Feeling at home: An amazing connection in Yemen

Amidst the ongoing conflict in Yemen, Finnish epidemiologist Marissa finds a pocket of familiarity when she visits a local family

It is difficult to keep track of time in Yemen.

The weekend is Thursday and Friday, in contrast to back home, and with something new happening each day I find that months feel more like weeks.

With each passing week, I feel more at home with the people, the language and the customs. One of the best ways to explain this is through one of the foremost experiences I had…

The family

Following a confirmed case of diphtheria, I was able to join our outreach team at the house of a local family to follow-up with them and share some health information.

We arrived at a rundown residential building and entered through a very narrow door into a small room on the first floor of the building. This small room was home to a family of something like eight people.

As I left, I felt as if I had just spent an afternoon with close friends or family.

We sat down on the hard floor of this very humble, empty and dark room, in what looked like the basement of a building. There were some blankets in one corner and a small window with no glass, just some bars, in front of it.

I was surrounded by a group of happy children, a welcoming family and some neighbours of the household. I couldn’t see the women’s whole faces, only the eyes, but I could still tell they were smiling at me.

As I was looking at the women, I was curious to understand the person behind each black veil. Who were they and what were they like? What were their dreams and hopes? What have they gone through?

Our medical doctor examined the women for signs of infection. The women were very shy. They looked at my unfamiliar and foreign face in the exact same way as I looked at them.

We did not speak the same language and we came from, some might say, two different worlds, yet simply by being of the same gender I felt a very strong, inexplicable, connection.

An incredible connection

We ended up spending hours with the family, playing with the children and laughing together - all while we learned about diphtheria and how to protect yourself from infection through proper hygiene habits, as well as how to recognise signs and symptoms of infection.

As I left, I felt as if I had just spent an afternoon with close friends or family.

It is incredible the connection we can make with total strangers, who I am not even always able to communicate with. Yet, I feel that there is no need to speak and all our differences are irrelevant.

We are all the same in the end, we care for the health of ourselves and our loved ones. We like to laugh and joke and play with children. Here is this family, living with very little in a country torn apart by ongoing conflict and disease, and yet they are able to adapt and live an everyday life.

In my next blog, I'll share the everyday challenges faced by people living through the war in Yemen.