by Khadijah, Southern Yemen
I am no stranger to violence. I lived in a northern village for three years, during a time when the fighting between the shi’ite Houthis and the government and local tribes was very intense. Nightly bombings, the sound of machine gun fire, funeral prayers said with amazing frequency…these were all a part of my life. I did my best to take care of my family and keep my children safe, while doing all I could to make
life as “normal” as was possible under the circumstances. My husband was in America, and all phone lines were down, in addition to the usual state of no electricity or running water. It was incredibly difficult to obtain propane for cooking, and what was available was ludicrously expensive. We had to buy whatever was available and be thankful for whatever we were able to obtain. There were times when I couldn’t
believe the situation we were in, it was surreal–me, a small town Wisconsin girl, lying awake at night, cuddling my baby to my chest, listening to the bombs drop, feeling the entire mud house shake with the violence of each strike. I strove to keep my children’s lives as normal as possible, but there were times when it was almost impossible to keep up the illusion.
The rioting is nothing compared to the war, but it, too, has turned our world around, just enough that it is skewed on its axis–up is still up, for now, but that could change at any moment. We buy extra groceries and stay in during the afternoons, when the protests are the loudest and most violent. We continue with our homeschooling, doing our best to ignore the gangs of children marching through the side streets chanting slogans calling for independence and justice from northern Yemen and the
Yemeni president. My husband takes me to his workplace so I can check my email once or twice a week, knowing that at anytime the service can be cut off. We travel by foot, walking through winding back streets to get there, but near to the main road I can see the garbage dumpsters pulled across the street, burning tires smoldering here and there, the roads littered with rocks and chunks of cement, a mute, early morning testament to what went on the night before. Going home by taxi we drive
through mobs of children yelling at the cars, throwing rocks and bottles, their aim getting better all the time. The children. This is one reason why this situation troubles me so much–the children are at the forefront of this little rebellion. They are the majority of the people marching around the neighborhood, demanding that some amorphous change occur, the consequences of which they cannot understand. They are the ones lining the main roads, throwing rocks connected to ropes, so they
can pull the rock back after they throw it and use it again. The public schools and some of the private ones actually have taken the children out every day, organizing them to march and shout and wave their separatist flags. What are these children learning? I am just incredibly thankful that so far the government has not reacted with violence towards the protesters yet–but that, too, could change at any time.
In general, I try to take it all in stride, be patient and wait this out, as I have waited out so many things in the past. I realized, though, the other night, that I was perhaps more anxious about the situation than I knew. My daughter was trying to sweep up some dirt onto a piece of cardboard because we don’t have a dustpan and the stores to buy the dustpans are in the market, where the majority of the protests are centered. My husband came in, and I turned to him and said, almost in tears, “And I can’t even buy a dustpan!” A silly, inconsequential thing, but what lay underneath it is the feeling that the ground isn’t quite firm underneath my feet, that reality could shift at any minute and we could be forced to leave our home, or even the country. But there is nothing to do, except trust in Allaah, and do my best to make sure
that my children’s world remains a safe one, and that our home remains a
refuge in the whirlwind of revolution around us.
Khadijah grew up in the Kickapoo Valley in Wisconsin and now lives in Yemin with her husband and eight children where she teaches Arabic and Islaamic studies to women and helps them recognize their importance and the need for their stories to be heard. Khadijah was the winner of the 2010 Story Circle Network Lifewriting Competition.