Thursday, March 20, 2014

Yemen's "Airplanes of the Sick"

Photo of a Yemeni hospital, via

"Airplane of the Sick" is what employees at Cairo Airport call the Yemenia plane that arrives from Yemen. Why? because on that plane, there are often a number of sick people arriving for medical treatment.

Anyone who flew on Yemenia, from Yemen to either Cairo or Jordan will notice the high number of sick patients on the plane, some even laying down in critical condition. On several occasions, patients have died on the plane.

Despite the progress Yemen has made to expand its health care system, it remains severely underdeveloped and therefore many try to seek medical treatment abroad.

Of course the rich can afford to travel to the Gulf, Europe and the U.S. for yearly checkups and medical examinations. In fact, former President Saleh himself had to fly out of the country when the Presidential palace was attacked and he was severely wounded. In the 33 years of his rule, his regime did not even invest in one decent hospital where he could have went for treatment!

The "lucky" ones in Yemen, manage to borrow money or sell what they can to travel to India, Jordan, Egypt or sometimes Lebanon for medical treatment.

However, for the majority of society, clinics and hospitals are rare, overcrowded and expensive. In fact, only 25 percent of rural areas (where majority of population resides) have health services as compared to 80 percent of urban areas.

Even basic cases such as giving birth can be deadly in Yemen. It is unbelievable for example that eight women die giving birth every day.

Most people have to travel quite a distance to get to a clinic or hospital. When they do, it is often extremely expensive. With no health insurance, if a life threatening disease infects someone, or an accident occurs, people have to either borrow money to pay for the expenses, or accept the harsh reality that they can not afford the treatment and therefore must wait to die.

My relative was lucky, she has a large family who helped with her expenses. Six months ago, Ina'am, a young school administrator in her late 20's suddenly became sick. When she went to get a blood test she fell in a coma for a couple of months. When she woke up, she could not speak or move, but she was aware of her surroundings. The doctors could not identify the cause of the problem, and therefore, as is often the case, they recommended that she seek treatment abroad.

After sending her medical file to India and Egypt (where costs are relatively affordable and there are no problems with visas for Yemenis) doctors there did not accept her case. Doctors in Saudi Arabia accepted her case but she could not get a visa. Then finally, a hospital in Jordan accepted her case, and because Yemenis do not need a visa, she was able to go there. Her family borrowed money and sold some things so they could afford to pay for two round-trip tickets, housing rental, and of course medical costs.

When they arrived in Jordan, the doctors examined her and said in front of her (she was conscious and could hear): "why did you bring her here? this is pointless! did you bring her to die in Jordan or what?!"

This careless cruel way of speaking was extremely hurtful, disrespectful and unprofessional. Ina'am returned to Yemen and miraculously got better, she even began speaking. Little did we know that it was the body's way of rejuvenating itself to allow her to say goodbye to the family. She passed away three days ago without a proper diagnosis.

In our efforts to promote change in Yemen, lets not only focus on political rights, but also on basic rights such as demanding our right for affordable and accessible health care.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Yemeni woman sings about the Perils of "WhatsApp"

WhatsApp is a phone application that allows users to send and receive messages, photos, videos, recordings from all over the world for free.  You can send information individually, or create a group of friends and/or family.

It has become a very popular tool all over the world, and in Yemen.  Yet, this Yemeni woman sings about the perils of WhatsApp and how it is impacting her relationship.

Here are the translated lyrics: [again i'm not a translator, so it won't have the appropriate rhymes, i'm just trying to relay the message:

"oh what a strange world, 
after all his love to me, he suddenly changed,
If only you know the reason, 
the damn WhatsApp,
He no longer listens to anything I say,
or shows that he cares,
He screams for the stupidest reason,
all because of the damn WhatsApp,
Dinner, breakfast, and lunch,
if he disappears one second, 
he becomes depressed,
all because of the damn WhatsApp,
If I tell him enough is enough,
it's as if I shot him with a gun,
I become like [Abu Lahab],
all because of the damn WhatsApp,
oh how wonderful he used to be,
a well behaved gentleman,
who today answers me with "shut up",
all because of the damn WhatsApp,
He wants a Galaxy S4,
to keep answering until dawn,
If I tell him get up, he falls,
all because of the damn WhatsApp"

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fear is fear, no matter where you are from

Earlier this month, I spoke at a panel in Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond. During the talk, I showed a photo of a young Yemeni boy in the province of Mareb (which was hit by five drone strikes this month), demonstrating how he ducked in his school as soon as he heard the sound of a plane. He was not sure whether it was a drone or a fighter jet, but he has become used to ducking this way ever since his village was hit and his friend hit with a shrapnel.

