on War on the Fishermen of Hodeida and Tihama: here

 

The impossible task of being the parent of a sick child in war-torn Yemen

A telephone chat with a friend, in Sanaa, turnt into this: a cry for help.
I asked my friend to ink down our conversation which I share hoping the world will not look away. Not another time, not this time; because we know we cannot stop wars, we understood too well we cannot lift embargoes, go and feed the starving or individually block inconsiderate arms sales to choleric nations. But we can help.
Here is what my friend had to say:

‘My name is Qasim Alshawea. I am a Yemeni citizen living in our Capital, Sanaa. Our city has faced – along with Saada on the border with Saudi Arabia – most of the aerial attacks of the Saudi-led campaign.
I am a volunteer with Your Ability Organization, one of many local NGOs founded and based in the Capital.
Our NGO receives limited support both locally and internationally, yet, Your Ability NGO has carried out several relief operations in different areas of Yemen and organized a number of training seminars and workshops relating to health.

On Thursday Feb 2 2016 I met Mohamed Ahmed, father of two kids affected by cancer. He was looking for help. Mohamed briefed out his story: “I have come from my village in Taiz after people donated  me the transportation fee to  Sana’a´´.

The entire story of Mohamed Ahmed rotates around his children, Gaza and Mohamed:
“My six year old daughter Gaza  has cancer in her tongue. It has been so since she was one. I visited many hospitals and doctors hoping to find a real medicine that would treat my daughter’s – most of the times -fatal condition but till now nothing has happened. Or changed . According to the National Oncology Center’s medical reports by Dr. Nabil Alhakeme in Sanaa “Gaza Mohamed’s soft tissue mass of the tongue shows xerodema pigmentosum with the first signs showing four years ago.’’ 

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One of the last pictures of Gaza – photo via Nabil Al-Wadai

 

The Doctor confirmed the only solution would be an urgent surgical intervention, possibly with tongue transplant, but due to the war and the most complicated situation the country is facing, the doctors could not proceed.

I, hence,  contacted Dr. Karim of Mona Relief Organisation and we worked on the travel’s preparations to bring Gaza out of Yemen. Passport, document, everything was ready. But not Sanaa airport: it was closed due to the Saudis’ blockade on Yemen. No flights allowed out of Yemen.

Gaza remained bedridden suffering the pains of hell until death took her from her parents. Her parents’ pain, though, did not end:  it continues through their second child Mohamed, two years old , with the same cancer of his sister Gaza.

The siege forces Mohamed to wait for his turn after his sister.

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Mohamed has never lost his smile – photo via Nabil Al-Wadai

 

People in Yemen face the worst humanitarian circumstances due to the Saudi-led coalition strangling embargo on Yemen.
It is more than a tragedy  watching thousands families barely having a meal per day (if lucky) and 3.1 milions internally displaced, forced to live in makeshift tents and camps with no water, food, medical aid. Or worse: parents literally picking up the body parts of their kids fallen under airstrikes. Homes, schools, hospitals: nowhere is safe in Yemen as bombs are being dropped everywhere.

My friend proceeds:
Jamal Abdullah is a displaced from Taiz, the city which has been witnessing engulfing fights between the militants supported by KSA and UAE against  the Houthi/Saleh forces.
Jamal told me: “I fled to Sana’a hoping to find a safe place for me and my family. As you can see  here I live with my kids in this tent which someone  from Saada  has given me, opening his land to us,  but my daughter  Al-anood has broken my heart. Al-anood  has leukemia. She is only seven years old , and she needs blood transfusions every two days in Al-Kuwait hospital in Sana’a.”

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Al-anood, the ever smiling girl – photo via Qasim Alshawea

 

Jamal concluded: “I live difficult circumstances due to the Saudi war and siege, and sometimes I and my children remain two days without food in order to earn a little bit of money to buy medicines for Al-anood, to give her courage and fight the cancer”.

My friend ends his message with:
It is a hard task to be a parent in Yemen: you know you are going to lose your child, either because of illness or under the bombs. The country remains closed, abandoned to its destiny.
We are trying to help at least the other two kids and save their lives. If  anyone would like to help please contact us through the NGO’s social media websites:

Your Ability Organization for Development
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Twitter https://twitter.com/YourAbility_org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/your.abilities.or

 

cover photo: Mohamed Ahmed with Gaza and Mohamed – photo via Nabil Al-Wadai

 

Ongoing War on Yemen: What I have Learnt and What Stays

I have learnt that out of all the wars this is one of the most unjust.
I have learnt that there is no such thing as collateral damage the very moment you decide to drop a bomb as the aim is simply to harm, kill, destroy and bring inconceivable pain.
I have learnt that bombs come in all shapes and sizes, with a light during the trajectory and a travelling sound which gives you the shivers.
I have learnt there are sound bombs which can break your ears, enter your bones and make you think the earth is breaking to engulf you, that there are no banned/illegal bombs as they are still produced, used and sold. That the shock wave of each explosion leaves your soul scarred and your heart bumping.
Of this war, I have learnt all the numbers by heart: the dead, the injured, the maimed, the starving, the displaced, the children out of school, the infrastructure pulverized, the hospitals attacked, the missing in action, the dates of each massacre, the number of NGOs operating inside/outside/for Yemen/only for some parts of Yemen, the orphaned, the widowed, the flights cancelled by the imposed blockade (land, air, sea).

Yet, this is neither what will personally be defining my narrative of war, nor what will remain.
It cannot be the legacy of the past 19 months as each devastating moment of the aggression has been outnumbered by events, acts and deeds transcending war.
I have witnessed courage, resilience, virtually every day. The best reply to each act of violence, bomb dropped, has been fought back with a life lived as close to normality as possible.
Every problem presented, such as lack of water, gas, electricity, has been solved with an in-house solution and endless solidarity. No, in Yemen you are never alone. Neighbours help. Friends call, relatives sustain. It’s the fabric of the nation, notwithstanding the big divide each war brings.
There have always been open doors to those in need. Communal life, sharing, weddings planned and celebrated (which better way to prevent war: love).
Generosity and life conjugate throughout the day in Yemen.

It is true, something is lost forever. Nothing will replace the historical sites bombed, the shrines and mosques destroyed, the ancient houses collapsed. Thousands of innocents have lost their lives or are slowly dying in a gripping famine in what is now considered to be the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the planet.
Yet, something is keeping us together: the love for the country. Whether stuck inside Yemen or abroad, we all convene we can only fight back by working hard and loving, even more, our land.

(photo taken from home in Sanaa: we are all neighbours)