I went to Sana, the capital, to wander Tahrir Square. Protesters had set up a sea of tents, big and small, red and yellow, and as I entered I saw a sign: “Welcome to the square kilometer of freedom.”
Everyone I passed, women, men and children, gave the victory sign and shouted, “Get out!” They weren’t yelling at me, but at President Ali Abdullah Saleh. A few days later, he would in fact get out; on Saturday, he went to Saudi Arabia for treatment for wounds he received when his compound was attacked. But he says he’s planning to return, and despite the celebrations, the protests go on.
Sana’s Tahrir Square is more than just a platform for voicing anger against the regime; it is a meeting place, a center for art and literature and a market where Yemenis can buy food or trinkets. I bought mediocre tea from a young man with a small cart and a strip of cloth bound around his head, painted with the words “Get out!”
I saw a wounded man with the words “We are sure to die, so why be afraid?” written on his arm. I was stopped by a young man wearing a first aid badge, who said he had treated many wounded demonstrators, some of whom had been shot in the head or neck.
At the square’s field hospital I met a young pharmacist. The minister of health, he said, had sent the hospital expired medicine and birth control pills. He was in a towering rage. “What are we meant to do with birth control pills?” he asked.
Children were everywhere. They stood in line to get their faces painted: the Yemeni flag on one cheek, the words “Get out!” on the other. A young boy shouted, “Get out so I can grow up and live!” A young activist asked me: “What about after Saleh’s regime falls? Will the youth still have a say?”
No one knows what is going to happen, but no one is giving up the fight. In one corner of the square, a musician clutched his guitar, surrounded by young tribesmen who knew all the words and sang along in perfect harmony: “I’m staying here, staying/ Until the regime falls.”
A man asked if I would photograph his arm. The words “Get out, murderer!” had been branded into his flesh.
I am now back home in Aden. Its population is smaller than Sana’s but the protests here are even livelier. A few days ago I ran into my friend Amr Jamal, who has been in the streets demanding change ever since the protests were in their infancy. With Mr. Saleh gone, at least for now, he is ecstatic. Hugging me goodbye, he said, “Aden is paradise.”
With the sound of bullets still echoing through Sana’s streets, I know that’s not yet true, that this is not the paradise Yemenis dream of. But I hope we’re getting closer.
Yasir Abdel Baqi, a writer. This article was translated by Robin Moger from the Arabic.