Dodging Bullets with Yemen’s Bravest
This is my personal account and narrative of the youth led march in Sana’a on Wednesday, May 11, 2011 that left 13 dead and hundreds injured.
The shots could be heard from blocks away. As we rushed to Al-Zara’a Street we were met by civilians who were fleeing the scene, “Where are you going? They are killing them!” They yelled. Upon entering Al-Zara’a, we were expecting to meet the demonstrators; instead, we were met with chaos. The march had been divided into two groups. The group we met was pushed into Al-Zara’a Street by security forces; the others were still on the intersecting street “Freedom” street. Both groups were slowly being pushed back with the use of live ammunition.
As I approached the crowd and made my way to the front, I was stunned. “Are those really Ali Mohsen’s soldiers?” I asked a demonstrator. Before he could answer, I saw the soldiers raise their weapons and begin to fire. We immediately took cover behind a car. A demonstrator yelled, “They’re approaching!” I scanned the small street searching for any open doors leading into private yards or shops, but all doors were locked shut. I had no choice but to get up and run. As I ran, I felt someone grab me and suddenly I was shoved into a small barbershop where I found a young demonstrator, the business owner and my American friend. We all looked at each other in disbelief. Could this really be happening? The soldiers were advancing. “Did they see us run in here?” I asked. “I’m not sure,” replied the business owner. The barbershop was small, just enough to fit two barber chairs. We stood in silence for a minute. There were no windows or exits. The only exit was through the metal door that opened onto the street. Above the metal door was a small 6×6 window. I pulled one of the chairs to the door and climbed up to take a peek. “I don’t see anyone.” I told them. Suddenly two soldiers approached scanning the streets. I dropped to the ground hoping they didn’t see me.
We sat in that barbershop for 15 minutes. From behind the door we listened to rounds of live ammunition being fired at the demonstrators. We heard their screams and then someone yelling, “they shot him!” Anxiety kicked in. I wanted out of this small confined space. It was getting smaller by the minute. Finally I opened the door just enough to get a glimpse and asked a bystander if there were any soldiers around, “Come out now they will come back!” We thanked the owner of the shop and made a run for it. As I ran and slowed my pace as I approached what seemed like a stain on the asphalt. As I got closer I saw that the floor was drenched in blood. This is where the demonstrator was killed. A topless young boy smeared in red white and black paint ran up to where the blood was and fell to his knees. He placed his hand on the puddle of blood and raised them into the air. It was later confirmed that the demonstrator that was shot died of a bullet wound to the head while en route to the hospital.
This scenario was on instant replay for the next four hours. There was no end to the barrage of bullets. The rest of the night consisted of the same vicious cycle of push forward, endless live ammunition, duck, run, scale wall, jump, and hide. The peaceful demonstrators remained persistent and stood their ground.
In efforts to get closer to where the soldiers were positioned, the demonstrators attempted to push forward on “Freedom Street”. We were met by a group of angry demonstrators. “You need to leave!” “You can’t be here!” they yelled at me. “What do you mean I ‘can’t be here’?” I asked. “No women! A girl was just kidnapped by the forces after jumping on the water canon! It’s too dangerous for you!” a demonstrator yelled. “Well it’s just as dangerous for you!” We continued on arguing until it was clear to them that I wasn’t going anywhere. “Just like you’re standing your ground, so will I. If their bullets won’t turn me back, what makes you think you will?” We ended it at that. This is the moment I realized how difficult it is to be a Yemeni-American, trying to report and at the same time so effected and inspired by the movement. I wanted to join these brave men in their efforts for the Yemen we all love so dearly.
