March 19 – A Life Turned Upside Down – Part 2

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.

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6 responses to “March 19 – A Life Turned Upside Down – Part 2

  1. Thank you for this powerful piece of writing, Khadijah. You remind us that our worlds are not as secure as we think and hope them to be. You are a brave woman. I’m looking forward to reading more about your life in Yemen.

  2. When I hear reports of the rioting in Yemen, Khadijah, I think about you and hope you and your family are safe. Thank you for keeping in touch and for telling us about your life there.

  3. This is powerful writing Khadijah, and I’m so glad to know you by reading these words. You’re one tough cookie, lady, and I salute you. Sam

  4. In spite of diligence to avoid such material, I occasionally stumble across doomsday scenarios about the US economy that could result in such chaos as you describe. Though I always discover holes big enough for a camel to pass in the theories, just in case there should be a shred of truth in one, the fact that you are surviving, that you are able to keep your children fed and more or less safe as well as your own relative balance, is tremendously encouraging. I pray that your situation has already improved.

    You are performing a powerful calling, reporting on your situation to the outer world.

  5. Khadijah, thank you for writing and letting us know how things are on the streets in Yemen. It’s so difficult for us here in the U.S. to ferret out the truth from the hype. It breaks my heart that children are being used politically in the way you describe. It breaks my heart that innocent people are being hurt every day. I fervently hope that you and your family will continue to remain safe and strong.

  6. Thurayah Stoehr

    Khadijah, It truly is such a fascinating process when we consider how we learn our special truths in life. You and I probably both have in common that we are eternally grateful for what we are becoming and what we have learned so far, but if asked to repeat some of those lessons, we could never say yes, knowing what we know, to some of them. I remain your great fan and admirer…always.

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