As It Happens

A father struggles to explain Yemen's war to his four children

On Saturday, an airstrike on a funeral in the capital of Yemen killed more than a hundred people. Mohammed al-Asaadi, a father of four, describes the toll the attacks are having on his family as their home becomes a war zone.
Mohammed Al-Asaadi (left) says with ongoing airstrikes around his home in Sanaa, Yemen he and his wife live in a constant state of fear worrying about their four children (right). (Mohammed Al-Asaadi/Twitter/Facebook)

On Saturday, an airstrike hit a funeral in Sanaa, Yemen. More than 100 people were killed and hundreds more were injured. The strike was carried out by the US-backed Saudi coalition as part of a conflict that has gone on for nearly two years. More than 10,000 people have died.

Throughout it all, Mohammed Al-Asaadi has been living in Sanaa, with his wife and his four kids. On Tuesday, he published a piece in The New York Times about the toll the strikes are taking on his children.

As It Happens guest host Helen Mann spoke with Al-Asaadi. Here is part of their conversation.
Mohammed Al-Asaadi. (Mohammed Al-Asaadi/Twitter)

Helen Mann: Mr. Al-Asaadi, when you hear an airstrike in the middle of the night, what is it that you and your wife do?

Mohammed Al-Asaadi: One thing that we learned by practice, after almost 19 months of this war, is that we should take care of the children in a very quick way. My wife takes care of a little baby who is sleeping with us in the same room. I jump to the next room and take care of the girls, particularly the youngest one. If the airstrikes continue, we will move together to the safe room, which is somewhere in the middle of the house. There we hide from any shrapnel that may come through the window.

What else do they want to bomb? How many do they want to kill? What will make them stop this war? These questions are really big questions to be asked by a child and even bigger for me to answer.- Mohammed Al-Asaadi
People carry the body of man away from the scene of what witnesses said was an airstrike by Saudi-led coalition aircraft on mourners at a funeral hall in Sanaa, Yemen, on Saturday. (Klaled Abdullah/Reuters)

HM: How do your children react when those explosives hit?

MA: An immediate, loud scream from the middle of their sleep. They usually are asleep when bombardments happen around midnight and after. They are screaming in fear. But from practice, from continuous bombardment, we organize ourselves and we tell ourselves we are fine. I hug them all and bring them together. Nobody is missing. Even if the house is shaking, even if the windows and doors are blown up, we stay together.
Second reaction, after the bombardment, is silence. They don't even like to answer questions. You ask them, "Are you okay?" The answer is on their face and that makes me sick. It's extremely horrible and terrifying.
Mohammed Al-Asaadi two-year-old son, Yousef. (Mohammed Al-Asaadi)

HM: You asked your children to write on Facebook about what is happening around them. Given that they aren't able to tell you how they are feeling in the moments after one of these explosions, what have they been able to tell you through those Facebook postings?

MA: The eldest, for example, she wrote about how she is living her day in fear. She goes to bed and wakes up in the morning afraid as well. That for me was like — I could not imagine the amount of fear, anxiety and distress that she carries in her heart. The other one was asking a question I could not answer: How can we talk about a bright future for the children of Yemen when our country is already destroyed? Besides the buildings and the streets, she meant that our souls, our energy, our passion, is really, really hit hard by this war.

Mohammed Al-Asaadi says his four children have trouble expressing their anxiety about the war but have started to use Facebook to share their feelings. His eldest daughter writes: "We sleep afraid, we wake up afraid and leave our homes afraid." (Mohammed Al-Asaadi)

HM: You say that you can't answer every question that your children ask. How do you and your wife cope with all this as parents when this is all happening around you?

MA: Indeed, it is frustrating and difficult because most of the questions repeat themselves. For example, what else do they want to bomb? How many do they want to kill? What will make them stop this war? These questions are really big questions to be asked by a child and even bigger for me to answer. My wife, she is the actual heroine of the family. I go to work. My kids go to school. She is at home. If there is a bombardment during the day time she will panic because I am away and the kids are away. Imagine the amount of phone calls. It's a really difficult time that we go through. Those who are waging this war, they don't know the details. If they know that there is a really heavy human cost for this war they may reconsider their plans. I'm very sure they can achieve their objectives through different means other than war.

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Mohammed Al-Asaadi.


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