The next day, I received an e-mail from David Swanson who was on the same panel. He pointed out that the photo of the Yemeni boy reminded him of the photo below, of children in the US in the 1950s ducking in schools for fear of a nuclear explosion.

photo on left via David Swanson from, photo on right by Atiaf Alwazir, taken in Mareb on Feb 28, 2013 
The two photos are strikingly similar, both children ducking to save themselves from bombs that kill, wound, and displace people.  From the early 1950s until the end of the Cold War, the US government taught "duck and cover" to generations of school children and adults as a method of personal protection in the event of a nuclear war.

In 1951, the American Civil Defense film, "Duck and Covered" geared towards children, portrayed the act of ducking and covering by Bert The Turtle. Wouldn't it be ironic, if we use the lyrics of this American film to teach children in Yemen today how to "duck and cover" from American planes?!

A Duck and Cover movie poster,


"There was a turtle by the name of Bert 
And Bert the Turtle was very alert
When danger threatened him he never got hurt
He knew just what to do
He’d duck and cover, duck and cover…”
“Now, you and I don’t have shells to crawl into like Bert the Turtle, so we have to cover up in our own way.”
"Sundays, holidays, vacation time, we must be ready every day, all the time, to do the right thing if the atomic bomb explodes. Duck and cover!”
“First you duck, then you cover. Duck and cover tight. Duck and cover under the table.”

Yemeni children living in areas of conflict have the same feeling of fear that has engulfed millions of children around the world. Their own government has also abandoned them. No films are being made to teach methods of self protection, no warnings given before US and Yemeni planes strike, and when wounded or when their houses are demolished, no apology or compensation is given.

It shouldn't matter where the person is from, where he/she is living, what religion they follow or don't; human lives are equal, and they all deserve a chance to live in peace and with freedom to move and enjoy this earth that we call home.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"Get Out of Our Way"

Recently, a Yemeni man became a "WhatsApp" sensation when a short 2:19 minute mobile video of a his street performance was uploaded on social media.  

Though it is a simple poem, and though he is only using a plate for an instrument; it resonated with people, as it is an honest expression of how many feel about today's injustice and how they also console themselves with a dream of a better life and an afterlife in paradise.

Here, I attempt to translate his words (I am not a translator so I didn't do it justice, just trying to get his point across).

Get out of our way,
Get out of our way,
The heaven of love is for us, 
Tall women are for you, short and wide women are for us,
Beauty is for you, and ugliness is for us,
SUV's are for you, and old taxis are for us,
Fire and torment are for you, eternal paradise is for us,
Fire and torment are for you, eternal paradise is for us,
Palaces and villas are for you, and nests and huts are for us,
May God whiten your face [a saying of rapprochement], you who stole our rights,
Millions are for you, and extreme poverty is for us,
Honey and Ghee are for you [expensive items in Yemen], and anchovies and fish are for us [cheaper than other meat and widely available in Yemen],
Get out of our way, you who have tormented our people,
You tormented our people,
Oh how I wish I was a little bird in your roof,
Or a pigeon flying near your window,
Or a bodyguard or a security guard,
Or a bodyguard or a security guard,
I would go with you wherever you want.

بعّدوا من طريقنا 
بعّدوا من طريقنا
جنّة الحب حقنا
البنات الطوال لكم والقصار والعراض لنا
الملاح والجمال لكم والدبش والخشع لنا
الصوالين نصيبكم والتكاسي القدام لنا 
 الحريق والعذاب لكم جنّة الخلد لنا
الحريق والعذاب لكم جنّة الخلد حقنا
القصور والفلل لكم والعشش والدّيم لنا
بيّض الله وجوهكم اللي أكلتوا حقوقنا
الملايين نصيبكم والحرف والطفر لنا
العسل والسمن لكم والوزف والسمك لنا
الملايين نصيبكم والحرف والطفر لنا
العسل والسمن لكم والوزف والسمك لنا
بعّدوا من طريقنا عذّبوا الشعب حقنا
عذّبوا الشعب حقنا
ألا ليتني في جباكم عصفري
ألا وإلا حمامي على الطاقة يطير
ألا وإلا مرافق وإلا عسكري
ألا وإلا مرافق وإلا عسكري
ألا وأسير معك حيثما تشتي تسير