I know that I have PTSD. I can feel this darkness in me, it haunts me in my sleep and when I am awake. They call it “post-traumatic stress disorder” but it’s not “post”, there is no “post” to this trauma that I have, that my country has. We still live it every day.
I do not want my life story to be a sad story. So even as I write this, know that I am still a fighter. For me, for joy, for my country, for my people.
I am Ghadeer, a 27-year-old Yemeni woman. Nine years of my life, I lived during the war, the war that prevented us from building the bridges to our dreams, or at least the dreams of our fathers. I work as a freelance journalist, a producer and podcast blogger, I am a young activist and I also work in civil society organizations. It sounds great when I write it, like I am doing something for my country and my people. And I am trying, I am trying every day, fighting against my depression and trauma to get out of bed and do something for my people who have even less than I do.
I do not think that I am lucky to be born a woman in Yemen, because being inside Yemen is like an open prison…
I feel as if my right to the freedom that a natural person gets is being taken away from me without my consent. You will laugh if I tell you that our women cannot obtain a passport or even travel alone without a mahram, i.e. without a father or a brother or the like.
Colorful abbayas and headscarves are frowned upon. I do not know why the politicians in this country love the color black, maybe because it is similar to their dark ideas that they try to insert in everything, even in the educational curricula for children and in portraying that jihad and martyrdom in this war is the way that leads to entering paradise.
Sadness strikes me every time I am in the field, when I see those who had to flee their homes, the internally displaced who had to flee along with the rest of their families. They don’t say much, these people, almost as if they don’t have the energy left to form words, but just by looking at them, I feel the suffering they went through. Their emaciated bodies and their dry and cracked skin are sufficient testimony to what they went through without question. The saying ““God will avenge those who were the cause” resonates in my mind. I think of the politicians, the participants in the war and the merchants of war who have a hand in the continuation of these conditions. I wonder how they can live inside or outside the country in absolute luxury while others lose their homes, their incomes, die as victims just because they were born Yemeni.
We have become a country of faces of suffering, of carrying our trauma inside for so long that it is permanently drawn on our faces. Since the outbreak of the war, nine years ago, the economic situation just gets worse. Dire poverty even for those who had money. For example, my father held a high position in the place where he worked. We were a middle-income family. And with the war salaries were cut off, the war was hard on my parents, and I see their suffering. Their suffering is mine, mine is theirs. Our traumas blend together even though we try to be strong for each other.
Happy Yemen. Oh what a deceptive title that was. Yemenis who are outside of the country, do not know the full truth of what is happening here, whose perception is based only on what they see transmitted through TV screens and news channels that only broadcast what suits policy. I do not know why some societies and countries contributed to making this war continue. Even when there is an agreement on a temporary truce and its announced, it never works properly. It feels like an anesthetic that we get from the dentist, so that the pain we feel is endless.
I remember years ago when I was not afraid to express my opinion regarding any issue I wanted to write about, whether it was an event or an issue related to public opinion. Social networking sites were our means of expressing what we wanted to say. The war continued and people in power’s dissatisfaction with Facebook posts or Twitter tweets increased, until the posts became online accounts that are capable of leading to the detention or arrest of anyone, especially if they speaks against any of the parties to the conflict in Yemen.
As for journalists, repressive methods are used against them to restrict the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media, and forcibly silence their voices through violations, detentions, and arrests that we may or may not know about. These continuous events made us all afraid, yes, afraid of losing our youth and becoming detained on charges of our peaceful views or reporting a humanitarian incident that we do not accept to be silent about, but now we are silent and close the doors for fear of the wind.
As for me, I am trying hard to keep conveying issues related to my city al-Hudaydah. You may have heard of al-Hudaydah in the news. Its part of a broader region known as Tihama with its coastal plains along the Red Sea. It sounds beautiful doesn’t it? Now I describe it as the brown land that suffered war and conflict, escalating day by day. From rules in Yemen, past and present, tyrannical and corrupt. Injustice, the plundering of lands, hunger, war, epidemics, all were brought together on my first home, the once beautiful Tihama.
In the beginning of the war villages were destroyed, fisherman’s boats bombed. Fires consumed palm trees and the coasts and farms, ravaging through the “nests” of pheasants, small houses made of straw.
I will not forget the impact of the land, sea, and air blockade on Tihama, where its inhabitants that once lived by hunting, working in the ports, farming the lands, are now mostly homeless. Hunger grinds through the bodies of 80% of the population of Tihama, starving in the most fertile and prosperous areas of all of Yemen.
It is true that I am not a doctor now. I left medicine in 2018 after I became what I had been studying for three years. In 2015 I had started university at the College of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of al-Hudaydah studying human medicine in order to fulfill my father’s desire for me to become a doctor. This is the year that we bid farewell to any sense of a “normal” life. The war accelerated, none of us were prepared for it. But then again, how do you prepare for war? For the destruction? For seeing things no human should ever see?
I do not expect any Yemeni to forget March 25th 2015, when the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched the first air raid in Yemen. Darkness descended on the neighborhood where I live, the home I’ve lived in my entire life, the homes of our neighbors and our parents who for generations lived and grew up together and played in the streets and children, as we all did. Its called Souq al-Hunud, and now this neighborhood has become a landmark that people use to remember this massacre that hurt all of us in ways we didn’t even know, until then, that we could be hurt.
I was home that day. The missiles hit, the explosion shook the walls. The pressure threw me into the opposite room, I had wounds and bruises. My brother ordered us to quickly get out of the house. I ran out and saw the son of our neighbor, who lived in the building next to us, falling from the fourth floor.
The news began to spread on the street. Our neighbor died. So and so died. Our other neighbor was missing, my uncle’s wife was looking for her under the rubble. The scene was terrifying and sad.
I did not die. But 24 people did, as a result of that first ariel bombardment and most of them were just passersby. Three children who were with their father, they all died. A young man lost his sisters, daughters, mother and father. His whole family gone in one moment.
The effects of this shock, of being there, of being a civilian in her home, have not left me. And while I am writing these words, I find myself pausing a lot, not wanting to have to explain this part of me that is imprinted in my memory forever, that will not be erased from my mind, or from the mind of any Yemeni who has a memory similar to what I am about to describe. It may be of a relative who died with their family inside their home, or a mother crying for her children who should have returned from school to the safety of her bosom. All this tragedy, it will not be erased but still we hope that this war will end. We do not want the next generation to live what we are living now.
Grief is such a common factor across Yemen. The scrouge of air, land, and sea wars has caused the lives of so many of us to change in ways that are beyond comprehension. 10s of thousands have lost their loved ones. Most people face frequent exposure to severe stress, loss and trauma. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 15-17% of people in armed conflict regions experience PTSD without realizing it. How can we realize something that is still ongoing?
I just have one last question to my country’s politicians: Isn’t it time for Yemen to rest?
We are tired. We are all so tired.