|Photo by Mona Raidan al-Mutawakel|
“Come with me,” said my father after he got ready and changed into his grey pants and oversized black blazer. On the way, my father didn’t tell me anything about the man we were visiting, except that he is a “dear brother in the struggle.”
The first thing I noticed about Dr. Mohammed Al-Mutawakel was his childlike sincere smile that magically forced even the grouchiest person to smile back creating an instant connection.
I had met many of my father’s friends before, including intellectuals, scholars, poets etc., but Ammo [uncle] Mohammed was different. Despite the fact that I was young, he acknowledged my existence, and addressed me as an individual. Throughout that first visit he spoke to us both.
The topics he brought up were daring and provoking. They pushed me to question my own beliefs and thoughts. At one point, I hesitantly turned to my father and with my eyes asked, Can I answer this honestly? My father understood and replied nodding his head.
Throughout the years, and despite the continued challenges, Ammo never gave up. His hopeful aura, his encouraging demeanor, his modesty and his genuine belief in what he does were unique. He generously gave so much of his time to others. He met with almost anyone who would ask for a meeting. I remember seeing him many times in Change Square in 2011 sitting in various small tents giving lectures on Human Rights in Islam, gender equality etc.
When we disagreed politically, Ammo patiently listened. This tolerance is truly amazing, and it is projected in his relationship with his children, who have sometimes expressed vary different opinions in their writings and political affiliations. These differences were almost theatrically expressed on Friday lunches when their entire family met. Those times, Ammo would smile, sometimes interject with an opinion or just get up and serve us some tea.
“You see these?” he would point to the family portraits on the wall. “People ask me why I place my daughters’ photos publically, I tell them why not?”
The last time I visited Ammo Mohammed was in April 2014. While fixing the black and white shawl on his head, he proudly pointed to the wall of photos once again. This was a man who gave his life to Yemen, and was content because he knew that his wonderful five children and their partners, his grandchildren, and countless mentees would surely continue his path of peaceful resistance.
Today marks the 40th day since his cold-blooded assassination. Too many great people have been taken away from us recently. With every death, pieces of our souls have slowly chipped away. I don’t want death to become our only constant in this changing Yemen. We need doses of Ammo’s optimism and hope. We must keep his spirit alive.