'We Survive by Living... Deliberately!' Meet Yemeni Female Blogger: Afrah Nasser

Blogging on the unfolding events in Yemen had its price. When she received a threatening message on her Facebook account, her reaction was simple: she translated it from Arabic to English and posted it on her blog!
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"If she can do it; then I can too," that is what she told herself.

She was sweeping the floor of the apartment, where she lives with her mother and sister in Sana'a, Yemen.

But as she often did, she turned on the TV on German Deutsche Welle channel. She likes this channel, she told me. Similar to the Euro News, it focuses on issues that others pay little attention to.

It was pure chance that the channel was airing an interview with Tunisian blogger Lina ben Mhenni, who at the time played a major role in documenting the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia -- a blogger who kept the world informed when Bin Ali regime tried to stop any reporting from Tunisia during its revolution.

That was in 2011.

Afrah Nasser, a young female Yemeni journalist working for an English speaking newspaper, knew all too well what censorship means. Yemeni youth uprising had just started and she wanted to report on it as it was happening and that proved to be difficult. She was hungry, hungry for a free space where she can write and publish, without restrictions, without control.

And she did have a blog at that time -- Afrah Nasser Blog, created in 28 January 2010. "To blog or not to blog? That's the question!" was the title of her first blog. But she did not think much of her blog. It was a "way to archive my works and maybe it will be a place where I can think loudly, who knows."

Who knows!

It was Mehnni's utilization of blogging as a means of activism, a means of circumventing censorship, which transformed Afrah Nasser's blogging.

And if she can do it, Afrah can do it too. And so she did.

She joined a very small group of young female bloggers reporting on Yemen in English. In fact, if you count them, they did not exceed three: A woman from Yemen, Noon Arabia, and Afrah Nasser' Blog.

It did not take long before her reporting on Yemen's uprising became famous. CNN named her in April 2011 among its list of the 10 must-read blogs from the Middle East.

Blogging on the unfolding events in Yemen had its price. When she received a threatening message on her Facebook account, her reaction was simple: she translated it from Arabic to English and posted it on her blog!

When the threats persisted, she wrote a blog on 27, April 2011 with the title 'Sorry I won't let you shush me'.

"Sorry I'm not silent

Sorry I won't let you shush me

Sorry I'm still lifting my head high and staying strong

I'll just keep blogging on!"

The threats were expected. Her defiance matched her personality. Yet it was calming the fears of her mother that proved to be harder.

In a country where the law is the commodity of the strong, a divorced mother working hard to raise two young daughters had every reason to fear for the safety of her daughter: 'they will kidnap and rape you', she would shout at her. And Afrah frustrated would listen to her and continue to blog.

Eventually though she left Yemen. It was not intentional. She was participating in a leadership youth program in May 2011 in Sweden and the deliberate targeting of journalists and activists in Yemen started; friends she knew. And the threats kept pouring even when she was abroad. "My soul was crushed," she told the migration officer interviewing her after she applied for asylum.

I've always resisted to be weak, because it was a losing option in Yemen. I knew that I had no protection from no one. I knew that I must be strong to fight back. Today, I acknowledge that I'm human being and it's all right if I feel weak. I shall be strong once again but for the time being I'm with a dead soul.

It was a difficult decision, evident in the blogs that followed that period. She was a fish, who yearned for her salty Yemeni water. The sweet water of Sweden suffocated her.

But she stood on her feet again -- resilience is one of her qualities. She learned to adapt.

She co-founded Yemeni Salon, organizing events that aim to inform the Swedish public about Yemen.

Then she started her master studies. Now she is almost done with it and thinking about the next step. A cultural project is on the pipeline.

And her blog remains a reliable source of updated information on Yemen.

She will probably go back to Yemen, she tells me and I know that Yemen is her destiny. She reminds me of Dr. Raufa Hassan, a pioneer Yemeni feminist. She too had to flee Yemen under threats. She too felt suffocated in her sweet water. She needed her Yemeni salty water, so she went back.

"How do you feel after all what happened?" I asked her. "The youth uprising in Yemen, while ground-breaking, did not result in the political changes you were hoping for."

She answered:

Change needs relentless and persistence work. So we should just keep working on it to make it happen. And setbacks we survive by living with passion, living deliberately!

Now that is what I call an authentic young Yemeni spirit.

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