Susanne Sterzenbach: “Who’s shooting at who here?”
It’s 6 a.m. at the airport in Sanaa. Things move quickly, our visas are ready and our Interior Ministry guide, or perhaps minder, is also already here. The only thing the customs officials are really interested in is something that we don’t actually have on this assignment: live broadcast satellite equipment. We’re here to work on a documentary for ARTE, not to transmit live reports. Lucky for us.
In the afternoon we meet a young female demonstrator named Nadia at the tent village set up in front of the university. She is responsible for the internet content and communication on behalf of the demonstrators camped out here. Nadia is our travel guide through the world of the rebellion, explaining to us which parties and tribes are camping here and where. We are able to work freely throughout the camp and no one tries to stop us. Our Interior Ministry chaperone never intervenes and seems satisfied to remain in the background.
There is gunfire at night in Sanaa, and we can easily hear it in our hotel. A stray bullet even hits our Yemeni production organiser’s car. It’s like this every night. So who’s shooting at who here? Government troops attack deserted army divisions attacking government troops and vice-versa, on and on in an endless cycle of violence. To some extent, Yemen’s young, non-partisan demonstrators have lost their grip on the revolution. Their struggle has focused on a better, democratic life for Yeminis. But now the same opposing groups that have always fought one another here are engaged in a battle for money and power that has at least partially hijacked their revolution.
My head is spinning for three days before I begin to feel like I have something of a grasp on where the dividing lines are drawn.
Despite the difficult political situation, my team and I have fallen in love with Sanaa and its enchanting Old City district, truly a world wonder. And I feel a sense that the people here have a genuine appreciation for beauty. We are warmly welcomed everywhere we go, and in those situations where I decide for myself that protocol doesn’t suggest it, no one is bothered by me not wearing a headscarf.
Susanne Sterzenbach studied translating in Mainz and Munich. In 2001 she was correspondent for the German TV-Channel ARD in North-Africa. 2004 she returned to Stuttgart where she works for the TV-Channels SWR and ARD.
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