"No longer just a year"

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Saudi Arabia's entrance into Yemen's war. The war takes different shapes in different parts of the country, and all parties to the conflict have committed horrible acts of violence against Yemeni civilians. For residents of the capital, San‘a, the past year has been defined by daily airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. This post was sent to us by a special guest contributor, Fatima Noman. Fatima is 17 years old, and in her fourth year of high school. 365 days are no longer just a year

Tell me how did you spend the last 365 days? Did you end up getting that job offer? Did you get that scholarship you were working so hard to get? Did you graduate high school/university or perhaps you just got your PhD! Whatever you achieved I congratulate you! Well I'd like to speak of my 365 days. You know how we always chant the phrase day by day it all seems the same but looking back it's so different. I aged a life time within 365 days. I have experienced so much from fleeing my home to running down a set of 70 stairs in fear of a jet blowing up our third floor. Crying for nights and nights feeling death encircling me to laughing to the sound of explosions. Yes, I have lived some of the worst days of my life but I wouldn't change them for the world. Only now have I realized what an enormous amount of pride comes with being Yemeni.

I am now in my senior year and I have broke down into fits of tears more times than I can count in school due to the sudden air raids but my friends support me with a jolt of strength I've never experienced before. This year everything is so different. once I was crying in class from a mix of fear and stress then suddenly the whole class surrounded me with a group hug and I don't remember feeling so loved in my entire life. This coalition has done and is still doing damage that seems irreparable at time but one thing that no one but them has managed to do is unite this country into one.

I feel so complete. Now I know I am capable of facing anything life throws at me, I know I am strong enough. I will always have a constant reminder of my strength the blood of the martyrs who sacrificed everything for me to be able to live a life, a life worth living. It's truly quite peculiar how even though death has the key to my back door I sleep safe and sound. I still do get grounded and I still am clumsy you'd think death would make me a bit more graceful but nope! I still am the same girl who runs around tables and makes weird faces at my mom to make her laugh cause oh boy does her laugh make me feel five again.

365 days are enough to change people's perspectives, their ideologies. 365 days of undeniable strength, of determination. 365 days are no longer just a year.

You can read more of Fatima's reflections on life during wartime on her blog, here.

Happy New Year, from San‘a

[This post was sent to us by a special guest contributor, Fatima Noman. Fatima is 16 years old, and lives in San‘a. This is her third post for the Mafraj Blog.] The thing is when I close my eyes tighter، I hear them louder. Shutting down one sense only clarifies another. The speed of light is a thousand times faster than the speed of sound, the only thing faster than that is the rate at which my heart beats. 9 months later and nothing has changed; my mouth dangles and my eyes widen, enlarge and I taste the end, not of this coalition; but of my life. My life that seems to have been ephemeral and now is burdened be.

Looking back on how much I've grown, the only visible difference is how any sound whether cars passing by, motorcycles approaching my neighborhood or one of my siblings slamming the door too fast or strutting harshly in the second floor -or third or fourth-, scares me and makes me tremble to my feet. I've grown accustomed to my realm of vulnerability.

They say there have been over ten thousand air raids on Yemen, I've seen every memory of the past 16 years flash before my eyes at least ten thousand times. With every air raid I remember my mother's warm embrace at 6 and my father's loving arms at 8. My sister's advice at 13 and my brother's fights on daily basis. The last time I laughed till my stomach hurt and cried tears of joy. I then remember God and sometimes think; how bad can it be under his arms, it can't possibly be scarier than here?

With every unannounced burst of light I regret every fight with my dad and argument with my mom. I remorse every time I discarded my sister and boycotted my brother for his "nuisance". As much as that illuminance of light terrifies me, it reminds me how blessed I was and am and will be. Yes, will be; I won't die. I refuse to die, not in their hands. I will live to be 80 and I will make memories enough to heal all the scars made since the 26th of March. I will heal and I will blossom.

Everything seems minuscule and diminutive when compared to death. Your existence, your hopes, your aspirations. You can never really submit to death and accept it, we know it accompanies us wherever we go. Yet we never act like it's tangible we deem it as an "imaginary friend". A friend we only address when we meet face to face. Once we leave its residence, we go back to disregarding it. Whether its a blessing or a curse to become so resilient to death, I'll never know. But for the time being I will dispose the thought of death because I know a burst of light propelled towards me from a jet miles away will not be the death of me. I refuse it to be.

And as 2015 comes to an end I have never been happier to end a chapter in my life. 2015 has been by far the hardest year of my life. Looking back at it, I hit so many milestones and I've reached my highest and lowest points all in the course of 365 days. It's crazy how much one year can do. I met some of the greatest, most inspirational people this year, and for that I am eternally grateful. I was privileged to witness a coalition attack my country first hand whilst having no valid reason to attack. I can't wait to have children one day and tell them all about this year, the longest most fruitful and vain year ever. I can't wait to speak about 2015 in past tense.

