OP-ED

Taiz is not dead

National Yemen

Yemeni students calling Saleh to step down

BY Sky Sutton

Since the killing of 72 innocent people in the Square of Change on March 18, 2011 Yemen has been in a state of revolution.  I live in America where international news is often difficult to find.  Updates on social networks were some of the best news I could get.  Youtube started to fill with clips of cowardly snipers hiding in apartments to take pot shots at the peaceful protesters.  Photo albums of the bloodied, broken bodies began to appear.  People from countries around the globe used Facebook to get organized for rallies and to show support.

I reached out to Capt. M., a British friend I met in Taiz. He lives in Hodeidah.  He wrote: “We are only going into the office on Sundays, Mondays  & Tuesdays – and then in the mornings only. Wednesday and Saturday have both been declared as ‘Days of Disobedience’ and businesses are closed in the mornings.”

I became a great fan of the photographer Ameen Al-Ghabri.  His stunning images of individual protesters and passionate crowds have captured hearts around the world.  Tribesmen, student protesters, every -day men, women and children have all opened their struggle to Mr. Al-Ghabri’s expert lens.

Ahmed A., a gentleman from Marib living in Sana’a, became my eyes and ears on the ground.  I haven’t gone more than forty-eight hours without touching base with Ahmed since the first martyrs fell in the Square.  Many of my Arab friends on-line have helped me to translate slang, understand the players in the game and even allow me to be a part of the protest.

I wrote to Ahmed: “If you make one of those water/paint bags to mess up a windshield write my name on it before you throw it so I can feel like I’m there:  ‘Sama’a says er’hal,Saleh!!!’ ”

Ahmed wrote back: “its have been done in Taiz … one of my friend did it …. throw it on an army carrier … i know u love Taiz and he made it for u ;) ”

I thought: Ha! Take that, Saleh! All the way from New England!  Ahmed was right: I do love Taiz. My time in Yemen affected me to the core. It is my dearest wish to return to the deserts and mountains of Sheba and Arwa.

Where was this revolution on American news? If I was there I kept missing it.

On May 29th I found a live cam of the protesters in Taiz. When I started watching there were peaceful protesters and tents. I napped to the sounds of the feed. Sleeping in Northampton, Massachusetts, USA, a horn honking in traffic in Taiz, Yemen woke me up. The protesters began to pray. A voice on the PA system called out through the crackling speakers. All was peaceful. The prayer came out line by line. There was a pop! some place near the tents and silence. A gun shot. The voice on the PA system hesitated for a moment and then continued until the prayer was finished.

At the top of my screen I could see Saleh’s military vehicles, like beasts in a nightmare, rolling up on the innocent protesters. The metal beasts sat still for a moment and then moved forward spraying the protesters with giant jets of liquid and bullets over everyone. My stomach pitched every time the muzzles flashed and my brain froze trying to process the evil I was watching unfold.  A man in the crowd waved his arm. Watching him, helpless to help him, I waved my arm, too. I wanted to feel any part of what he was feeling.

The camera broadcasting the protest eventually lost power. When the screen went black an icy fear crept into me at what could be happening behind that black.

Twitter exploded with updates: Taiz was burning. Saleh’s thugs were torching the tents and the protesters inside of them. Mosques across the sprawling metropolis opened their doors, playing the Koran at full volume in support of the protesters and as a condemnation to the soldiers and thugs who were putting innocent people to death.  Saleh’s bulldozers began flattening the protesters’ camp.

Looking  at all of us launching news from our laptops and cell phones it felt like Khadir had blessed our fingers so we could type for hours and hours straight. We posted and reposted all the information we could find; including the blatant SOS distress calls. SOS?! I felt as though I’d slid back into WWII. I reposted the SOS without hesitation. What more clear message was there?

A brave woman in Sana’a got a live cam feed to stream from her cell phone.  The violence in Taiz was being matched all around her.  Her feed was a black screen and whispered words: “…Keep the light covered!” she hissed a fierce whisper at her friend, “The snipers will see it!”  They discussed the 12X7’s being used. I’m still not sure what a 12X7 is.

I was very impressed with the man in Taiz who Twittered even when he feared the government might knock at his door any moment.  This man also helped me to understand where things were happening. Reports kept mentioning the Square and various sides of town but not actual locations. To have the street names helped me see the situation more clearly.

I posted and reposted but I also talked with the people I saw every day. I shared films and songs, art and comments.  I took children’s sidewalk chalk to my back sidewalk and wrote: “Erhal!” in Arabic.  A local man stopped to ask what I was writing.

“It’s the mantra for the Yemeni  Revolution, “ I told him.

“Ah, Arab Spring,” said the man. I was so pleased that the news had reached him.

Reports of al Qeada taking the town of Zinjibar sound like Saleh’s propaganda machine.  The way I’ve explained the tribesmen and young protesters versus Saleh and his thugs is to compare them to Hell’s Angels and student protesters versus the police and military. Imagine the students are having sit-ins and the police are starting to harass and damage them.  Imagine a few of the Hell’s Angels, an infamous American motorcycle gang, have kids at those universities. Those Angels are going to set up a perimeter around those kids. The kids won’t have guns but the Angels would. It evens the playing field.  I know there’s more to it than that. There are various tribes to consider. North and south are of importance. Post-revolution issues weigh heavily on many minds. It’s all very confusing.

The day after Taiz burned Yemen was in the news in America. I breathed a sigh of relief to see the coverage on various TV and radio stations. It felt like all those distress calls had finally reached some of the right ears. Maybe now something will be done. Pressures must be applied. Saleh needs to leave. Erhal!

Sky Sutton lives in Northampton, MA, USA. Ms. Sutton is the author of “Daddy Moonshine- The Story of Marvin ‘Popcorn’ Sutton” and a historian of New England histories.  Ms. Sutton spent time in Yemen in 2001 as a producer for a Yemeni tour company’s promotional materials.