The Common Suffering of Yemeni Families Under Attack

National Yemen

Written by Helene Aecherli  / Photos: Abdo Ramadan

In Yemen, an erratic multilateral war is raging that has so far killed over 2,000 people. 22 million people, or 80 percent of the population, are lacking food, water and basic medical equipment, a humanitarian disaster which is worsened by a naval blockade imposed by the Saudis to cut off arms supplies to rebel forces. The Geneva peace talks that were held last week brought no result.

However, the war in Yemen rarely makes the headlines of the international media. It is off the radar of international attention.

Yemenis want to be heard. They need to be heard. I have asked Yemeni friends of mine, men and women, to tell their stories and give a personal account of their experiences of war and to take pictures that illustrate their texts.

A good friend of reporter Helene Aecherli narrated his story about the war in Yemen, Abdo Ramadan, a businessman in Sana’a said, “It is not easy to describe how life has turned upside down since March 26th 2015. Words are not enough to reveal the sufferings we endure as a family that lives in the Yemeni capital Sana’a under the attacks of missiles and bombs as a daily exercise. During each attack we expect death by a missile that smashes our lovely roof taking its way to take our souls.”

“My wife and four young daughters experience dreadful, frightful and horrible moments when they hear the sounds of the attacking jets flying through Sana’a’s clear blue sky. This fear is doubled when I am at work or out of the house,” said Abdo Ramadan. “They feel more secure when I am close to them, when we all are together.”

Continuing his story, Ramadan said, “Whenever the family hears the sounds of the Saudi military air planes followed by heavy explosions, we immediately rush into the safest place in the house, below the stairs near the door fearing the worst. Just imagine how we feel being crouched beneath the stairs!”

“Apart from her fear, Malak, my oldest daughter, worries about her sisters and her schoolmates in different parts of the city. She is in the 9th grade now and her exams are scheduled to take place in less than two months. At the same time she doesn’t know if she and her school friends will ever take place and if they will be able to take the exams as they are not preparing for them. They still do not feel conformable reviewing lessons at home due to the constant atmosphere of fear we are living in.”

“My second daughter Layan is suffering deeply too; the experience of being under attack is traumatic for her. When she hears a noise in the street or at home such as glasses breaking in the kitchen, she screams and runs away terrified, as if there was an air attack or a bombing.”

“Fortunately Ghaida and Aseel, my youngest daughters, do not pay much attention to what is going on including the danger around, but they still do repeat the word of  “attacks, attacks, attacks!” and giggle innocently while they rush to the safety stairs.”

“My wife has become a full house wife and nurse since the attacks began. A nurse in the sense that she counsels the other women in the house who are horrified during the attacks. And she supervises the children and she tries to makes sure that they take their doses of iron supplementation and other natural and medical doses.

Before the start of the war, my wife worked as a teacher in an illiteracy center in a nearby area,  now the center is closed; 90 percent of her students have left and fled to their villages or to other areas in the country for their safety,” said Abdo Ramadan.

“We were seriously considering going to travel to our village, but even that it did not work as the suffering doubled over there. The village is crowded and there is a remarkable shortage of water and food. And moreover is the total rejection of my wife who refused to leave me alone in Sana’a.”

“However, there are more attacks and jets here in Sana’a than in the village, so my old parents refuse to spend the holy month of Ramadan with us this year. This hurts as well. During Ramadan we used to come together for spiritual, humanitarian and traditional matters.”

“Personally, I am not afraid of death, but I feel crushed by the responsibility I bear for my family and for my daughters as their future is vague. Frustration and hope – this is what I feel during this endless crisis,” said Abdo Ramadan. 

“I am aware of the fact that, compared to millions of Yemenis, my family and I are quite lucky. I still get paid for my job as a human resources manager for Sheba hotel, the only hotel operating within the renege of four and five start hotels.”

“In our hotel, the entire expatriate staff left the country by early days of April. To keep the hotel open with just a handful of people is a horrendous challenge. Even more so as every day I see the daily suffering on the staff faces, including colleagues who confirm fighting hunger. “

The monthly payments have been decreased based on an agreement for survival only and maintaining operations against the high cost of living. Listing the difference of the old rate and new rates, Abdo Ramadan continued to say the 1 liter of petrol used to be 150 (YR), or $0.70 US. Now it’s 600 YR. 50 kilograms of flour were 5,500 YR, now they are up to 9,500 YR. To get these items for the official rate you have to spend days and nights in search for it. Sometimes you see dozens of desperate men, women and children trying to get a can of water from a huge truck with water tanks. The water is donated by rich people.

Thirty percent of income goes only for transportation as fuel has become part of everyone’s dream – not only within the capital of the country, but in the whole entire country, and those who have their buses still running have increased the ticket prices because they purchase fuel in the black market. There, fuel is sold for incredible prices. Before the war, a ticket for two or three kilometers in a public minibus cost 50 YR, around $0.20. Now the price has doubled. Taxis for the same distance cost 300 YR, now you have to pay more than 600 YR. A 20-litre gas cylinder used to cost 1200 YR ($6), now it costs 5000 YR ($23) on the black market.

“Most people like my colleagues can’t afford the transportation costs at all. They prefer to walk long distances to reach work or home.”

“Many government employees, along with those in the private sector, have lost their jobs and have been kicked out on the streets. Almost all teachers, like my wife, can’t work anymore as well. The war has bereaved us of our productivity.”

“I can say that we, the Yemeni people, are filled with hatred, rage and a desire for revenge as the attacks have reached all homes and every individual. There isn’t a family that hasn’t lost a relative or friend or fears to be killed by the blockade imposed on us by the coalition headed by Saudi Arabia. They prevent medicine, food items and fuel to enter the country. They can do that because they control all the ports of our Yemen,” concluded Abdo Ramadan.