Amal Abdulqader and her family were in the basement waiting for the bombing to stop when her 7-year-old brother asked if they could build a pillow fort to protect themselves.
The windows in their Yemeni home were taped to prevent shattered glass. They were hiding in the basement while a Saudi-led coalition conducted those bombings in early June 2015.
Yemen, an Arab country in western Asia located next to Saudi Arabia and Oman, has experienced extreme off-and-on violence for decades, causing residents to flee for their safety in large numbers.
Abdulqader, a first-year graduate student studying international development studies, is from Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. She fled from Yemen when the coalition attacked and crossed borders into Oman, before staying in Malaysia until Yemen grew safer.
“You will not believe … how people suffered there,” Abdulqader said.
Abdulqader had friends and relatives who died in the Yemen attacks. She said she was afraid she would die from fear before any bomb would kill her.
Being the oldest of her siblings, Abdulqader convinced her family to leave the country in June 2015 until it was safe to return. Despite the guilt and worry she felt for her family, she said she did not want to become another “number in the victim data.”
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, more than 165,000 Yemenis fled the country. More than 8,000 civilians were killed from airstrikes, according to the United Nations News Centre.
Abdulqader said she knows people who left the country by boat and fled to Djibouti, though she and her family drove to the Omani border to escape the bombing. With her siblings and her mother, Abdulqader drove for 30 hours. The trip should have been 10 hours shorter, but they faced flooding en route.
While in Malaysia, Abdulqader said she had nightmares about bombs every night. She and her family would become scared when the wind would slam windows and doors shut.
Her family, missing Yemen, decided to take the risk to return home after five months.
Abdulqader traveled to the United States and has not seen her family since. She said when she came to Ohio University, she realized Americans did not know much about the conflict in her home country.
“In the beginning, I was sad because we are dying in another part of the world and nobody knows, or nobody cares because they don’t know,” Abdulqader said. “I can’t blame them.”
Ziad Abu-Rish, an assistant professor of history, said being aware of international news is part of being a responsible citizen in the U.S. He said the majority of OU students know “very little” about the conflict, let alone any U.S. involvement in Yemen.
“I’d like to emphasize that the US government has fully supported the Saudi-led intervention, which has been responsible for the largest share of civilian deaths, population displacement, infrastructural damage, and bringing Yemen to the brink of famine,” Abu-Rish said in an email.
Abdulqader said she partly blames such ignorance on the Yemenis outside of Yemen who are not lobbying for peace and spreading awareness of the issues.
She does not know exactly when she will be able to return to Yemen, as she is afraid she will not be able to fly back to the U.S. if she does, but Abdulqader said she misses her family and the city.
“I’m afraid when I go back, I will not find the same city I left,” Abdulqader said.
Alena Klimas, the vice president of International Student Union, said she knows about the events occurring in Yemen and thinks it would be hard to leave behind family.
“I think it’s easy to leave a place behind, and it’s not as easy to leave people behind when you know things like that are happening,” Klimas said.
Abdulqader said her family and other Yemenis are starting to adapt to the bombings. Yemenis are beginning to go to school and have weddings. When she calls them once a week, she hears explosions in the background, but her family just says, “What can you do? We have to live our lives.”
But Abdulqader said she and her family have had it easier than others. They have the essentials, unlike the 2.5 million Yemenis who are internally displaced without a home, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
“If you have something to eat, and if you still have a roof over your heads, you are fine,” Abdulqader said. “You are fine.”