Many among several hundred people in Yemen who lost their limbs to landmine explosions are betrothed men and women. They feared their partners might turn them down, but love has triumphed over tragedy.
TAIZ, Yemen — On the morning of June 20, Taiba Mohammed Mahyoub and her friend walked up a mountain in Jabal Habashi district in south of Taiz to graze sheep. As they reached a lush meadow, 29-year-old Mahyoub began chatting with her friend about the preparations for her wedding, which was scheduled on June 26.
In the middle of the conversation she realised the sheep had slipped out of reach and were about to escape the pasture. She asked her friend to stay back and look after the remaining herd. As she walked out of the grassy patch and stepped onto bare ground, an explosion rocked the entire area, slamming her down a few feet away. Mahyoub had stepped on a hidden landmine.
"When her friend heard the explosion and saw Taiba (Mahyoub) faint, she thought she was dead. She [the friend] cried out loud ‘help us, Taiba is dead’,” Bilal Mohammed, Mahyoub's brother, told TRT World.
“She (Mahyoub) was unconscious and both of her legs were shattered.”
Jabal Habashi had been one of the battlefields in the war between the Houthis and the pro-government forces. Most of villages in the district, including Al Khor, where Mahyoub was injured, are littered with landmines allegedly planted by the Houthi rebels.
Bilal noticed that his sister was alive. He drove her to a hospital in Taiz city, where doctors amputated her right leg.
Mahyoub is still in the hospital. The doctors are trying to save her left leg. “It’s also badly damaged,” Bilal said.
In the last three years of war in Yemen, at least 615 people have been killed and 942 injured in explosions from landmines, according to the Yemeni Coalition for Monitoring Human Right Violations (YCMHRV). Many among those who survived these blasts are betrothed men and women. As they lost their limbs, they were prepared to be turned down by their partners.
But love triumphed over tragedy. In most cases, their partners did not give up on them. Instead, they were more willing to marry them.
For Mahyoub’s family, it was hard to tell her fiance about the incident. On the morning of the wedding day, the family contacted the groom.
"My father told him to cancel the engagement since my sister had lost both her legs,” said Bilal. “But her fiance insisted on marrying Taiba on June 26."
Although Malik was sad that his fiancee, Mahyoub, lost her legs and sustained many injuries on her body, his affection toward her grew manifold.
"Her father tried to persuade me to cancel the marriage, but I refused to do that. The landmine can destroy legs but it can’t stop love," Malik told TRT World.
“I was in love with her," he continued. " I am not a traitor that I would abandon her in her time of suffering. I should be even closer than before.”
Malik went ahead with the wedding and married Mahyoub in the hospital on June 26. He spent two weeks with his wife, standing by her as she lay on the hospital bed. He then returned to Hadramout province, where he works as a restaurant chef.
No one to help civilians
An ongoing war is still raging on in Yemen, fracturing most of civic and economic infrastructure. An average of 75 people are reportedly getting killed every day. The country is also grappling with serious health crises. More than 2,000 people have died from cholera since April and about half a million people are fighting the disease.
More than half of all the health facilities in Yemen are either closed or partially functioning, and there is a critical shortage of doctors in more than 40 percent of the country, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) health survey.
Most of the injured civilians are on their own, with little to no support from aid organisations. They are in a constant struggle when it comes to buying food and covering medical expenses. They can't afford to host weddings, where they would have to serve their relatives food. So they keep the weddings small.
The circumstances are different for fighters, however. In February 2017, the Muath Developmental Foundation, a pro-government charitable foundation that helps the war victims in Taiz province, organised a mass wedding for 20 wounded Yemeni fighters who had lost limbs from landmines.
The foundation confirmed that the cost of the wedding was covered by a philanthropist, a supporter of the pro-government forces.
Several batches of wounded fighters have left Yemen to receive treatment in India, Sudan, Turkey and other countries, while there is no support for civilians who are in need of advanced medical support abroad.
Abdullah Ahmed Hasan, 27, a resident of Taiz’s Al Camp neighbourhood, used to work as a blacksmith. As the war broke out in April 2015, he lost his job.
The war and joblessness pushed Hasan and his family to desperate margins. On July 13, he went out to collect firewood from the surrounding areas of the house of the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Al Camp. The family was unable to afford propane gas, a common source of energy in the Yemeni households.
Hasan was unaware that landmines were planted in the neighbourhood. He stepped on one, injuring himself gravely.
"The explosion pushed me back and shattered my right leg, and some shrapnel hit my left one,” Hasan told TRT World. "I was alone and there was no one to help, so I crawled for more than 100 metres until I found some people."
Hasan was ferried to Al Thawra hospital, the largest state-run hospital in Taiz.
He lost his right leg. His left leg was injured by a sharpnel. Doctors removed it and saved it from amputation.
"The doctors advised me to travel to Sudan or Jordan if I wanted to keep the remaining bit of my right leg but I am a poor man and I can’t afford that, so in the last resort I will surrender to my destiny and will ask doctors to amputate my leg fully," he explained.
Hasan was about to get engaged to his neighbour. As the landmine blast crippled him, he told his fiancee he would understand if she wanted to call the engagement off.
"I was surprised to hear my fiancee’s answer: she said that I needed her more than ever. She refused to end our engagement. Instead, she wants to marry me as soon as possible," Hasan recalled.
Hasan said that he needs someone to help him, as he is a severely disabled, and appeals to foundations and organisations to help him marry his fiancee, as they did with wounded fighters.
"There is only one positive thing in my life at the moment – the loyalty of my fiancee," Hasan said. "I need to survive, if only for my fiancee’s sake, but I don’t even have the money to marry her."
A lingering threat
Basem al Ariqi, an official at the Yemen Executive Mine Action Centre in Taiz province, said landmines have killed 268 and injured 214 in Taiz province alone between the beginning of the war in April 2015 and March 2017.
The bomb squads have deactivated 39,634 landmines in different provinces during 2015 and 2016, according to YCMHRV, including 26,755 anti-personnel landmines.
Yemen is among the countries that ratified the 1997 Ottawa convention on the prohibition of the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines.
"The landmines are planted in the conflict zones and there are many conflict zones in Taiz province, so Taiz has the highest number of landmine casualties, including children and women," Ariqi told TRT World. "The conflict zones in Taiz are in residential areas, so the casualties are usually civilians."
Ariqi confirmed that the YEMC is doing its best, with the cooperation of other organisations, to inform people about the dangers of landmines and how to identify them, stating that the demining is not an easy task and it needs a very long time.
"The ... effects remain for several years [till] after the end of the war,” Ariqi said. “So they form a future threat to the residents of conflict zones and they should be aware of this danger."
The landmines have been planted in streets, mountains, residential areas, schools and even inside Taiz University, the city’s main university.
The main purpose of endangering the civilian neighbourhoods with landmines was to block the advance of the pro-government forces.
But in most cases, it's people such as Mayhoub and Malik who end up stepping on them. Life without limbs would be unbearable. Perhaps it's just the love for their other halves that can help them move on.
“Landmines can stop armies but not love," Malik said. "Love and loyalty are the strongest."