Laid out on a hospital trolley with thick clots of blood haemorrhaging out of his nose and ears. The life carrying fluid trickled from the corner of his already glazed and lifeless eyes. The gunshot wound to the back of his head, hidden by the grey blanket that had carried him from the street where he fell.
Looking down on the bearded man my mind flashed back to the last time I’d witnessed such a bloody scene. A field in Ireland; a horse lay alive but with his guts spilled out on the red stained grass. After the bullet passed between his eyes blood gushed through his nose and mouth. As on previous occasions, I pulled a large clear plastic bag over his head and tied it with baler twine around his throat, to prevent the dogs from lapping up the thick red liquid after his body had been dragged away.
Unlike my four-legged friend, the man that lay before me was full of life just moments earlier, kneeling to pray with thousands of others in the heat of the midday Sana’a sun. He wasn’t shot to put him out of pain and misery, or because his body was beyond repair. He was killed because he dared to call for a politician to leave office.
Two days later I saw him again, wrapped in a shroud of the Yemeni flag with his portrait stuck with sellotape around his neck. Standing over him, alone and crying, was his brother. As I spoke briefly to the tribesman I didn’t reveal how I’d seen his twenty-four-year-old sibling once before, or how I’d recognised the eyes that had stared straight through mine just 48 hours earlier.
Slaughtered like an animal, this son, father and brother was one of the 52 shot dead on March 18. Just one of the more than 140 killed in Yemen’s uprising since February 16, just a statistic of the thousands that have died in clashes with security forces, soldiers and plain-clothes government loyalists during the so-called Arab Spring.
Yemen’s uprising - the region’s longest running - is now into its fourth month. Receiving less coverage than its Arab neighbours, probably not helped by the low Internet penetration here and the three, soon to be two, freelancers covering the entire English speaking press. Or, as one editor said to me yesterday when I rang in from outside the football stadium, as people were being shot: “Eight people dead? Our focus is on Syria at the moment, sorry.” Yesterday’s death toll rose to 12, marking the bloodiest day in the capital since March 18.
Despite the prospect of a soon to be signed political deal (don’t hold your breath on that one) being mooted as a solution to the ‘crisis’, what has been left out of the political equation is the demonstrators themselves. The youth revolution council has rejected the political agreement and there is no sign of them giving up their fight to rid the country of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and see him prosecuted.
The gap between the politicians and the people is widening, along with it the gulf between now and the visible end of Yemen’s unrest stretches on. From the outside you might not get to see tanks rolling through the streets, or rebel fighters taking on loyalist soldiers as in Syria or Libya. But from the inside you witness the protracted social and economic collapse. Not as dramatic as bombs and guns, but equally effective at destroying a country.
As I’ve explained several times to unbelieving ears in the last two months; Yemen’s determined unarmed protesters don’t’ run from gunfire. If anything they run towards it and they’re increasingly willing to lay down and die for their cause.
Along with packing up my flat and generally putting my life in order before leaving for Sana’a in less than two weeks I have, as you would expect, been doing lots of background reading and obviously keeping track on the day to day news from Yemen.
Amongst the usual flow of news on AQAP and al-Awlaki as well as further insights into the horrors of child brides it was a pleasant change to stumble across this old (2009) video of Yemeni culture.
It reminded me of Friday trad nights back in McCarthy’s bar in the small town of Buttevant (pronounced Buttervent), Co. Cork, Ireland, where I spent many an evening, prior to September 2007, singing Irish folk songs while learning to speak and then sing in Irish (Gaelic).
I certainly learnt more about the people, community and history of Buttevant, the County of Cork and rural Ireland, as a result of these gatherings than your average blow in would. I miss them. But even now when I go back once a year or so I know Mick McCarthy will greet me from behind the bar as if he’d seen me just yesterday and offer to get all the familiar faces, now friends, back in for the evening for a good old fashioned Irish session (now the representative cliché of many an Irish themed pub around the world), with bodhráin, fiddles, tin whistles, a bouzouki and a concertina or two.
There was no great reward for those who turned up with their instruments to take part (there are no tourists in Buttevant) save for the sharing of an evening with friends while enjoying the authentic tradition of passing on stories through song and music.
I’m glad to see that women also take part in Yemen’s equivalent. Although the customary black liquid refreshment might be missing I look forward to an opportunity, at some stage, to try my hand at the copper ‘sahn nuhasi’ tray and hopefully listen to the poetry of Sana’a.
I wonder what An Raibh Tu ar an gCarraig? would sound like accompanied by the Yemeni qanbus?
Horses and the hillsides of North Cork, the moors of North Yorkshire, the downs of Berkshire and Wiltshire, the city tracks of Sydney and Brisbane, the vineyard valley of the Borosa and Herefordshire’s Welsh border lands have all, at some stage, been my home.
In 2007 I was living on a hill-top in a cottage which, prior to my moving in, had been inhabited by only cows for the last 30-40 years. With a 4x4 needed to get to it, no landline, no mobile phone connection, certainly no internet access it was a beautiful house, with views stretching over the Ballyhoura Mountains. This was an upgrade from my previous address, where again I had no contact with the outside world, I had to get in the car and drive somewhere to get a signal to make a phone call and just two television channels (one in Irish) for over a year. My neighbours were 30 racehorses. If I wanted to see a human being, or another house I had to either get on the back of a horse or behind the wheel of a car.
I live in the urban jungle, spend five days a week in the middle of the big smoke, squeezing into the carriages of London’s underground every morning. I see more people within 10 minutes of leaving my flat than I would previously have seen in a week. Like Crocodile Dundee himself I have been transported from being a provincial culchie to a city dweller. As a result I now have a phone I can use to check my email, tweet and all sorts of new and wonderful things. I am now terribly unfit, hate to be outside of my heated home and spend most of my day staring at computer screen rather than the backside of two ears.
That was then this is now.