I Survived the War … and Now This
If you have already gone through hell, you should be exempt from new trials. But this is not the case and we are in this together
It has been more than 10 days since I started self-isolation with my family, just like many people in the world.
The experience is humbling and reminds us of what is important in life. Yet personally, being confined to my home reminds me of the start of war in Yemen with the Iranian-backed Houthi armed rebellion in 2014 followed by the Saudi-led Arab coalition airstrikes in 2015.
I remember huddling with my kids in the windowless hallway of our home in Sana’a, our hearts pounding wildly in our chests as we listened to the sounds of airstrikes and anti-aircraft missiles. We had stocked up on water and food, thinking that we would have to stay indoors for weeks.
The nights were the worst; the sounds of explosions were terrifying and my children, at the time ages 8 and 2, were half-terrified, half-excited because we told them the red flashes in the sky were fireworks.
I can still clearly remember the suspense between raids, not knowing if that was it for the night or if another round of explosions would erupt. Surprisingly, the silent nights when there were no strikes were the worst because we did not know what to expect.
During the daytime, we would reluctantly venture outside, encouraged by others who did the same. Seeing other people trying to go about their daily routines gave us a sense of normalcy that was often interrupted by explosions or the sight of armed militia patrolling our streets.
The scarcity in basic commodities coupled with the atrocious inflation in prices hit many Yemenis, especially the poorer ones, very hard. More than half of the population was already living under the poverty line prior to the conflict. Now near 85% of the population is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
But at least for us, we knew what we were facing and how to deal with it. Soon enough, despite the prolonged war – now entering its sixth year – Yemenis, having adjusted in scale and quality, manage to conduct daily activities to a large degree. Yemenis’ strongest asset is their sense of community and ability to socialize.
Today’s threat is different. It is invisible, indiscriminate, and far-reaching; to save ourselves, we have to be alone. The sense of community that helps Yemenis survive the war is not an option in our fight against the coronavirus.
To have survived the war in Yemen and be hit with this seems unfair. There should be a law that if you have already gone through hell, you are exempt from new trials. But this is not the case and we are in this together.
On the bright side, having gone through testing times before has its advantages.
When fleeing Yemen with my little children, I left everything behind. Being a member of the government and a strong opponent of the Houthi rebellion, my life in Yemen was in danger and I had to flee.
Upon news of my departure, the Houthis raided my home and took everything I owned. But I am so grateful to God that at least I am safe now and my family is fine. I know many Yemenis who lost their lives or their loved ones or were severely injured in the war.
For someone who has fled a war zone, losing everything and starting from scratch, I can confidently say to all those who are worrying about the future that you will be fine: Your job, your money, and your material achievements do not define you.
Granted, these are trying times and it is likely that we will go through a prolonged period of economic recession and hardship. But this is not the first time we have gone through crises.
My country, Yemen, is still going through armed conflict, becoming the worst humanitarian crisis of the century, yet the stories I hear from my family and friends teach me how we as human beings are resilient and resourceful. Our survival instincts kick in during times of trouble and we tap into internal reservoirs of strength we did not even know we had.
These are also good times to take a step back and reflect. I don’t mean spiritually only but from a practical point of view, as well.
It is a good time to rethink career options, personal development and even relationships. I am involved with an astounding group of Yemeni women leaders working in peacebuilding and women’s empowerment.
It amazes me how much we achieve using the internet and cyber communication tools. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention and I can clearly see how new ideas and even businesses will emerge from these difficult times.
It is now up to you to decide how this ordeal will impact your life, and how, once this is over, you will emerge on the other side.