Happy New Year

Letter from San‘a: "every breath is stolen"

This post was sent to us by a special guest contributor, Fatima Noman. Fatima is 16 years old, and lives in San‘a. This is her second post for the Mafraj Blog. I always imagined the light I saw before dying would be that sent from God—bright white with an angel glancing at me, tranquility—not that dropped by an aircraft.

It scares me how many times I've escaped death. I feel every breath of air I breathe is stolen. I feel like a fugitive running from death. Have you ever touched a dead person? They feel so cold, icy. Gelid. Every missile that hits makes my blood turn cold, my jaw dangles wide open and I can't speak. I try to remind myself that once again I have fled death. Once again I have beat the odds.

Some days I am strong and invincible. Other days like today I am shattered, broken and frail. I am trying to sleep but the thought of waking up dead is frightening me, but nobody is ever ready to die. I remember being 9 years old dreaming of my teens and how "cool" I'd be and how rebellious and flawless my life would be. Now at sixteen all I can think of is whether tomorrow I'll be cocooned in a white cloth being placed in a hole of dirt and whether my Mother will be grieving or if she'd be right next to me getting her share of dirt.

Some days are hard and just unbearable. I feel futile and vain. I've always been that person, you know the one that cries easily just one wrong word or one wrong move engenders a fit of tears. Lately, the tears have surged, they've turned into waterfalls, vast and endless. I try to talk my self into not breaking down but I can never find the right words. Every time I gaze at the mirror I vow to myself to not get frightened. I remind myself that the moment I came to life the hour of my death was previously written. It's useless, day after day. Talk after talk. Useless, pointless and worthless.

Just a year ago all I could think of was what university I want to go to and how to score higher grades. And of course the image that has always been in the back of my mind; sitting on a porch on a sunny day with my children playing around the backyard giggling and my two youngest fighting over the swings. Now, I feel illegible to dream or hope or aspire.

Today as I was sitting on my bed cushioned in the safety of my pillows reading my book when the missile hit. I jumped off the bed and out of the room. I waited then returned. This happened 5 times in the course of 8 minutes and each time I returned to the bed I would say: Fatima! You won't move this time, but I fail myself I continuously fail myself.

Lately, all I think of is if I do make it out this alive will I ever feel safe in silence or will silence always mean a stronger hit?

#OurYemen: a letter from San‘a

This post was sent to us by a special guest contributor, Fatima Noman. Fatima is 16 years old, and lives in San‘a. She's in her third year of high school, or would be if the schools were open. 
Even after 3 months and a fortnight the sounds of war crafts still terrify me. My mother promised if I heard their utterance they are far away. Regardless, whenever I apprehend the sounds of them my heart beats rapidly and my stomach clenches. As soon as I hear the missile explode I taste death one more time. I remember when I conjectured that the tang of death is sweet. I was raised to be strong, heard headed and invincible this coalition made me question my strength, do I in sooth have any strength?

I always knew politics was dirty business and I know no one cared much for Yemen, including the UN, but seeing all the genocides and terror I can't even imagine how they sleep at night. Are they intact of their humanity?
Putting all my fears and all my worries aside; this country is something else. Every time I scramble out of the house crying of trepidation from those war crafts expecting everyone to feel as I do but I am bewildered by the reality. The fact people are on the streets, in the shops, chatting and humming as if nothing just happened. I used to believe & genuinely presume that I got my strength from my parents' unconditional love, but the coalition proved to me that I got my strength from my country. This country speaks a million languages that include; compassion, mercy, altruism, strength, authenticity & most importantly love. This country may not comprise modern architecture, but we were the first to build gravity defying skyscrapers. This country might not be filled with malls & 5-star hotels but I can assure you our guests never leave feeling anywhere less than home. This country might not be the richest - not because it's poor but rather no one has enhanced its 2300km worth of islands, our natural gas, our petrol, our agriculture or our harvest's- but I solemnly swear every Yemeni has a heart of gold. You will never feel alone here, this land embraces and captivates any one who speaks one of her million languages.
Heritage is one thing you'll find in Yemen more than any other country I'm not being prejudice or bias, our history goes back to 5000 BC. Our aging houses are filled with people, generations live in the same homes through out the decades. That's how exceptional our architecture is.
I believed this coalition would make me hate Yemen because I must admit before 2015 I wasn't much of a patriot. These air raids might have corrupted a small part of my 16 year old mind but I can assure you this country has given back and is continuously giving me back strength I never knew I had in me. Hope I never knew existed. Passion. Courage. Compassion. Pride.
If I do end up dying because of a missile from the Saudi led coalition I am honored to have died in my Mother's embrace. Surrounded by my heritage. My pride. My land.

