Just waiting for the bomb to drop

In my third audio diary, I visit a health centre and talk about why I hate planes.


In Yemen, the health centres and schools often end up being built together in the same compound, and this one is no different. 

It’s a school for one half and a health centre for the other half. They’re both just behind the market area, and really horribly, I arrived to find the school was bombed a couple of weeks ago by a large airstrike.

The building was pretty much destroyed and at the same time it’s blown out the windows of the health centre. 

It’s a pretty horrible sight to see.

In the health centre they’re still trying to work, they’re still trying to see patients, and do deliveries, in the half of the health centre where the windows are still intact, and what’s noticeable is that they’re incredibly afraid.

If a plane flies overhead everybody just runs away. While I’m here there’s been a thunderstorm, from the first bolt of lightning and the first noise of thunder people just jumped, and you could tell they’re so afraid of airstrikes and bombing that even the sound of thunder has made them pretty nervous.

But still they are coping, they’re really happy to see me. They’re quite surprised that I’ve turned up just here with a driver and a translator – some crazy foreign girl asking questions. And I can understand why it does seem a bit bizarre to them. They’re not used to seeing aid organisations, particularly not since this conflict has started.

But they’ve shown me round, and they’ve explained to me what happens when there’s an airstrike nearby, or when there’s a lot of casualties from somewhere else and they just lay people out on the floor and try and treat them as best they can.

And that’s definitely something we can try and help with, to better equip them to manage that type of situation.

So I think all in all, it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement that we try and give them some help, and at the same time they can really explain to me what’s happening in the area, and try and help me understand what the situation is.

Pretty interesting, but depressing as well. I jumped when the thunder went too, I have to say. But still life is going on, there’s the market running round the corner even though it was hit a couple of weeks ago, children are running around.

There’s not really much you can do, just kind of carry on as normal.


Planes are scary

Lunchtime, and there’s a warplane circling overhead again.

It tends to happen at least once an hour. Yemen, much like Syria before, has made me incredibly detest planes of all sorts.

I’ve always had an irrational fear of flying, despite my job, and I think it’s a horrendous way to travel. But this place makes me much more concerned about aeroplanes generally, because you know that if there’s a plane flying overhead it’s a warplane.

There are no other planes flying over Yemen right now. 

So you’re just waiting for the bomb to drop. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

Even if it doesn’t drop within earshot here, quite often I receive text messages within ten minutes telling me it’s dropped somewhere else and that there are injuries or deaths.

It’s pretty much the most horrific sound I hear here, even though it’s just the sound of an aeroplane that you’d hear all the time in Britain, in London, most parts of the world.

But here when you hear an aeroplane it means trouble.

A bombed bridge on Sana'a-Saada road

A bombed bridge on Sana'a-Saada road. © Natalie Roberts 

Cement factory air strike

I just got a phone call to say that there’s been an air strike in Amran city, which is not that far away from here.

They bombed a cement factory, they’ve pulled out three survivors so far.

They’re not sure how many people have been killed. Luckily it was prayer time so I think a lot of people were in the mosque. But it’s quite likely there’ll be more people killed.

We’re not sure if we’ll receive any of the victims in our hospital, so the medical team will go on standby, to be prepared in case we start receiving injuries there.

One of the other problems is it’s actually the last cement factory we know of that’s working in the country.

Lots of the other infrastructure – they’re no longer able to produce cement, and they can’t import anything right now, so it means construction work to try and reconstruct after all the destruction is going to be incredibly complicated.

Even just for our water and sanitation guy – he needs cement to build latrines and to build septic tanks.

So it’s not just the fact that people have been killed and injured, it’s the fact that it’s going to be very difficult to try and rehabilitate at all.