I first visited Yemen in 1999. I don't think I knew what to expect when I arrived, but I know I didn't expect to love the place so much. I left after three weeks, having seen the towers and the qamariyahs of San'a, the crows and the fishing shacks of 'Aden, the mosques of Thula, the fortress of at-Tawilah. But I knew as soon as I left that Yemen would not leave my mind or my heart as easily. It wasn't just the other-worldly sights, the mountain views and ancient stones, that stayed with me; mostly it was the people. I could close my eyes and see everyone I had met: the qat seller in the Saylah, the children shepherds by the road, the wedding party at the Egyptian monument, the fishermen, the soldiers, the beggars, the family that had housed and cared for me. I kept every one of them with me. Westerners who care about Yemen are used to indulging an obscure interest. Between 1999 and 2009 it was extremely rare for events in Yemen to make headlines in Western newspapers, or to provide fodder for dinner-party conversation. I always followed the news from Yemen, but that news rarely involved my own country, and rarely interested the people in it. So the feeling I had upon opening the newspaper in December of 2009 to see that the United States had killed dozens of innocent Yemeni women, men, and children, was a visceral one. No other single event has ever aroused in me such anger and sorrow.
It was these deaths—between forty-nine and sixty-four depending on who you ask—that finally woke me to the need to do something. I didn't really choose to start this effort that became the Yemen Peace Project. I don't feel a choice, I feel a compulsion, a need, to do whatever I can to reverse the deadly course of American policy in Yemen.
I suspect that many of those who visit this website share my feelings. Anger is the impetus for my involvement, but hope is what keeps me here. I know that America is not intrinsically evil; no nation is. I have hope, despite the weight of my anger, that informed and enlightened Americans can eventually make their country's role in the world a positive one. Nearly everyone I've talked to in Yemen shares this hope, which is why I'm able to sustain it in myself. So that's why I'm here: to inform, to enlighten, to challenge, and to change. Thank you for joining me.