“What is this young lady doing here? ...Is she a Yemeni? Perhaps they were anticipating that a Yemeni girl wouldn’t dare to be in a place that was less likely to be photographed? At some point, I felt that I was charged for a crime that I hadn’t committed.”
It was my first time in the courts, attending the hearing of women who were prisoners for different charges. One of them was crying out loud. When the hearing ended and the security officer led the women back to their cells, Thana says her mind wandered: What was behind those walls? What sort of stories remained untold? Did these women have children?
I was intrigued enough to get access to a prison in Al Hudaydah, a city in Yemen that borders the Red Sea with beautiful, wide beaches.
The moment I stepped into the prison, my eyes were stoned with all the children I found there. There were so many and even more questions came to my mind. Were these children born here? Have they seen the sea, or played with the sand and made funny sculptures?
“I was met with a huge excitement and they opened up to me. They were more welcoming than their mothers, who refused to be photographed. They were my tour guides to the only place that they’ve gotten to discover since they were born. They would walk me from one cell to another, and as we walked, some would recite to me all the verses they learned from the Quran and some would exhibit their abilities in counting numbers. They were filled with energy and life. Did they deserve to be here? To be born and brought up here? That was the question that I couldn’t find an answer to.”
The children’s living conditions were heartbreaking. In some cases, children were packed together in one room sleeping in whatever was available to them. Basic needs, like food, were also in limited supply. Their mothers, whether they were innocents, victims or guilty, couldn’t do much to help them, either.
When the war erupted in Yemen I often wondered were these children safe? Were they still alive? The security situation didn’t allow me to go back again, but I knew for a fact that they would be in a dire condition just like anyone else, or perhaps worse!