Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Wedding & 84 Funerals

 Dance, when you're broken open.
Dance, if you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you're perfectly free.
- Rumi

Six months after Friday of dignity, when 50 peaceful protesters were killed, another brutal attack began resulting in over 100 deaths and over 500 wounded.  A 10 month old baby boy was killed by a stray bullet while in his car, over one hundred martyrs, tens of bodies were shattered to pieces by mortars, and others killed and wounded by snipers on rooftops, amongst them two people I know. The gruesome images I saw made my stomach turn. How can people resort to such horrific measures against their own people.

The attacks left me shocked, horrified with uncontrollable tears. Not only because I am sad, but also because I was worried of what will become of this revolution. I worried that some people who joined the revolution solely for personal and political gains will drag the it to hell. Most people told me not to worry too much, we will deal with this at a later phase.I am not convinced.

In the midst of this sadness, anxiety and worry, we had to celebrate our cousin's wedding! As customary in Yemeni tradition, men and women have separate weddings. The bride's wedding was on Tuesday and the groom's was on Wednesday.

On Tuesday morning, instead of waking up to music celebrations for the wedding, we woke up at 3:30 a.m. by loud explosions and gun fire that continued until noon. Our windows were shaking from impact. We live around 2 km away from the Zira'ah entrance to change square. I couldn't help but wonder how the people there were feeling. Will they be ok? how many people will loose a loved one? how many children will be orphaned? how many wives will be widowed. I spent my time making frantic phone calls to change square to check up on people I know..

I called my aunt at noon to check if the wedding was still on.  She informed me that they changed the venue from the wedding hall to the house, and that it will start around 4 p.m.  The earlier the better for security reasons. She told me that the bride was crying the night before, after all, a very important day of her life was mixed with explosions, death, and injury. In addition, they lost all the money for the hall as it is non-refundable! They also had added expenses because they needed to rent a tent for the guests coming to the house.

When I got up to get dressed I felt strange. How can I dress up, put make up on, and go to a “celebration” when people are dying. Torn about what to wear, I decided to wear a black dress as a sign of mourning.

As I got there at 4:30 p.m., I expected that many people won't show up. I was surprised to find the tent FULL of women in sexy clothes, with full make up on. The singer's great voice made the room clap in unity and many women got up to dance.

As I sat there listening to the music and watching the women dance I felt that I was in the twilight zone. Naturally, my mind was confused. I couldn't comprehend how I can go from fear and depression to happiness and celebration in a short period of time. To give you a better picture, listen to this 20 second clip, the first 10 seconds is what I was hearing all morning until noon; the second 10 seconds is the sounds from the wedding in the afternoon.

The dramatic shift was hard to comprehend.  Except for myself, everyone seemed to naturally make a quick switch in mood. The women took breaks and talked about the ongoing violence, many recapped how hard it was for them to leave the house, but despite that they insisted on coming anyways. The bride and the family surely appreciated that.

At first, I judged them, how do they have it in them to dance when people are dying?!! how can they not think about the people giving up their life for change?? Then, I remembered something I read somewhere that suggested that in war torn countries, nightlife thrives. Despite the war, people always partied at night. I found it odd at that time, but I now finally understand how that can happen.  In the midst of anger, frustration, fear and sadness; dancing becomes a great way to eject all these feelings from your body. I myself love to dance, so I understand the power of it.

When I accepted that, I was finally able to celebrate one of my favorite cousin's wedding in an appropriate manner, but at the same time remember the martyrs who's faces will never be forgotten. For them we will keep the peaceful movement alive, and for them we will continue the struggle.  For them, we will also live, so that we can honor their memory in every place we go.

By the end of Tuesday night, there were 84 deaths, and at least one wedding that I knew of.  We don't know how long this conflict will last, so as hard as it is, we must make life happen even in the midst of death, or else will become zombies walking this earth but not really living it or contributing to our cause. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Drawing the line between career & ethics, a personal letter to journalists

This post is a letter addressed to some journalists in Yemen. At the outset, let me admit that this post is SO trivial, especially in light of what's currently happening in the country. I blame frustration and fatigue for this piece. Nevertheless, the subject was making me upset, so I decided to write about it and hear your thoughts on whether I'm justified in feeling this way or not.

Dear journalists,

I was shocked when I found out that some of you attended a party at the palace last week. I understand that working in Yemen is different than other countries, and that in order for a meeting to take place, you have to have many informal meetings first. In addition, lunch or a qat session often count as “meetings” here. But to me, going to a party at the palace (during this time), where public money is spent to provide your entertainment, food, and drinks was crossing the line. It can not be considered a meeting, even in the very informal atmosphere of Yemen.

Of course journalists need to meet both sides, and of course you have the right to meet with the nephews and the sons of the president if you please, but a party does not constitute a meeting. (note, in Yemen, unlike other countries, it's SUPER easy to meet any top government official, so please stop showing off about how you met them, it doesn't reflect your journalistic abilities, it just reflects the friendly country you live in).

