"....and my son almost got kidnapped"

Written by Helene Aecherli on Sunday, 21 September 2014. Posted in Jemen

A voice out of Yemen

Yemen is on the brink of a civil war: In the Northeast of the capital Sanaa clashes have been going on between Shia Houthi rebels, government troops and the members of the islamist lslah party; the clashes threaten to spread over the entire country. Almost all international flights to the capital have been cancelled, schools have been closed.
For days I have been in contact with Abudlfattah Alghurbani, the founder of "Yemen reading points", an initiative that aims at enhancing the level of education in the impoverished Arab country. But unfortunately his initiative wasn't our main issue. I just wanted to know how he was. Abdulfattah lives with his wife and four children in Ibb, a city around 200 kilometers South of Sanaa. He tells me how they try to go on with their lives and how they struggle against their fear.
Here is an extract of our conversation:

Dear Abdul, how are you? Are you safe? I worry about you.
Hi, Helene, I am not good at all. Three of my cousins have been killed, the last one three days ago during demonstrations in the capital Sanaa. And my son almost got kidnapped.

What? That's horrible. What happened?
At the first day of school just one week ago, two guys on a motorbike tried to pull him out of the door of the school bus while the driver was absent. But thanks God they couldn't grab him, my son jumped inside the bus and screamed, and then they left immediately.

How do you feel?
Totally confused. I cannot leave my kids in such an unsafe environment. But what shall I do? There is no security anywhere anymore, everything is out of control: This gives crime a wide range of space.  Many children and women have been kidnapped or found dead. The kidnapping attempt of my son is just one of tens cases that happen daily. And killings happen every minute.

Do you dare to send your son to school at all now?
In the first week after the kidnapping attempt we kept him at home, then my wife and I decided to take him to school and bring him back ourselves. He doesn't go to school alone anymore. My wife is with him on the bus. The day after the attempt, she even stayed with him in the classroom.

How is your son now?
He is always asking: "why me"? I told him: "It's not only you son, they try to kidnap any kid they feel that they can get any benefit out of.

Tell me, what keeps you going?
The daily needs, they make me get up every day and get out of the house. Otherwise I wouldn't go out. I have no work even. I used to work for the university. But I found out that they stopped my salary.

Can't you do anything against that?
I have written an appeal regarding my salary, but haven't gotten an answer.

What gives you the energy to get up every morning?
Like everybody else I get up everyday hoping that the situation would be better - but unfortunately nothing is better. But life is normal. People pretend getting used to the circumstances.

Please, explain "normal" to me.
I don't know how to explain "normal", but we Yemeni seem to have gotten accustomed to this situation. I don't know why. Maybe we are just extremely patient. Or stupid. Or maybe we are just wise to carry on with our lives and pretend that we are not being affected, even though we know that everybody is suffering. For example: If you are in the street you think it's normal as usual, but you have to be ready for anything to happen. Just recently a child died when it was hit by a return bullet. And we suffer from constant electricity cuts, as militant tribes sabotage the power plants. They do it because they don't have to fear any punishment from the government. We had no electricity for almost 24 hour since last day. And if there is electricity it might only come for three to four hours a day. But people get used to that too. Most of them have bought mini generators. Those generators however, have a lot of negative effects: They are very noisy, pollute the environment and open up a black market for oil, which again increases the oil price.
Last night while I am sending you emails two persons were killed in our area. And just now, clashes start in the city, just 300 meters away from my home. I hear bombs, guns, everything. My brother called right now. He says, the fighting reaches the middle of the capital, he is trying to evacuate his place as soon as possible.

How could the situation become so hopeless?
I don't know. We were all quite optimistic after the end of the National Dialogue, but some of the parties neglected their commitments, the plans of the National Dialogue were never implemented. And when the government increased the oil price, some parties took advantage of this and started to demonstrate, closing the airport street and surrounded the capital with armed militias. We really fear that somebody is pushing our country towards a situation that is similar to the one in Syria.

But who would benefit from this situation?
I don't know. I am really confused.

Everybody is losing.
That’s what wise people say. In short: Yemen is like a boat full of water that fights to keep itself from sinking.

How do you comfort your children?
The kids always ask what is going on. Today my son got back from school and told us that there was gun fire near the school. My wife and I try to give them answers. But we try to avoid telling them that people kill each other.

Do you have any optimism left?
No. I feel we are in the beginning of a mess.

Is there anything that still makes you smile?
No, nothing at all.

Now now ... While we are talking the situation is getting worse in the capital: My brother tells me that unknown armed people are rooming around, scaring the shops owners, they push them to close their shops otherwise they would kill them.......

Now....the capital has surrendered to the Houthi militias all at once.

Yes, that's what happened. Just like that. The prime minister resigned, the minister of defense surrendered too. It's seems like a big game.

What game?
I really don't know. It could be that ex-president Saleh orchestrated this coup to get back to power: he kills the snake by the hand of his enemy. But what I am really sure about is that this promises big shit. And I fear that from now on there will be a lot of killings between the Houthis and al Qaeda, Shia against Sunni. It will be even more difficult for the country to pass smoothly to new peaceful times.

Now, the gun fire near my house starts again. It's really like a war. They use different types of weapons this time. Now it has stopped. What will come next?

About the Author