A city on edge, un­rav­el­ing

Saudi-led airstrikes are tak­ing a toll on the cap­i­tal and its peo­ple

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD -

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.

Yahya Arhab Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

A YE­MENI sal­vages be­long­ings af­ter his house was hit in an airstrike tar­get­ing Houthi rebels in Sana.

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