'Don't Be Afraid Of The Bullets' A Memoir Of Reporting In Yemen
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
If you think that what's happening in Yemen is confusing, that's because it is. For 33 years, Yemen had one president named Ali Abdullah Saleh. Then came the Arab Spring and massive protests. Saleh eventually stepped down and his vice president took over and now he has been kicked out by a group called the Houthis.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Laura Kasinof saw some of this firsthand. She lived in Yemen and reported for The New York Times throughout the protests in 2011. She's written a book about that called "Don't Be Afraid Of The Bullets." I started a conversation with Kasinof by asking her to read a passage from the book about one of the first major turning points in Yemen's protest movement. It was March 18, 2011. Snipers on rooftops started shooting at unarmed protesters.
LAURA KASINOF: (Reading) About six men ran past me, eyes locked straight ahead, holding the edges of a bloody blue and red checkered blanket, a blanket that had been inside a tent for warmth in Sanaa's chilly nights. Now it was holding a man whose face was pale white, his hands grasped futilely at his blood-soaked T-shirt around his stomach as if he couldn't believe what had just befallen him. Another group of men ran past hauling another man in a blanket, but he was already dead. I could see it in his eyes.
MCEVERS: And, you know, when I say this was a turning point, I mean, it was obviously a turning point for Yemen. It must have been a turning point for you as well. I mean, this is - seeing violence right up close.
KASINOF: Yeah, and the thing was that about 52 people were killed and over 100 others shot. But it all happened in a very enclosed space over a very short period of time. So it felt, you know, quite brutal to be there. I had been at the square for hours that day, reporting, reporting and hardly slept about three hours at night. The next day, I remember waking up and I just couldn't talk. And my throat wasn't sore. It was just, like, this crazy physical reaction because guess what? It was time to start working again, and there wasn't really time to sit and process what had happened, but I still think it started to take a toll...
KASINOF: On my body.
MCEVERS: You know, in the early days of the protests, you're a freelance journalist, and then all of a sudden, you know, you became sort of the person of record for the paper of record in Yemen. I mean, how did that happen?
KASINOF: Yeah. Most major publications didn't have a reporter in Yemen, and as you know, Kelly, the Yemeni government was not letting in, officially, any other foreign correspondents at the time. So representing Yemen was left to the few freelancers who lived in the country. And most of us were in our 20s, and none of us had experienced any sort of violence or conflict before. So I called The Times and said, yo, I'm here. Can I report for you? But I certainly felt the pressure of it every single day. And I think that partially that made me just as crazy as being around the violence did.
MCEVERS: Yeah, and then I want to fast-forward a little bit. After these killings, you know, the dominoes start to fall. People start to defect from Saleh's regime. Saleh says he's going to leave power. He doesn't. He gets injured. He leaves Yemen. He comes back, and at this point, it starts to get really violent in Yemen's capital, and it was really tough for you at that time. I mean, was this at the point that you were considering leaving?
KASINOF: I considered leaving a few times. The first was before that when Saleh's closest and strongest ally, Ali Muhsin, this army commander, announced that he was splitting with Saleh and was going to support the protest movement. And I thought that war was going to start and I almost left then, but I didn't. But then the war did start. And, you know, then it gets to a point where you start to get used to things. And it's - war started to feel normal and conflict started to feel normal.
MCEVERS: You know, Ali Abdullah Saleh eventually agreed to step down as Yemen's president. His vice president was tapped to take power. And then you were there in February of 2012 when there was a referendum that formally sort of put Saleh's vice president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, in power. Can you tell us what that was like?
KASINOF: Yeah, I mean, it was a really incredible day in some ways because it felt like nothing good had happened in Sanaa over the past year. And suddenly there was a day were things changed. However, we weren't thinking at the time was that Hadi had very little experience coming into this role. He really did nothing during his time as vice president. And it just came to show in sort of the months and then the years to follow that Yemenis were gravely disappointed in him, and they didn't see any real change. Nothing really happened throughout Hadi's tenure.
MCEVERS: Right, so it was this sort of euphoric moment that then kind of turned into something else. Now we know a new faction in Yemen has taken over - this sort of pro-Shiite militia known as the Houthis have taken over in the capital Sanaa. I wonder how much of it is about Saleh and his cronies trying to get back in power.
KASINOF: Yeah, that certainly seems to be playing a part. But, you know, I also heard from Yemenis that sort of these corrupt, these men who grow rich under Saleh's reign - who are these liberal men who, in many ways, would not support what Houthi rebels are - are saying they support the Houthis. They love the Houthis. They want the Houthis to come into power. So it's certainly trying to get Saleh and sort of his entourage back onto the scene is playing a role in the current events in Yemen.
MCEVERS: Now, you are still in the region. You are now based in Morocco doing some freelance journalism, is that right?
KASINOF: Yes, as of the past week (laughter).
MCEVERS: Oh, great. Well, I mean, I have to ask - any plans to go back to Yemen?
KASINOF: It has crossed my mind, but I'm going to (laughter) I don't want to say anything for sure right now.
MCEVERS: OK. Well, that's Laura Kasinof. She's the author of the new book "Don't Be Afraid Of The Bullets: An Accidental War Correspondent in Yemen." Laura, thanks so much for joining us.
KASINOF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.