Expelled from Yemen

Unnamed location. Yemen, 2013.

It has been four days since I was forced to leave Yemen. Last Thursday, the president of Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies, gave me a choice: face interrogation, arrest and, potential imprisonment over my article Explosions of Sana’a (and presumably others,) or leave the country by Tuesday.

I’m not sure why he even bothered giving me an option. I guess there is a psychology to giving people choices that aren’t choices. I’m not even sure it’s worth the speculation.

Shortly after telling me that I had to go, the president refused to refund my remaining tuition, saying that I had broken my visa agreement and did not act as “an ambassador of the school.” It was surprising to hear from an official who had never reviewed the agreement with me in the first place.

However, I was helpless. I signed a contract, and he had the power to hold me to it. Not only was I expelled from Yemen, but I had just been robbed. Granted, I’m sure he had the right to do so. Still, it felt like thievery.

I discussed what had happened with Souciant’s editor, Joel Schalit, who verified that someone in the Yemeni government had in fact been reading my work. Unsurprisingly, Schalit said, “Get outta dodge.”

Since I needed to leave very quickly, I ended up choosing somewhere completely different for me: Berlin. Through a number of frantic e-mails, my family members agreed to raise the funds necessary. I found an apartment in Neukölln, a neighborhood which I didn’t even know existed a week and a half ago, and seemingly overnight, found myself writing this article in a small bar/cafe on the corner called Schiller.

I am not going to pretend that I have it together. I don’t, and this is terrifying. It feels like a repeat of my father’s experience being thrown out of his uncle’s house in Calgary thirty years ago. Although my material circumstances are much better, some things don’t change. My father had to choose between finding a way to continue pursuing his dreams in the hostile West, or returning home to Pakistan, as his friends and family preferred.

Now, the same as then, platitudes like “there is no shame in coming home” are useless. If I came home, I would lose. My education would have to freeze in suburban New Jersey because of who I angered in Yemen. I have far too much pride to allow them that victory. It’s worth all the misery in the world to deny them my humiliation.

As inclined as I am to blame myself for my misfortune, I did not err. I did the only thing I knew how to do. I wrote about what I could see, in all its horror.

The mistake would have been to remain silent, and not recount what I was witnessing.

That is my only certainty as I sit here in Schiller, watching all the beautiful Germans laugh with each other in the candlelight, completely unsure about what comes next.


Photograph courtesy of Rod Waddington. Published under a Creative Commons license.

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