I continued to stare straight ahead to where the soldiers were positioned. Still confused, “I don’t understand, why are Mohsen’s soldiers shooting at us?” Demonstrators later informed me the soldiers were part of the regime’s security forces, but were dressed in Ali Mohsen’s uniforms to throw us off. What a cruel and calculated way to trap demonstrators. When they would resume shooting at us, I found myself like every other demonstrator, running into random alleys, climbing over walls, hiding behind cars, and looking for every way to block the barrage of bullets. At one point when soldiers started advancing on us, I fled with a few others into a nearby alley. As we ran I came to an extreme halt and stumbled over my feet as I saw a group of soldiers at the opposite end of the alley. “We have to turn back!” I yelled at the demonstrator, “those are our soldiers!” A demonstrator replied. It was the worse feeling in the world, the inability to distinguish enemy from protector. I was later informed that Mohamed Khalil’s 4th army brigades were the imposters.
It was 9:00 PM when I decided to leave “Freedom Street” and go to the Square. The shooting had stopped for over 30 minutes, so I decided to cover the makeshift hospital and their casualties. On my way back, I bumped into JMP member and organizer Tawakkol Karman, she was headed to meet the marchers. Upon entering the makeshift hospital, it was chaos with casualties everywhere. A martyr is laid at the back of the mosque with a circle of family members mourning his death, and media taking record. It was devastating. I felt sick to my stomach but went straight to work. Ten minutes into filming I heard massive screams at the door as a rush of ambulances and motorcycles poured into the hospital carrying more casualties. I rush out to see, the parking lot is in chaos, people climbing over one another to get casualties in. I prayed for the sound of the sirens and motors to end but they kept coming. The ringing in my ears was unbearable. “They are killing them!” One man said as he rushed into the yard. “Oh god, have mercy on us!” He repeated as he fell to his knees and cried.
My prayers weren’t answered; the casualties kept coming… and coming… and coming. I decided to go back to the march. Once I arrived, it was worse than I expected. The electricity was out and it was almost impossible to see. Casualties were everywhere and youth demonstrators were beginning to break. “We can’t let them do this to us!” One demonstrator cried as he and his friend began breaking the sidewalk to collect rocks. I wanted to stop them but thought I shouldn’t interfere. I watched them break the rocks as they screamed for help. I watched them break the sidewalk and stop to watch as others carried more casualties towards the square. I couldn’t take it anymore; I rushed up to the boy and yelled, “Stop it! You’re supposed to be peaceful!” He ignored me completely unaware and transfixed on equipping himself for defense. “Stop now!” I yelled. Still, ignored. “Whatever frustrations you have leave them at home! There is no place for your impatience here. Ten people have died so far today, so if you can’t handle being here, leave. Don’t let those lives go to waste!” He stared at me as sweat trickled down his face. Sweat and tears. Sweat, tears and blood. “My friends were injured today. We were peaceful but they shot at us! We carried flowers and they still shot at us! We kissed their heads and they shot at us!” he cried. He is hysterical now, crying and overemotional, yelling so loud he drew a crowd, “for four months we’ve been dying! For four months we’ve been bleeding. They shoot and they kill, and you want to stay peaceful!? I’m trying but I am HUMAN!!”
I was frustrated but felt his pain. I was so exhausted by this point. Eight hours in and the physical and emotional toll had already taken over me. How must these demonstrators feel? I thought to myself. They have faced this for four months. I’m almost at my breaking point and I’ve been here for less than two. I said nothing and walked away, and he returned to his collecting of rocks. As I walked away I felt sick to my stomach. I walked by demonstrators sitting on their knees bear chested facing the soldiers with their hands in the air displaying the victory sign. I watched demonstrators carrying blood soaked casualties to safety. I watched an injured demonstrator who was shot in the foot, limp right by me carrying a Molotov cocktail, with tears and anger written all over his face.
I had enough. I continued walking back towards the makeshift hospital. I began to suffocate as the gas agents overpowered and overflowed the streets. I entered into the square as demonstrators tended to mass casualties lined on the sidewalks. It looked like a war zone. We were all suffocating. The gas agents from the march had leaked into the streets of the makeshift city and from the massive amount of causalities, gas agents stuck to their clothing had infiltrated the square. As I arrived at the hospital, my friends rushed to me in worry. “The soldiers are close to the entrance of the square!” my friend yelled. I was numb at this point. It was as if it was all a dream. It has to be a dream. I’m still waiting to snap out of it.
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