by Adrian Rossi, Sanaa, Yemen, October 2, 2017
I will start this by saying I’m not a very sentimental person. Perhaps it has to do with not having reached a certain emotional maturity yet in order to feel at ease with being publicly vulnerable, so this post will be a bit of that in the hope that I will be able to offer all of you, a glimpse into the horrors Yemenis experience on a daily basis, at what is an emotional and psychological level.
I lost my parents at age 7 while in Angola. Had to witness them being shot in the head, then set on fire in what was a mass grave. Their deaths had been instantaneous, so their eyes had stayed open. Watching them at what was still a tender age, I remember thinking to myself maybe they were still alive and could feel the pain. Most of it is a blur that comes every now and then. What I do remember best is the desperate instinct to jump in there after them and try to take them out. This is the type of experience psychiatrists are now calling Human Devastation Syndrome, since PTSD and its relative, Complex PTSD just can’t fit the bill for such trauma any more. Spent about 9 months in a hell hole Angola called an orphanage, then a few more in my home country. It’s been 34 years, and I have yet to completely heal from that experience.
Over the last two days, we lost 15 people to cholera. Eight of them children. Over the past few months, I’ve seen and experienced things such as having to remove children as young as 5 months old, to 10 years old from under the rubble – most of whom came in chunks of flesh; whose heads had been detached from their bodies, or whose craniums had been completely emptied. I’ve seen the human body contorted and mangled in ways no nightmare can think up.In ways not even those of you who read the Bible’s descriptions of hell can think up. Whose limbs had been blown to shreds ; whose faces had become like masks. During a recent rescue effort, someone accidentally stepped on what used to be someone’s head, that reacted like a silicone mask. That was the extent of the damage caused by Saudi airstrikes bought mainly from the US and the UK. As a doctor, the human body is sacrosanct to me, as is life. Seeing all this for months has set me quite close to a mental breakdown, and I’m an adult with previous, similar experiences.
This late August, I saw a child whose parents had been slaughtered in what was one of the most intense raids in months. He was looking for his parents through the rubble, and found his father’s right leg and large intestines some 100 metres away from the initial airstrike impact. He recognized him by his shoe and the colour of his trousers. His head and remaining limbs had been scattered in different parts of what used to be their house, that had been turned to complete rubble. He was catatonic. To the naked eye, he would have seemed unfazed by it all. The gut-wrenching truth was his brain was protecting him by pushing the “shock” button. A shock so profound, he couldn’t react. Couldn’t cry,couldn’t scream. It was too much for his little heart and mind to process.
Looking at that child felt like looking at myself when I was that age. Suddenly I realized he had been scarred for life. That for him, there would be no absolution from the horror, the pain, the fury, the emotional growth stunt, the terror, or absolute overall desolation. It felt much like a mountain had risen from the ground and I could see him having to climb it for the rest of his life with no “gear” at his disposal. No real help. No one to truly care. It felt like a truck had run me over. I simply wanted to die in that moment.
Something happens when you experience a trauma of this magnitude. Something inside breaks beyond repair; A fracture so profound, you quickly realize you will never be done discovering all the ways it has damaged you. For life. It never goes away. There’s just a gaping wound one keeps trying to cover with miniatural bandaids that leave holes some sometimes get the honour and horror of peeking through. Vulnerability of any kind becomes a huge issue. The mere prospect of it scares and scars.
You get moments even as an adult where your inner child emerges without your permission, and that child is as scared as ever. It happens in the most random of moments, and you’re suddenly no longer in control of your adult self. Affection becomes a problem. Trust becomes a problem. Living becomes a problem. Breathing becomes an almost insurmountable effort. Managing all this – but especially the fury and pain, overtakes every other aspect of your life. That becomes your whole life, leaving little or no space for actually living. And that’s under the best conditions possible, where therapy and some form of support are readily available.
I know for a fact, that that child will have none of that, as his parents were his only family, and in a war-torn country where every western country builds its small luxuries on his back and his parents’ body parts and blood , no one will be giving him the opportunity of going to therapy; much less the chance at a new life. The most likely scenario for him, and hundreds of thousands of others right now, is either death by starvation, cholera, or another airstrike.
No one will ever know his name. No one will know he even exists. He’s just another casualty of a “civil war” Westerners scroll right past.
This. Is. Yemen.
And this is what Saudi Arabia and its allies, both regional and international, are doing to it.
And the people in it.
Cover photo courtesy of Dr. Adrian Rossi.
Dr. Adrian Rossi has been reporting on his work in Yemen on social media for the past few years. You can find his credentials, work history, and his Facebook reports here.