Voices from Yemen: The Many Miseries of Yemeni Families
September 14, 2015
Hanna Ingber / The New York Times
As the civil war in Yemen continues, many families say they are living in constant fear. Parents say that their older children have been wetting their beds at night, and that younger ones are so traumatized that they are sent running for cover by the sound of a door slamming. The fighting has displaced a million people, destroyed cultural heritage sites and terrorized the population.
(June 24, 2015) – As the civil war in Yemen continues, many families say they are living in constant fear. Parents say that their older children have been wetting their beds at night, and that younger ones are so traumatized that they are sent running for cover by the sound of a door slamming.
The fighting between Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed government forces has displaced a million people, destroyed cultural heritage sites and terrorized the population. The situation has worsened since a Saudi-led bombing campaign began in March, and a de facto blockade has caused shortages of food and fuel for many of the nation's 26 million people.
The New York Times asked Yemenis and their relatives abroad how their families have been affected by the worsening conflict. Close to 350 people submitted responses in English and Arabic. Most said they needed food, fuel, electricity -- and an end to the fighting. Many wrote that it has been civilians who have suffered.
"The airstrikes target civilian places, and so there is nowhere safe now," wrote Hani Yahya who lives in Sana, the capital, with his extended family. "We basically might die any day, and if we don't, we will just suffer."
They described destruction to cities they love and their own homes, airstrikes shattering their windows and blowing out doors. Some have tried to make repairs. Others said the damage to their houses and the continuous fear of bombings had forced them to leave.
Uprooted, Yemenis wrote that they had moved in with extended family members or friends. One man described how all the young cousins hide in the basement of their house. And even the safer areas, they wrote, still face shortages.
Families have also been divided, with some members fleeing the country. Others have tried to flee, but have been stopped. A young woman said she and her husband had taken their baby boy and made two trips to the border. Once they were turned away by the Saudis, and once by the Houthis.
Yemenis said they felt ignored, and they pleaded for those outside of the country to pay attention.
The following is a selection of the responses, expanded in additional interviews, and edited and condensed for clarity.
Helmi al-Hamadi, 39, originally from Taiz in southern Yemen, has been living in Sana since 1997. He has three children, and his wife is seven months pregnant.
My 6-year-old daughter is the most affected person in the family. She can't sleep, always alert to any sounds; even the sound of a door closing terrifies her. If a door slams, she thinks it's an attack on us or an airstrike. She is losing weight. If anyone wants to go outside, if I have to go get groceries, she says: "I don't want to lose you, father. I don't want you to die."
They have been out of school since March 26. When the airstrikes started, everything kind of stopped here. None of the residents of Sana can go to school.
My pregnant wife is in a bad condition, especially, because she is diabetic and at risk that we could run out of insulin at anytime. She can't receive proper medical care.
My children wish that they could go back to school; my pregnant wife dreams of a peaceful night to sleep without one of our children screaming in their sleep every time there is an airstrike. I pray every day that when I go to the markets I can still find food for my family; this is decreasing on a daily basis.
Arwa Naaman Saiid, 23, is a teacher and information technology student. Her family fled a rented house in Sana and moved to Taiz and then to the village of Moaser.
The children in our family are terrified even by the sound of thunder, thinking it is from airplanes coming to bomb them. Their fear and continued crying forced us to leave our house. We paid $50 per person to leave Sana. I sold my jewelry just to escape.
We have been affected materially, morally and psychologically because of airstrikes and earthshaking explosions that prevent us from sleeping.
We are six members in the same house, including my sick mother who broke her back more than two months ago. We couldn't afford paying her treatment expenses. Now she's home and can't move. We have no food, no potable water, no electricity. We are denied the most basic rights.
We need to put an end to this flagrant aggression. We need the blockade to be lifted. Leave us alone! We are not associated with any political party. We are just Yemeni citizens. We need to be able to sleep, to eat and to drink what God bestowed upon us, without blockade and without killings.