#OurYemen: Khor Maksar, 2014

Thanks to the hard work of several passionate volunteers, the YPP was able to organize an evening of film screenings at the Mercure Hotel in Khor Maksar District of Aden, in May 2014. Here our audience enjoys a selection of films by Adeni and Yemeni filmmakers, and participates in a discussion with some of the featured artists.

Like much of Khor Maksar District, the Mercure has been badly damaged in recent fighting. It is unlikely the ballroom there will ever host another event like ours.

#OurYemen: Sirah, 2009

The waterfront of Sirah District, also known as Crater, in Aden. This was taken from the causeway that leads to Sirah Island, a volcanic mountain that sits just off the coast of the city. Sirah, and now all of Aden's other districts, has taken an indescribable amount of damage over the last three weeks, but this is how I'll always remember it. On the left side of the frame is Fun City. Behind me is the fish market. I remember my first night in Aden, buying freshly-caught fish at the market and taking it across the street to an open-air restaurant, where the fish was quickly cooked over coals, and delivered to the table with a huge round of freshly-baked flatbread. DSC_0078

#OurYemen: Mount Sabr, 2012

A hike up Mount Sabr in Ta‘iz is a wonderful way to start a day. The green mountain offers spectacular views of the city. Climbing up and down, we crossed the paths of several women and carrying baskets and pails full of freshly-picked green figs. Not one of them would let us continue until we had tasted one or two (or a handful) of their fruits. Sabr1

#OurYemen: From above, 2012

Our 20-minute flight from Ta‘iz to San‘a was delayed by about four hours. When we finally boarded the plane, the captain insisted that we join him in the cockpit. Dana took this photo through the plane's main windscreen as we soared over the central highlands.

Central Yemen seen from the air

#OurYemen is a new recurring series featuring photos and stories about the human side of Yemen. Each post will highlight a person, place, or feeling that defines Yemen for us. Please share your own stories and images in the comments below, or email us at info@yemenpeaceproject.org.

#OurYemen: Bukar, 2009

This post comes to us courtesy of our friend Alex, who studied in Yemen for a few months in 2009. "We were on a trip to Buker, a little west of Thula, and the kids who lived there were asking us to sing them a song. I couldn't think of anything...so I asked if they knew any songs. They did. And it was amazing."  

[video url="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KWDndjqHwg&feature=youtu.be" /]

Alex understands the importance of our mission: "Frustratingly," he says, "I spend a lot of my day trying to tell people how great Yemen is, and dispel the 'everyone is high on qat' misconceptions....So I really appreciate the #OurYemen effort."

#OurYemen: Colors of Life

#OurYemen is a new recurring series featuring photos and stories about the human side of Yemen. Each post will highlight a person, place, or feeling that defines Yemen for us. Please share your own stories and images in the comments below, or email us at info@yemenpeaceproject.org. Taiz1

In June 2012 we met a group of young community activists working to bring art to the streets of the city of Ta‘iz. This city was the ideological heart of the 2011 uprising against 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh's 33-year regime, and its residents faced some of the most brutal acts of repression Yemen saw during the revolution. Months of street fighting and artillery shelling left their mark on the city. So in 2012, Sadek Maktari and other local activists took it upon themselves to revitalize the scarred streets of Ta‘iz with dazzling colors. The "Colors of Life" volunteers painted murals on the brick walls of one street in particular, recreating the works of famed local artist Hashim 'Ali, for whom the street was renamed. Many of the volunteers involved are artists in their own rights; we were fortunate to have a chance to look through some of their own portfolios as well.

#OurYemen: challenging the portrayal of a country at war

I'm launching a new initiative on the blog today. As you probably know, media coverage of Yemen is dominated by the escalating conflict raging in western and central Yemen right now. The Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign, which began last week, has made this an international conflict, and has focused much more attention on Yemen. People from all over the world are paying attention to this corner of the Arabian Peninsula now, but all they're seeing is the war. But Yemen is not defined by its conflicts alone. When we founded the Yemen Peace Project more than five years ago, we promised to try to humanize Yemen, to show people in America and the rest of the world that Yemen is not a source of potential problems, but a real place, inhabited by real people. This new blog series, which we're calling "Our Yemen," is intended to remind our readers of that fact. Through this series, we'll be sharing photos and stories about the human side of Yemen. Each post will highlight a person, place, or feeling that defines Yemen for us. As Yemen's neighboring governments and major international powers continue to inflame an already horrific conflict, these posts will serve as a reminder. This is not their war zone; this is Our Yemen.

Mahwit1 YPP co-founder Dana Moss took the photograph above on a trip to al-Mahwit, in Yemen's western highlands, in 2009. This young man, born and raised on this mountain that is also a village, generously shared his seat as waves of clouds literally washed over us.

What defines Yemen for you? Send us your pictures and stories, and we'll post them here. Email us at info@yemenpeaceproject.org.