Yemeni Student Struggles as Airstrikes Target Hometown

Jan 16, 2018

Editor's note: This is the first half of a series by KSMU Radio on Mr. Jubary and the war in Yemen.   

Mohammed Jubary studies Mechanical Engineering Technology at Missouri State University in Springfield.
Credit Jennifer Moore / KSMU Radio

Soon after Mohammed Jubary arrived in Springfield, Missouri, he began to receive alarming updates from his family back home in Yemen.

An airstrike on a funeral hall in Sanaa had killed dozens of civilians, and his mom’s cousin was among the missing. His younger brother was helping in the search.

“It was a two day operation, looking through every hospital. Calling every member in the family to go check hospitals. And they eventually found him, and couldn’t recognize his face. Because he was burned, and half his face was cut. They could just recognize his finger. His ring,” Jubary said.

Jubary, who studies mechanical engineering technology at Missouri State University, is watching his country wrangle with dire circumstances from half a world away.

The International Committee of the Red Cross announced last month a staggering figure: one million people in Yemen have contacted cholera. Famine, airstrikes, and corruption are rendering life unbearable for many.

A quick refresher on the war in Yemen:  a group of rebels, called Houthis, took over the capital city of Sanaa in 2014.  They’re still running the show in Yemen.

As a child, Mohammed Jubary, right, grew up in the capital city of Sanaa with his siblings. His family also owned a large farm where he played with his cousins.
Credit Mohammed Jubary

The Houthis are from the Shia branch of Islam, and they’re supported by Iran—Saudi Arabia’s archrival.

So when Saudi Arabia heard the Houthis knocking next door, it and other Arab states began bombing Houthi-held parts of Yemen—including where Jubary’s family is.

On this day, Jubary is sitting in a public library on Park Central Square in Springfield. He keeps checking his phone for updates.

He says the Saudi-led airstrikes are unpredictable and terrifying, and they’ve left rubble where there were once roads, bridges, and buildings. 

Meanwhile, armed Houthis picked up his dad and interrogated him. Armed men stormed his uncle’s house, and his high school teacher is missing.

Mohammed Jubary, center, grew up in Sanaa, Yemen: both of his parents have college degrees from an American university.
Credit Provided / Mohammed Jubary

“The Houthis cut the salaries of the government workers, including my mom.  Because my mom works for the university, she’s a government worker—a federal worker.  And that’s what really what took the despair another notch higher,” he said.

He says his mother hasn't been paid in about a year--yet she's expected to keep teaching.

Jubary’s family was once an upper-middle class family, he said. Now they struggle to buy groceries and keep the lights on.

Yemen’s electrical grid is shot, he said. So his family is getting power through a generator. But fuel is mostly available on the black market—and it’s double the normal price.

“You don’t really know if it’s been mixed with water. Sometimes you buy a gallon of fuel that’s been mixed with water, which destroys the generator,” he said.

With every update, Mohammed Jubary, who grew up playing with his cousins on the family farm, feels more distracted. His GPA has plummeted.

“Sometimes I just find myself paralyzed doing nothing. Because I have a test—I just had a test, and I couldn’t’ do anything for it.  I couldn’t study, just because my mind is really occupied,” Jubary said.

He says he doesn’t tell his professors about his situation because it’s hard to talk about.

“I think what I’m trying to do is avoid anything that reminds me of the war. I don’t want to talk Arabic. I don’t want to watch the news. Maybe this is a bad approach, but I feel like it’s just killing me.  It affects my academic career. A huge effect,” Jubary said.

And yet, he’s not giving up: he’s landed a solid internship at Paul Mueller Company, a local manufacturer. And even though his family can no longer pay much toward his tuition, he says he’ll work to pay his own way through. He’s got his eyes set on graduation day, because he dreams of leading his war-torn country to peace and prosperity. He aspires to become the president of Yemen one day, he said.

The United States is supporting Saudi Arabia in its military campaign against the Houthis. That involvement began under President Barack Obama, and it continues under President Donald Trump.