The nightmares of a Yemeni mother
I am bringing to this world another potential child victim of the Yemeni war and I don’t know how I will forgive myself.
I start my day thinking it could be my last one, so I try to ignore all nuisances and petty problems and greet everyone as if it is the last time we see each other – for, at any moment, we can be reduced to a mere number in the records of this war.
I have lived in Yemen’s western coastal city of Hodeidah since I was six years old, that is, for 29 years now. I have many memories here: my family, the sea, the people, their excessive kindness, Arabian jasmine and the taste of delicious seafood. All of them have now been consumed by the war.
I see people walk in the street with heavy hearts, each carrying a tragic story about the death of a loved one, the loss of livelihood or the illness that they cannot afford to treat.
Life has been hard in Hodeidah since the conflict began but the past six months have been the worst for us.
As the fighting intensified, hunger, desperation and death slowly overwhelmed the city. In the only functioning government hospital, I found out, more than 600 malnourished children are being treated.
Drug prices have doubled. Patients with cancer, kidney failure and chronic diseases have struggled to get treatment, constantly at risk of being killed by one of the frequent delays in medication shipments.
The internet started getting cut off, at first for a few days, then for weeks. At home, there was nothing to do, so we went back to reading books and watching television.
Then, the electricity blackouts started and we couldn’t do that any more either. In the beginning, we took it lightly. We lit up some candles and enjoyed the warmth of the flickering light. We even play some music on our phones, which often got drowned by the loud sound of heavy explosions.
As the siege choked the city, there was nothing to distract oneself with from the realities of war: no beach, no parks, no restaurants, no internet. We suddenly become cut off from the rest of the world. It felt as if we were living on a different planet, as if we were slowly losing our humanity.
One day, my husband and I decided to try to go to the sea. We thought we were the only fools in the city who had come up with the idea, but it turned out we were wrong. The little strip of coast that was still not blocked by barricades was full of people. The shelling was very close that day, but we all seemed to ignore it. People just sat there and looked at the sea. No one wanted to leave.
The bombardment of the city also intensified. Treacherous shrapnel would pierce into its heart, killing men, women and children indiscriminately on a daily basis.
One day, my son 11-year-old son Ammar was late from school. As I struggled to keep calm, I couldn’t stop thinking about the shrapnel or the number of explosions I had heard and what could have befallen my child, as he walked back home.
For a while, one thought had been occupying my mind: No more child victims! I had decided not to bring any more children to this brutal world so I don’t have to see them sacrificed at the altar of this senseless war.
In November, I left Yemen for about a month. Abroad, I felt I was losing my strength. I never felt depressed in Hodeidah the way I did outside. It did not seem fair to me that the people I left behind had to face the war on their own. I was terrified that I would lose them.
I was in Jordan for training in humanitarian journalism. While there, I and a number of other Yemeni journalists heard about the upcoming peace talks and were able to travel to Sweden to cover them.
Being the only journalist from Hodeidah, I received much attention. I was not able to separate my work as a journalist from my life in Hodeidah. I kept asking all the officials and journalists that I met what they knew about the ceasefire in Hodeidah. I wanted a clear answer but I never got one.
I managed to catch the attention of the UN envoy and question him: “How serious are the different parties about putting an end to hostilities in the city?” He answered my question with another: “Have you come from the same city?” I nodded yes and he responded, “Then, you must be really anxious about it.” He, too, was concerned, he said, and to my frustration, gave me nothing else.
On the last day, things took an unpredictable turn. Against all odds, a ceasefire agreement was reached. Dreams I had thought would never come true started coming back to me. In my head, I saw my mother and brothers coming back to Hodeidah after five months of being displaced; my husband going back to work at the pharmaceutical company that laid off its workers due to the siege; my son going to school and playing with his friends without the threat of bombs; me having another child – one that would never know a war.
I immediately called my husband. I had spent all my savings in Sweden on phone calls with him and my son because there was no internet in Yemen. I was very happy. I told him about the agreement. We spoke with great enthusiasm until the telephone balance ran out.
After we hung up, he sent me a text message in disbelief: “Are you sure they announced the ceasefire, or did they announce the continuation of hostilities?!!”
I dismissed all advice by family and friends to seek asylum in Europe and travelled back to Yemen. The journey took four days, as the main roads remained closed. As I entered Hodeidah, I realised I had missed my torn and scary life there.
Although the ceasefire was in effect, the clashes had not stopped by the time I came back. We could still hear the fighting and bombardment.
Two weeks after my return, I found myself sitting in the waiting room of a medical lab, waiting for my test results. I was very anxious.
I was asking myself what would happen if the result was positive. I was scared and worried because I did not know what my reaction would be.
When the receptionist called me in, I grabbed the test result sheet from her hands and avoided looking at it. I needed a quiet place where I could summon my strength and prepare myself for the worst. An explosion went off in the distance and my heart skipped a beat. I thought to myself: No more child victims!
The receptionist killed my doubts with a smile: “You are pregnant,” she said.
I ran away. I got into the car and drove all the way home with one hand, the other placed on my womb, as if to protect my unborn baby from the deadly bombs of this endless war.
I did not tell anyone. I hid the test results for two days, absorbing the shock alone. To this moment, I feel miserable and ashamed that I am responsible for bringing to life yet another potential child war victim. I hope I find forgiveness and a way to survive. I really hope I do because I know that this war will not end any time soon.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.