Going to a party at the palace is surely a great way to build your contact network, and a good way to make friends with the government for “protection purposes”, but isn't it against journalistic integrity to attend these parties? Surely if your bosses know they might be upset? (or at least I hope so!).In addition, where would you draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not, what is ethical and what is not.

If you were based in Libya, would you attend a party thrown by Saif al-Islam? And if you did, would you understand why the revolutionaries would be quite upset about that?

I know that socially, there are very few things to do in Yemen, and maybe it was curiosity that drew you there, but please note that your actions have consequences on your reputation in Yemen. I also hope that you can think about this action more deeply and see it from different perspectives. 

Maybe I'm too idealistic, but I also know that reality is often not black or white, most of the time things are in the grey. 

Finally, I'm sorry if I offended you, it is really not my intention.   If it was any other time, I wouldn't be as critical. In the end, you have the right to do whatever you want, and I have the right to feel anyway I want :)   To the journalists who's profile doesn't fit this description, I apologize about this post, and I obviously don't mean YOU by it. 

a concerned citizen

p.s writing this out did make me feel better, so thanks!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Images from Friday of "Sincere Friday"

Like every Friday since February, thousands of pro-democracy protesters went to the street today to call for change.  As usual, they prayed Friday prayer on 60 road and a group of youth were engaged in a project called "messages to the world".  Protesters reaffirmed their commitment to peaceful resistance by hand painting on a white fabric 300 meters long.  This idea was initiated in Taiz, and is now being repeated in the capital Sana'a.  See some images from today below, and if you want to see more images click here

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sacrifices of a revolutionary

Samir, a protester in Sana'a who has been camped at the square for seven months looked quite upset today. I asked him if like many of us, the current situation is making him depressed. He said: "a little, but it's more the personal problems".  "Like what?" I inquired. he responded:

"well, recently  my parents stopped talking to me, my wife left me and took the kids with her to the village, and on top of that I lost my job.  All of this because I've been camped at the square for seven months now.  My family and everyone in my village are pro-government.  They are upset about my involvement in the revolution.  I tried to go see my wife and kids in the village, but the sheikh of the village promised to detain me and take me to the security forces if I ever showed up.  
The revolution has to succeed or else all this was for nothing"

The revolution must succeed for Samir,  for hundreds of martyrs, for thousands of wounded, for children who lost their parents, and for parents who  lost their children. The revolution must succeed for oppression, tyranny, and injustice to end and for freedom, justice, and equality to prevail.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Freedom and Slavery, a desert awakening

After seven months of constant protests, electricity cuts, water and fuel shortage, price increases, regular political discussions, and constant worry, we decided to take a beak and sought refuge in the western Egyptian oasis of Siwa. An oasis with numerous springs in the midst of a sea of sand. It's simply a piece of heaven.

The first time I visited Siwa was in May of 2009 and I was in awe at its beauty (I wrote this piece after I returned). This month, I returned to the desert and I was struck again by the silent beauty of the sea of sand. I was also struck by the freedom I felt there.

For months, we have been struggling for freedom from oppression and dictatorship in Yemen. To be free is a human need, but are we all completely free?

Sitting on the soft sand without my "essential" items such as my phone, internet, music or black eyeliner, I realize that we are all enslaved to some thing. Whether it's the news, or to what people and society may think of us, or to fashion or or or...the list can be very long. Maybe as human beings, we tend to accumulate things because we are in search of filling that void inside us.

At the desert, I felt liberated because I was able to enjoy my days without any material possessions, instead I was connecting with my inner self. In my daily busy life, there are many external voices always hovering around me, like an annoying bee. This makes it very difficult to hear anything else or to connect with what your body and soul really need. The silence of the desert allowed me to connect to my soul. Time stood still and my mind and body took a moment to relax.

The desert not only taught me freedom but also appreciation of natural beauty. We spend so much time in front of "screens" whether it's TV, computer or a phone. I think we have forgotten how to look beyond these screens. We need to separate from that once in a while, and re-learn to enjoy nature and what it has to offer.

Appreciation of natural beauty can also be extended to our own bodies. Behind a sand dune and away from the four other people with me, I took off my clothes to go to the bathroom. I felt nervous at first but I quickly realized that I was completely alone. That 10 seconds felt like an eternity. I looked up, right, left, but no one was there except for the stars looking down at me. At the point, I smiled at the freedom of being "naked".

In the greatness of the sand dunes I also realize the insignificance of our own existence. The biggest event in my own history, the revolution, feels like a drop in the sea of sand. It's just one event out of many in this world. With time, things will change. The sun will always rise, and there will always be another day.

During this visit, I recharged by battery using solar energy. Then I became undone, I restarted, and refreshed.

For more photos of Siwa visit this page