Burnt out

The view of a pitch black Sana’a skyline from my flat in Old Sana’a

From the Frontline Club

Tomorrow marks 250 days since daily protests began in Yemen. I, along with just one other foreign journalist, Jeb Boone, have been here to see every day of them. This weekend, for the first time since January, I’ll be taking a break from Yemen.

The past six months have been astonishing, exhilarating, sometimes terrifyingharrowing but above all exhausting. Indeed nearly everyone in Sana’a today is worn out.

Violence aside, months of shortages, most notably: electricity, fuel and as a consequence, water, have been draining (no pun intended) to live with.

As freelancers living here our lives couldn’t be further removed from our established colleagues of visiting foreign correspondents.

I think I hit the wall in the days after Saleh’s departure on June 5, after trying to keep up with demands of editors and producers in seven different time zones whilst living on 2-3 hours sleep during the Hasaba war. (Note: ringing a journalist continuously at 3am without notice for a phoner will not be well received - as one US producer found out.)

Just as fresh faced visiting journalists started flooding in (a Yemen journalist flood is aprox. six) to stay in their comfy hotels with a constant supply of water and electricity, I was spending my mornings collecting water to take home to wash out of a bucket. (This isn’t meant to be a ‘woe is me’ fish for sympathy. I was far from alone in my daily quest for water and electricity and unlike most Yemenis I only have to look after number one.)

Ironically today’s Friday prayers protest was labelled the “Friday of Patience” – something worth praying for at the moment.

My own patience ran out along with the water having done the night time petrol queues for six hours (they later stretched to more then six days) trying to help out friends. (Women were put in a separate, usually much shorter queue so a female driver could get to the front hours ahead of men). I’d had enough of the endless dark nights, inability to store food or work from home, or even take a shower; not to mention spending endless mornings in a mix of government buildings and hotel foyers meeting ministers and stone-faced officials trying to secure my visa renewal.

Despite my bemoaning the past six months have, without a doubt, been the most memorable of my life. I’ve met many inspiring and brave people. I’ve experienced some wonderful and brutal moments. I feel fortunate to have witnessed all of them. But I will be glad to return to the land of electricity, running water and fuel and rid myself of my wasp-like persona.

This year’s Ramadan is going to be a particularly tough time for Yemenis. I’ll be away for less time than Saleh (ongoing visa issues permitting) and look forward to returning with a spring in my step. 

The one benefit of the long hours of the last ten days has been that I’ve learnt to sleep through the 4am call to prayer from this mosque, just a few feet from my pillow.

Chasing news

At some point, when things calm down a bit, I’ll take a moment to blog a little more reflectively about the events of the last few days here in Yemen.

In the meantime, I’m discovering that being a newspaper journalist in a rapidly developing news story - you’re running for your life just to stand still.

Fifty percent of the work I filed yesterday was spiked as new developments, late yesterday, made a lot of what I’d written irrelevant. Even a non time sensitive analysis piece was pressed over the metal prong as more dramatic events took priority. After a long day working from 7am until 1am, today, we’ll do it all over again.