Jihan and I had been to the protest and, at its end, were speaking to bare-chested youths holding Molotov cocktails, their faces wrapped in t-shirts. "This [Molotov] is not violence," one of them insisted. "What's violence is what they use against us, live bullets. We are defending ourselves. We're not attacking. If they attack us, we respond."
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when a shout went up that the riot police were on their way. Jihan and I peeled away in a friend's jeep, looking out the back window as arcs of light from tear gas canisters and burning Molotovs streaked across the night sky.
We thought we saw a tear gas canister hit a fleeing child in the head, and when Jihan received a phone call about the injury soon afterwards, we rushed to the underground clinic.
"I couldn't sleep last night," Jihan told me the next morning. "That thirteen-year old child we saw was in front of my eyes."
She reached Hussein's older brother by phone after several attempts. Hussein, he reported, was vomiting, not eating, and suffering from headaches. In typical fashion, Jihan sprang into action, contacting several doctors and medical professionals for consultation. There might be a serious problem, one that only a CT scan could detect, a specialist told her. Jihan's worry deepened.
"Doctors with private clinics don't have CT scan or X-ray machines, so we need to arrange a hospital for him, which is very risky. [Hussein's family] won't accept taking him to the hospital. They will be scared that he will be arrested, so, really, I don't know what to do," she told me, pressing her iPhone against her forehead. "It's a very big decision, taking him to the hospital."
There was good reason for all of them to fear the boy's arrest. A few days earlier, Jihan and I had visited 11-year-old Ali Hasan, who had just been released after nearly a month in juvenile prison. He had been playing soccer outside, Ali told us, when armed riot police approached. His friends had managed to run away, but frozen in fear, he was arrested and charged with blocking the road in advance of a demonstration. What did he miss most while imprisoned? Ali responded without hesitation: his two little sisters and toddler-aged brother.
We watched Ali romp with his younger siblings, he tussling with and tickling them, they leaping on him with shrieks of laughter. It would have been easy to miss the shadow that crossed his face when he spoke about how frightened he had been, locked up without his mother.
Evidence of trauma was hardly borne by this boy alone.
I saw it when a male medical worker broke down weeping as he described what he had witnessed at Salmaniya hospital during the crackdown on Pearl Roundabout.
I heard it in the voice of Dr. Nabeel Hameed, one of the doctors arrested and tortured by the regime, as he described his struggles with depression, anger, and confusion since his release, and detected it in Dr. Zahra Alsammak's flat affect when she declined to describe the torture that her husband, also a doctor, had endured.
I recognized it in the crayon drawings by the children of prisoners and "martyred" protesters, replete with gun-wielding police, tanks, stick figures behind bars, and bodies on stretchers.
I felt it in the mother of Ali Jawad Al-Sheikh, as she buried her face in a pile of her son's t-shirts and breathed in their scent, as she has done every night since 14-year-old Ali was killed.
"There has been a lot of damage and hurt, the people won't forget it very soon," Jihan told me. "Even if we got our freedom tomorrow, the people need time to be healed."
If the regime did not institute "true reforms," and soon -- which I saw no indication of -- Jihan predicted that the government would soon be facing a more aggressive generation. "We don't want that," she said forcefully. "We started peacefully and we want to stay peaceful" We are trying our best to advise [the youth] not to hold these Molotov cocktails. But, at the end, I think if the violence [against them] increases, it will be very difficult to control them."
The impact of the trauma does not escape the activists. Jihan described documenting the killing of Ahmed Ismail Hassan, a 22-year old citizen-journalist shot in the lower abdomen by live ammunition as he was filming a protest. Jihan had never seen so much blood. For two days, the smell of blood in her nostrils prevented her from eating and for two nights she could not close her eyes.