Reading a Kindle by candlelight – my slow descent into insanity

I’ve been in Yemen for more than nine months now. I haven’t left Sana’a since I first arrived in October of 2010. Living in Yemen can be tough for a foreigner but I had spent considerable time here before and thoroughly enjoyed my stint. Even when the violence first started, it was satisfying to be covering a revolution. However, as more friends started fleeing the country and the violence intensified in early May, things got much worse.

Looking back, I think May 11th was the point to where I can say life here became almost unbearable.

I was covering a usual standoff between protesters on the march and security forces who had stopped their advance. In typical fashion, the standoff continued for hours, from the afternoon and on into the night. You develop a sort of routine in these types of situations – have a tea here, smoke a cigarette over there, get an egg sandwich, take a few photos, etc. The bizarre thing to know is that you’re only waiting for violence.

I think the protesters know it too but there is really nothing else for them to do, to give ground is to admit defeat.

On that particular night, I was the closest to the bullets I’d ever been and when they started shooting, I thought it was over for me. I made it around a few corners, avoided a few brushes with wandering gunmen, and then got gassed as I finally made it to safety. The Central Security Forces like to gas you after you’ve managed to narrowly escape death to remind you that you’re still breathing and that breathing can be painful too.

At least 11 protesters were killed that day and more than 60 were injured. When you take into account that there were about 250-300 people there when the shooting started, everyone had about a 25% chance of being shot. I was lucky again, I reckon.

Since then its been all downhill. The power outages started soon after. The 13 day artillery bombardment and siege of the Hasaba district started at the end of May.

During those nights with no power I usually light a candle in my window and read my Kindle, something I finally managed to acquire after two previous failed attempts. I don’t need to convey to you the sense of irking irony that such an act involves.

Sometimes the shooting would get too close and I’d have to blow my candle out and take cover in my stairwell. On one particular occasion, right as shooting started just outside my window, the power decided to come back on and lit up my apartment like the fourth of July.

Sometimes when the power is out, I stand in my kitchen with my flashlight in my mouth and try to devise ways to kill the fruit flies I can’t get rid of. The place is spotless, I clean it constantly, but I haven’t determined where the bastards are breeding. I killed hundreds of them when I left a pot with food bits in my sink, waited for them to descend into it, then dumped a bucket of water into the pot, drowning the bastards.

It only took them a few days to reinforce their numbers and regroup. They haven’t been taking the pot-in-the-sink bait either. I think they’re adapting.

Sometimes while I wait for the power to return, I see if I can knock a few out of mid air by popping them with a dish towel. I’ve managed to get pretty good at it over the past week or so.

It was while I was using the dish towel extermination technique that I realized I’d fucking lost it. But, I can’t leave, at least not now, because I won’t be let back in most likely. I’ve set a tentative goal to return home for some time in October to play Battlefield 3 and Diablo 3 and drink beer with my friends. I used to do those kinds of things all the time but now it seems buzzed video game playing was only a dream.

Playing video games with my friends while catching a beer buzz is what I think I miss the most. Maybe knowing that means I haven’t totally lost it yet.

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2 thoughts on “Reading a Kindle by candlelight – my slow descent into insanity

  1. This sounds really tough, Jeb. I have not been to Yemen but have read The Yemen Times for years. How did you get the gig? Do you plan to return after your intended October visit to the U.S.?

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