Leaving Your Legs in Yemen
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because we'd all be a lot better off if farmers didn't feel like they had to become soldiers.
By Cheena Kapoor
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
As told by Yemeni soldier Mansour Ali
I was flat on the ground, confused, screaming in pain and choking for breath. I saw my friends, soldiers like me, walking toward me. Walking slowly and really cautiously. They looked strange. Then it dawned on me: They were trying to avoid stepping on a land mine.
Another land mine. Then I remembered: I had stepped on a land mine.
I come from a family of farmers in Hodeidah, a district in northwest Yemen. My father, my four brothers and I worked on our small farm until 2017, when my father, who was an imam (prayer leader) as well, was kidnapped by the Houthis, an Islamic tribe. They also planted land mines in our fields. So my brothers and I joined the army to fight them. My father was released a year later, but we remained soldiers.
And on a night in September 2018, during a patrol in Hodeidah, I stepped on a land mine. After that, they moved me to a vehicle, and then to a hospital two hours from the blast site. I was bleeding and losing consciousness. The pain was excruciating.
When I woke up several hours later, they told me I’d lost both legs. I couldn’t believe it. A friend had to repeat it several times before it sank in. Then I started crying.
My friend said that the remains of my legs had been buried at the blast site. Doctors and well-wishers assured me a speedy recovery. But simple things like getting a glass of water or answering the door had become impossible. I raged against the universe.
Dr. Vijay Sharma, a senior orthopedic consultant at Medeor Hospital in Delhi, told me I needed several bone corrective surgeries before I could get prosthetics. While the doctors performed complex surgeries for over four months, I focused on returning home. And joining the army again.
During those four months though, I saw several Yemeni soldiers arrive, recover and go. My friends Helming Mahfodh and Muhammed Evad were being treated alongside me. Their welcome company kept all the dark, negative thoughts away, but I focused on returning to Hodeidah.
Sadly, Aden is completely destroyed and taken over. People are fighting one another for food and water. My family has lived on prayers and has hoped for my safe return for close to a year. Despite my missing legs, I have found the courage and the will to return.
I have also been interacting with fellow patients, making sure that they are comfortable. I order and share Indian food with them and call them to my room to watch a Bollywood movie or a cricket match on television. Interacting with others and learning their stories from back home gives me even more reasons to return.
I am blessed though. Many of my friends and their family members have lost their lives in this war. I am lucky that I did not meet the same fate.
But we’re five years into this civil war in Yemen. Back when it started, it was between the government led by then-President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Houthis. Thousands of lives –– by some estimates 7,500 –– have been lost to this war. And that doesn’t count the ones who died because of the resulting famine.
While I am not sure whether I’ll ever be able to walk again, even with the prosthetics, I know one thing: I’m going to live to see my country free. And by the time this is published, I’ll already be in Yemen, trying to find a way to fight again.
- Cheena Kapoor, OZY Author Contact Cheena Kapoor