Maali Jamil, 25, moved to Michigan as a young child before returning to Yemen as a teenager. She and her husband, who were both working as English teachers in Sana before the airstrikes began in March, have a 2-month-old son, Yusuf.
My husband and I let our apartment go because all the windows shattered in the Faj Attan bombing. And since we are now both unemployed, rent was too high, so we're living with family. My 9-year-old cousin vomits when the explosions are too loud.
With the problems and everything, nobody is working. Everybody is at home. Who is going to pay for classes? It's not important right now. People need to eat.
My father has heart disease and is very ill. Every few days, he needs to run some blood work so the doctor can adjust his dose. When there is no fuel, he cannot go. If there is fuel, but no power, the labs don't operate. When he doesn't get the blood work done, the doctor can't adjust the dose, so my mom is usually at a loss and ends up guessing what he needs.
We tried to leave and were stranded at the Yemeni-Saudi border near Haradh twice, once for five days and once for two days.
The Yemeni people are barely breathing. My family and I are doing really well compared with most Yemenis.
My mom is from Aden, and the horror stories we hear are heartbreaking. One of my mother's cousins says all they have to eat is cookies. Her children keep asking her when are they are going to have real food, and she just broke down and cried.
Hussam Alshami, 37, lives in Sana with his wife, their daughter and his extended family.
My 2-year-old daughter is oversensitive to any sound now, running to hug anyone in front of her when hearing even a door knock. Some other children in my family now urinate while sleeping.
Despite almost every glass in our house having broken, we stay and will stay. We have no other choice. We've been raised in Sana. We don't know another place to live. And moving would cost money that's not available at this time. But more than money, we love Sana very, very much!
We have only one hour of electricity every three to five days. On the other hand, airstrikes are horrible, indiscriminate. More painful is that the world keeps silent.
Feel our pain, because Saudi Arabia cannot do this to us unless you, the United States, allow it. The blockade must be lifted. Airstrikes must be stopped.
Tarad Abdul Aziz Ahmad al-Samawy lives in Sana in a house with 29 other people, including 15 children ages 2 to 10.
Our children are overwhelmed with fear when they hear airplanes. They cry continuously when they hear the sounds of antiaircraft guns. Sometimes we convince them that there is a wedding outside.
The war is choking us financially at the individual level and for all Yemenis. Our neighbors can't find food. We offer them some from time to time. All of Yemen is living under siege.
Lift the Saudi sea blockade of Yemen because trade is the source of income for many Yemenis.
Rawan S. al-Aghbari, 22, was born in Yemen and raised in London. An explosion in Sana in mid-April badly injured her brother and destroyed their home. She returned to Yemen last month to help him get out of the country for treatment.
During the explosion he was inside the house trying to repair a window. The explosion ripped off the top half of the house, and parts of the window cut through his neck. There were shards everywhere; he was bleeding extensively. He basically flew from one side of the room to the other, and he had a concussion. He couldn't form proper sentences. He wasn't in good health, so we wanted to get him out.
At the time there was no electricity and barely any generators running for the hospitals. Generators need fuel, and there was practically none at that time. There were fuel lines that would extend for kilometers.
Yemen is suffering from a myriad of problems. At the front line are ordinary civilians, who are paying the price for this unforgiving war.
Hani Yahya lives in Sana with his extended family. He was working for an international democracy-building organization, but the fighting forced it to shut down. He is now unemployed.
We live in fear all the time. There is no electricity. No fuel. Food is becoming scarce, and prices are increasing.
I managed to get my wife and two children out to Egypt after the Faj Attan attack. But my nephews and nieces are still here, and all of them are affected.
They keep asking: "When will this end? Why do they want to kill us?" They are wetting their beds at night; they are depressed all the time and want to leave the country.
I speak to my daughter every day in Egypt. She wants to go back home. When she is in Egypt, she keeps asking, "When will this end?" They just don't understanding why this is happening. We just tell them: "We pray it will end soon. We pray to God that it will be over."
