The photo my daughter tried to hug of my former neighborhood in the old city of Sana’a.
In her high pitched toddler voice, my daughter asked: “A-maan?” as she pointed to a photograph above our dining table. “Aywa habeebati, that’s Yemen,” I nodded and then planted five wet kisses on each cheek. In that moment I felt pride akin to someone watching her child graduate. However a moment later, she raised her two little arms toward the photograph and requested to hug it. I hugged her instead hoping she wouldn’t sense my unspoken pain.
The photograph (below) is of the breathtaking neighborhood where I used to live in the old city of Sana’a. In 2015, our neighbors’ three adjacent homes were bombed to rubble. Our former home still stands, but for how long? I don’t know whether my daughter will ever hug these burnt brick houses? Will she ever visit my place of birth? Will she ever chase the green, yellow, and red colors from the gamariyah’s stained glass windows? Will she ever drink bebsi from a plastic bag or eat French fries with zahawig from a 13-year-old vendor?
I know that this type of gloom is privileged. She’s safe and away from harm. I’m lucky that she is alive. I’m lucky to be away from the war. Three years into it, I still think of pregnant women dying at checkpoints on their way to delivery. Sometimes I still wake up drenched in sweat after ducking from airstrikes in my dream. I see heads burned up, bodies sliced in pieces. I wake up with a pounding heart louder than my alarm.
But she’s safe al-hamdulilah.
Our former neighborhood in the old city of Sana’a. The three row homes on the left have been destroyed by a bomb.
This war and others have taught me that humans are capable of limitless and creative violence. I am trying to protect her from that darkness, but I know that I can never totally keep her away from harm. I worry that the collective trauma will somehow seep through to her despite the seas that separate from the war. I hope she never has to experience it herself, yet that is a naïve dream and an unlikely reality. Instead, I hope that when she does experience utter fear and when her stomach feels as heavy as steel, that she faces the darkness and becomes the steel, unable to bend under force, heat or weight.
As hard as life can be, I am trying to remember that this too shall pass, that life is simply an exercise in endurance. So I can’t only wish good things to happen to her, or what kind of a mom would I be. She needs small pains to practice. She needs to face the terrors of this world to learn to overcome. She needs to face the ugly parts of herself to see the humanity in others, and therefore learn to not only survive but also appreciate the good things in life. As they say in Yemen: sunshine all the time makes a desert.
Baby girl, amidst the crap that this world has to offer; I hope you find a patch of sunshine because it’s truly warm when you do.
Atiaf Z. Alwazir is a researcher and university lecturer by day and writer by night. She considers herself a world citizen, but her world is currently focused on Yemen. She resides in Lille, France. Many will know her from her personal blog Woman From Yemen. She co-founded the media advocacy group @SupportYemen and has written in Foreign Policy, the Arab Reform Initiative, Project on Middle East Democracy, Jadaliyya, Al-Akhbar, openDemocracy, and the Fair Observer, in which she wrote her well-known piece, "It's not a Sunni-Shiite Conflict, Dummy."