There was a time in Yemen...

This entry posted by Sylvia Ghaly, Head of Policy and Campaigns, Oxfam Yemen, based in Sana’a, on 22 March 2017.

There was a time when hearing airplanes flying used to put a smile on my face. It was a reminder of the good memories from a holiday that had just ended or of the plans I was making for my next trip.

Now, when I hear airplanes hovering in the sky, I get scared of what might come next. I pay attention in case there is an airstrike to follow and I start counting the number of airstrikes, even those far away: One… Two… and with the third strike we are herded to the basement, usually in the middle of the night. Sometimes there are only two strikes, but that is even worse as I cannot go back to sleep, waiting for the third to come.

Some of the airstrikes are so strong that they shake the house, we can feel it even when we are in the basement. The truth is no matter how much we would like to think that we are safe, we never know if and when we will end up to be counted as ‘collateral damage’ or just ‘a mistake’ of those well trained jetfighters!

There was a time when seeing armed people was a rarity, a novelty. I remember when I was in the US post 9/11 and the country was dotted by armed forces. Going to the State Library, I snapped a shot of a tourist posing with smiling members of the armed forces protecting the public spaces. Here in Yemen, the second most armed country in the world, seeing armed people is becoming normal for me.

Even though I haven’t been out much because of the security restrictions, just from the airport to the guesthouse, you can see the number of people in arms. They don’t look violent: they carry their arms the way guys in other countries wear a man-purse these days. That is, of course, not taking into account the famous Yemeni dagger, the ‘jambia’, which I personally count as decorative accessory rather than a weapon!

Shahd and Fatima*, both three years old at the time, fled from Sada'a to Khamir in Amran to look for safety. Credit: Hind Aleryani/Oxfam, August 2015

There was a time when
the idea of child soldiers was an academic concept, a topic of research that stemmed from my strong belief in children’s rights and the need to protect children from harm. But here in Yemen, it is a daily reality when you pass one of the many checkpoints along the road that are ‘manned’ by child soldiers.

There was a time when seeing children of this age would have been followed by a casual conversation about which school they attended and what grade they were enrolled in. The encounter would have culminated with me emptying my pockets of pens, sweets or chocolates to share with them.

Today, when I see these children with their firearms weighing on their shoulders I say nothing, I pretend not to understand the language, and I hide behind my sunglasses waiting for the moment to pass. While waiting, I continue to wonder what future can these children hope for and what future does the country have when its children are deprived of education and a childhood.

Hassan, 11, and his family are displaced from Harad city, now living in Almnkorh camp for displaced people in Abs District. Credit: Moayed Al-Shaybani/Oxfam

There was a time when the concept of war was a theoretical one, it was shaped by what I saw on TV, in a movie or in the news and we all know that the news are always bias and things were never as bad as portrayed by the media. But they are, maybe even worse in the parts that the media cannot reach. War is a dirty ugly business and to my greatest surprise, here in Yemen there is no denying that the countries that pioneered the concepts of freedom, democracy and human rights are the same countries profiting from the war in Yemen and in the region.

There was a time when I thought that our ethical and moral compasses were strong enough to protect the vulnerable and to defend their rights, but now I know that these ideals are just that, ideals that can be part of presidential election speeches or academic lectures, but in reality, war will continue to exist for as long as human life is not the most valuable commodity and the value of one’s life is not the same around the world.

I hope for a time when I will be able to explore Yemen the way I did in many other countries around the world, when I will be able to visit Sana’a’s Old City and Socotra in the south without fear of kidnapping, violence or war.

Sooner or later that time will come, but unfortunately the more peace is delayed the more innocent people pay the price.

There will be a time… for peace in Yemen.

This entry posted by Sylvia Ghaly, Head of Policy and Campaigns, Oxfam Yemen, based in Sana’a, on 22 March 2017.

Photos:

  • Boys of Khamer, Yemen. Credit: Sylvia Ghaly/Oxfam, August 2016
  • Shahd and Fatima*, both three years old at the time, fled from Sada'a to Khamir in Amran to look for safety. Credit: Hind Aleryani/Oxfam, August 2015
  • Hassan*, 11, and his family are displaced from Harad city, now living in Almnkorh camp for displaced people in Abs District. He travels daily on his donkey to collect water and firewood. Credit: Moayed Al-Shaybani/Oxfam, June 2016

*Name changed to protect identity

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