A city on edge, unraveling
Saudi-led airstrikes are taking a toll on the capital and its people
Ican hear the fear and anxiety in my wife’s voice when we talk daily on the phone. “Please don’t go outside,” she says. “It’s not safe.”
Sana, our city and Yemen’s capital, has been under bombardment for more than a week as a Saudi-led military coalition sends warplanes to strike at bases and weapons depots that have been taken over by Houthi insurgents.
Before the air war began, I sent my family to stay with relatives outside the city because our home had been severely damaged in January by a huge blast at a police academy a few hundred yards away.
I miss my wife and extended family, but in many ways I am glad they are not here. I stayed in Sana to work, and I am witnessing the unraveling of the city and its people under the strain.
Airstrikes roar like thunder through the early mornings, mixing with the clatter of antiaircraft fire and the enormous boom of secondary explosions when weapons dumps are hit. No one gets much sleep; people are haggard and haunted. The strikes usually recommence in the afternoons.
It is hardest for the children. Here in Yemen, we celebrate weddings with gunfire. When the airstrikes began, my young nephews asked their parents when the wedding would be over. Parents herd their young ones into their basements when the bombs drop too close and sound too intense.
There’s no school. All classes, from kindergarten to university, have been suspended; the government is urging parents to try to keep their children busy as best as they can with games, cartoons and other diversions. But the kids all know that something is very wrong.
Market shelves still hold food, but there’s been some panic buying as people wonder how long the stocks will last. Flour already is in short supply. There are long, long lines at gas stations.
Yemen is a young country, but there are many people my age and older who remember the civil war of 1994, and all the suffering that entailed. Today, we see the increasing civilian casualties and the damage to our country’s infrastructure and wonder where it will end. We know that things are much worse in Aden, our main southern seaport, than here in Sana.
A friend of mine, a poet and writer named Nabil Sobeaa, talked to me about the futility of wars fought over the centuries. He said he was afraid the “rule of the jungle” could come to prevail in Yemen.
Everyone is on edge, and arguments, especially those about politics, often degenerate into shouting and sometimes even fisticuffs. People angrily accuse one another of being traitors either over sympathy with the Houthis or support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign.
Riding in a taxi, I asked the driver to turn on the radio so I could hear the latest news and was struck by the rage and bitterness in his voice when he answered. “What do you want to listen for?” he said. “This country is ruled by corrupt and selfish politicians who would walk on the corpses of the dead to advance their own interests.”
We feel cut off from the world because airports and seaports are closed. People try to not stay out on the street too long. Our once lively city is much subdued.
Even so, some humor remains, most of it dark. Some joke that the Palestinians want the Houthis to go to the Gaza Strip because then the world would pay attention to their plight, as it is paying attention to ours — for now.
Meanwhile, all the main TV stations have been shut down by the Houthis, who are aligned with Iran and forced President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi to flee the country. Rumors fly on social media, and solid information is hard to come by.
“Uncle,” asked a teenage neighbor, using an honorific, “how can I understand what is happening and who is doing what?”
I was not sure what to tell him.
Al-Alayaa is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Laura King in Cairo contributed to this report.
A YEMENI salvages belongings after his house was hit in an airstrike targeting Houthi rebels in Sana.