When some of my students recently recounted their families’ flight from Yemen, my heart bled for them. I thought of how their extended family culture has been severely disrupted, with family members being separated by thousands of miles. How one of my students recently returned to Yemen with her parents, hoping her stay would be temporary.
Little did she know that the US Supreme Court would decide to lift Trump’s new travel ban. A travel ban on anyone coming to the US from Yemen without “bonafide ties”, such as close family. But no one seems to be sure what the terms “close family” or “bonafide ties” means. In an extended family culture, such as Yemen’s; aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins represent close family ties.
As many have stated before, I couldn’t help but think of the quote on the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” I wonder how this ban will impact the innocent refugees who are already here. Innocents like my students.
Another boy talked about his grandmother who also recently returned to Yemen. She, too, was expecting to come back to the US. One boy told me his parents were still in Yemen and he was living in the US with his uncle and cousins. He talked about how he missed his mom and her cooking.
But along with the travel ban’s impact on families, Yemen’s President was assassinated almost two weeks ago. Actually, Ali Abdullah Saleh was the former president of a country that has been in turmoil for many years. But the students still look upon him as the leader of their conflicted nation. According to Al Jazeera, he and his Secretary General were killed by Houthis rebels when they blew up the President’s House. The Houthis, on the other hand, claim they attacked the former President’s convoy in Sanaa.
One boy told me how he would play outside his home in Yemen, only to look up and see missiles flying overhead. Others recounted stories of how people mysteriously disappeared, or were captured and publicly put to death. All this over a power struggle between multiple opposing factions. For now, the Houthis are at the forefront of this battle for control.
There is also an escalating health crisis. Cholera is overcoming a large portion of the population. Hospitals are not only understaffed, they are underfunded. Health care providers are working in conditions that are often unsanitary. And that is the tip of an iceberg that has been growing for years. The epidemic has only gotten worse because of a Saudi Arabian blockade imposed on Yemen for the bombing of the Saudi Capitol by a rebel Yemeni group.
As I listen to the children’s stories and read the news, I’m struck by the perception and candor of these upper elementary and middle school students. I’m also bothered by the ease with which they recount the horrors of their short lives. As if they had somehow grown acclamated to the escalating turmoil around them.
I feel honored that they are willing to share their experiences so openly. But, then I realize that for some of these children this might be their first experience expressig their freedom of speech. Because in a country in war against itself, it’s hard to know who you can trust and open up to.