Mahdy Abdul Hakeem Mahdy Saleh al-Mutairy is from the western coastal city of Al Hudaydah.
We are terrified and suffered the tragic loss of life of members of our family. My cousin was 23 years old when he died; he was a student. He was walking in the street when jets bombed the area. Dozens of bodies were found on that day.
We don't have electricity because of the siege, but the hospital is still functioning and receiving patients, especially those suffering from dialysis, from other provinces. But I'm concerned that the only hospital here might close soon if this siege and blackout continue.
What we need is for the bombing to stop and the blockade to be lifted so that shipments of food, medicine and petrol products could be brought into the country.
Fuad Shaif Ali al-Kadas runs a tour company in Sana. He lost thousands of dollars in plane tickets after a tourist group canceled an April trip. After the area near his home was bombed, he moved in with his extended family in another area of Sana.
Even if the war ends soon, and if tourists come back, I don't know if we can refund this large sum. So my business is defunct. One brother works in the airport -- he's lost his job. Another brother works in an area constantly bombed by the Saudis -- Faj Attan -- and he now has lost his job. So while my family is alive and well, thank God, we, like most people, are struggling and out of work.
Imagine if this continues and we'll have an entirely uneducated generation. Plus when the planes fly overhead, or children hear the airstrikes, they cry, and they can't sleep at night. Now, if a father wants his kids to do something, he says, "Go or I'll call the planes," and they move right away.
Assaad Lutf Albarty and his family, who live in Sana, have been affected by the shortages of food, fuel and medicine. His father has not been able to secure his blood pressure medication or get the treatment he needs. He is hoping to travel to Jordan for heart surgery.
Many times we live without electricity for days or weeks. There is a lack of gasoline, which is used for transportation, and diesel, which is used to transport goods and operate factories. We have returned to the Stone Ages by using firewood and charcoal to cook at home. I'm not exaggerating -- we're doing this on a daily basis.
We can't get water without electricity or diesel, and we can't get the basic things such as flour and wheat, because of the inability to distribute them to consumers and our inability to go to distribution centers. Also because of the blockade, no merchants can import any new food, fuel or medicines.
Bakil Muttee Ghundol had been taking a course in teaching English in Aden, but he moved to Ibb, where his family lives, shortly before the airstrikes began.
Hundreds of displaced families from different cities come to Ibb because it's considered a safe place as there are no airstrikes as there are in Aden, Sana or Taiz. But all the people here in Ibb are suffering as there is a huge lack of fuel, water and food. In addition, the electricity has been cut off for months. Only rich people have generators. Sometimes we go to their homes to charge our phones, our laptops.
My family is all safe, but some neighbors were killed in an airstrike. One was a close friend of my brother.
Hanan Ahmed al-Mansor, 23, attends Jinan University in China. Her immediate family is still in Sana, but her extended family managed to escape to Egypt.
Far from everything, I am still affected as badly as my family. I've had sleepless nights, nightmares, continuous anxiety and multiple visits to the doctor. My academic level has dropped, and every day, I am either crying or senseless.
My mother is my superhero. She has worked her way through a couple of failed businesses, but she finally was able to stand on her own two feet in her mid-50s and created a successful restaurant in Yemen. This restaurant was recently completely damaged after an airstrike hit a building in front of it. Our dream and our only way to eat and live with dignity was shattered. All I can think of now is, how am I going to finish university?
The children in my family sleep covering their ears. They only speak of how much they fear death, and one of them told his mom: "I want to die before you. I don't want to see you die." And, "In heaven, can I ask for a TV to watch you because I'm going to miss you?"
My cousin told me this about her kids. She was writing and crying at the same time. It's very hard for me to keep in touch with my family since they usually only open the generator for emergencies, like to pump the water to the pipes. However, I buy calling cards to call them in emergencies, and if they have battery left, they respond.
I need to sleep knowing that I'll wake up and my family is safe. I need Saudi Arabia to leave Yemen alone.
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.
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