By Marina de Regt. “Marina, if I die, will you then forgive me for all the trouble that I caused you?” my Yemeni friend Amina wrote me ten days ago. I have known Amina since my very first days in Yemen in 1991 and was in regular touch with her via Whatsapp. “I am very ill, I have Corona, please help me, Marina, I am going to die, the treatment of Corona is very expensive, please help me”. A few weeks earlier Amina had written me that Corona was spreading in Rada’, the small town in Northeast Yemen where I had lived in the early 1990s and where we had worked together. Amina was very scared because she was not in a good health and many people were dying. I had advised her to stay at home as much as possible and take care of herself. A week later she sent me a selfie, something she had never done before, and asked me to send her a picture of myself as well. Yemeni women normally don’t send pictures of themselves to others, and I hadn’t seen Amina’s face in a long time. She looked beautiful and in good shape while I knew that she was suffering from all kinds of health issues, such as diabetes and kidney problems. Amina needed a good treatment and daily medication, which she could not afford. She sometimes asked for money but I did not want to want to structurally support her financially as this had already meant the end of my friendship with another dear friend in Yemen (see https://standplaatswereld.nl/een-zaak-van-leven-of-dood/ and De Regt 2015; De Regt 2019).
Amina’s messages from the hospital were heartbreaking, and I quickly got in touch with a number of Dutch friends who had also worked in Rada’, and who knew Amina. I collected 500 euro and transferred it to Amina’s daughter Lina. She informed me a day later that her mother was at home and getting oxygen. She was still very weak and the oxygen was very expensive. “One tank is 50.000 Yemeni Rial (around 165 euro)”, Lina wrote me. I did not dare to ask how long a tank would last…. And then two days later a message from Lina informing me that her mother died. Amina had lost the fight against Covid, like so many others. The oxygen level in her blood was far too low, mainly due to her diabetes, and her lungs were damaged, Lina told me. She was devastated, just as her sister, and Amina’s mother and two sisters. They had never expected her to die so quickly. But Amina must have felt it when she asked me to forgive her. The situation with regard to Covid is extremely bad in Yemen, where many hospitals and health facilitities have been destroyed, where there is hardly any health staff available anymore, and where equipment and medication are scarce. Only a very small minority of the population, those that are in power and have access to money, can afford to stay in private hospitals and get a good treatment.
Amina’s death has hit me hard. She was one of the very few Yemeni friends I was still regularly in touch with. A strong woman who married and divorced twice, who lived most of her life alone with her two daughters and who continued her work at the Ministry of Water and Sanitation in Rada’, a very conservative area where male protection is very important. We shared joy and sorrow, chewed qat and smoked the waterpipe, and tried to see each other every time I was in Yemen. The last time I saw her was in December 2009, when I travelled to Rada’ to spend a few days with her.
Amina often sent me short messages, to wish me a good Friday, to tell me that she loved me, and sometimes she asked me to call her. I found it hard to be in touch with her, just like with many other friends in Yemen, and did not always respond to her messages. The situation is terribly depressing, with a war that has caused the largest humanitarian disaster in the world, many people have been killed, families have been broken and children have died of malnourishment. In the rare phonecalls that I have with friends they often tell me that Yemen is not what it was like before. “The Yemen you knew has gone, Marina” is what they say. I mourn for Amina, but I am also mourning for Yemen. While Amina asked me forgiveness for all the times that she shared her problems with me, which were sometimes accompanied by requests for money, I ask forgiveness for the times that I did not reply to her messages because I was not able to face the tough realities of those who live in Yemen. In a way, the death of Amina also represents the death of the Yemen that I have known. It confronts me with the limits of what I can do for those I love, and for the Yemen that I love….
Marina de Regt is Associate Professor at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She regularly writes and speaks about Yemen.
de Regt, Marina (2015) “Noura and Me: Friendship as Method in Times of Crisis”. Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development 44 (2,1): 43-70.
de Regt, Marina (2019) “In Friendship One Does Not Count Such Things”: Friendship and Money in War-torn Yemen”. Etnofoor 31 (1): 99-112.