Interviews

Thu - 12 Aug 2021 - 01:38 AM ،،،

CBC News


 For the past decade, Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war, and now a Calgarian has written a book about his first-hand experiences of the conflict.

Abdulkader Al-Guneid says that when the war began, he still lived in the Middle East country, and used social media to portray what was happening in his home country.

But in 2015, Al-Guneid — who was 66 at the time — was kidnapped and imprisoned for 300 days by Houthi fighters.

After being released and moving to Calgary with his family, he decided to write a a book about his experience: Prison Time in Sana'a.

The activist turned writer talked to the Calgary Eyeopner on Wednesday about what readers can expect from his book as well as how he maintained his sanity while imprisoned.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Question: How did you end up in a Houthi prison? What happened?

Answer:
We were living in times of the after-coup. It was an alliance between the Houthi, who are attached to Iran, together with the ex-president.

And we were in an interim political process. I was pretty much active at that time, getting the word in Twitter about what was going on in Yemen. And apparently they didn't like what I said about their coup.

Q: What happened when you were arrested?

A:
They came to my house. The neighborhood that I was living in was under the control of Houthi.

And my wife came to me and said, "There are some armed people who have stormed into the porch of our house."

I saw people pointing fingers at me while I was in my window. They said, "Come down." I was in shock.

So I put on jeans and went down barefoot to them.

They grabbed me and they used violence to get me out of my own house.

Q: What followed was 300 days in prison. Can you describe what the conditions were like?

A:
Inhumane. Very tight cells, very narrow, very cold and dark.

There is a plastic tube like you use in water pipes near the ceiling, from which there would be some air.

There is an iron door and it opens the trapdoor only three times a day: one for breakfast, one for lunch and for one for dinner. The breakfast, lunch and dinner, there is only beans for 300 days.

And you are not allowed to receive any news. You don't know what's happening to your family, and your families don't know where you are, whether you are still alive or already dead.

Q: How did you keep your mind and body from withering?

A:
I exercised a lot. My record number for jumping and jumping in my place is 40,000 steps. And I count them because I have to keep my mind doing things as well.

I tell myself stories, I remember movies, I remember girlfriend and everything that happened since I was a child. And I could be absorbed in that completely for hours.

Q: After 300 days through the work of groups like Global Watch, the United Nations, your own family, you were released. Do you remember what that moment felt like when you were released?

A:
I didn't believe it because they let you know that you shouldn't know anything. And with uncertainty you start to say, "Well, would I ever go out of this place?"

Until the last moment, I didn't believe that they would get out.

Q: You live in Calgary now, and now you've written this book about your experience. What do you hope people take away from this book?

A:
First, it is about humans. I mean, what happened to me can happen to any person on earth, whether people are in trouble and they start to intrude into their life and into your personal liberties.

People can can be very tough on their fellow citizens. Can be very, very bad to other people. So the story is about resilience.

I moved into 15 cells during these 300 days. There was an American, I met the Hungarians, I met a Jew, I met people of colour, I met people who came from different parts of Yemen. And each one came for a different reason and for a different story.

So I wrote this story because we are diverse and every area has its own grudge and is in its own agony. So I thought through these grudges and agonies and diversity is the story of Yemen.

By the end of the book, with all the stories of the region, Yemen is revealed. And when you understand Yemen, I wish everyone in the world can help.

Abdulkader Al-Guneid's book Prison Time in Sana'a is available for pre-order now.