Life and loss in war-torn Yemen

20 April 2017

In Yemen, a war is raging. Malak blogs about meeting the patients at the MSF supported hospital in Thi As Sufal...  
 
One day in December, I travelled to the governorate of Ibb to visit an MSF hospital there. I walked through one department and saw the patients in their beds. My job requires me to share the stories of patients, to better convey the humanitarian situation (after getting their consent of course).
 
In one room I saw six patients: two were children under 10, two were young men, another was a middle-aged man in his early fifties. The last man was thin, with brown skin, in his early forties. He lays on his bed at the far end of the room. Each of these patients has a story of their own.
 

Portrait of the man
 
The eyes of that man in his forties were piercing, despite his exhausted body. He repeatedly asked the doctor when he would be able to go home. The doctor told me a bullet had hit him in the chest, and that he was lucky to be alive.
 
I approached the man to find out more. In an halting voice he told me that he had been collecting firewood in an uninhabited area when a bullet struck him, seemingly from nowhere. To his astonishment, there was no one to be seen after the shooting. The only person with him at the time was his eight-year-old daughter.
 
His name is Abdurrahman, 45-years old, from Taiz. He told me that collecting firewood was his only source of income, and that he was the sole breadwinner for his wife and six children. Firewood is an alternative for many Yemenis who can no longer afford cooking gas.
 
After he was shot, Abdurrahman used his headdress to stop the flow of blood. There was no one around to assist him, and he had to walk for 20 minutes to reach a small pharmacy. The pharmacist gave him first-aid treatment and a passerby volunteered to drive him to the Rural Hospital in Ibb – where MSF works.
 
At the hospital, the medical team operated on Abdurrahman to extract the bullet, then admitted him to the inpatient department, where I found him. 
 
Abdurrahman was not as worried about himself as much as for his family. He didn’t want to stay at the hospital for long – his family depend on him for income. He earns a monthly average of 15,000 Yemeni Riyals (approximately USD 50). This isn’t enough, but he says it is better than nothing. 
 

Abdurrahman changes into his clothes
 
When I told Abdurrahman that I work for MSF and that we write and record our patients’ testimonies in our newsletters and websites, he immediately agreed to share his story, but he asked me to wait for him to change back into the same clothes he wore when he was hit by the bullet. He still has his headdress, which he used to stop the blood, as well as the black jacket and his Muqattab (which is the traditional Yemeni alternative to trousers). 
 
“Before this war we had a comfortable life, we had proper food and could find work easily; there was safety and peace of mind,” he said as I photographed him. “Now we cannot find that peace at home nor outside; not when you are working, nor when you are sleeping; nowhere. Most of the people here are suffering from this war. After the convenience of their previous lives, it’s difficult to adjust, it’s difficult to make a living. Going out to work can mean risking your life” added Abdurrahman after a pause. 
 
Recalling the details of the day when he was shot, Abdurrahman’s story was punctuated with long pauses.
 

Abdurrahman stands by his hospital bed
 
Listing the obstacles that people face on a daily basis, Abdurrahman did not mention the lack of basic services such as electricity, from the way he spoke and the challenges he faces, I believe he sees such things as a luxury.
 
I thanked him for his time and asked for his phone number in case I needed to get in touch later. He replied that he did not have one. As he spoke, his facial expression suggested mild amusement at my question, perhaps that luxurious items such as phones are out of reach for him. I wasn’t sure how to respond and we spent some moments in silence.
 
The other patients in the room remained silent as Abdurrahman’s story unfolded before them. I suppose the majority have forgotten about television now that real drama is present everywhere they turn. This war guarantees that  people hear stories in which their relatives, neighbours or even they themselves are the heroes.
 
I can’t forget the piercing eyes of Abdurrahman as he stared at the lens, wearing the clothes from the day of his injury. I continue to dwell on his story, on his wife and children who wait for him to return with food after selling his firewood. While shooting his picture, I couldn’t help but be impressed by his resilience. By that time he had spent five days at the hospital.
 
I took Abdurrahman’s leave and told him I would visit the next day. I bid him and the other patients farewell. The next day I came to the in-patients room where Abdurrahman was staying. But the doctor informed me that he had been discharged half an hour before. Though I was sad at missing the chance to wish him well, I was happy that he survived and was able to return to his family and simple work.
 

MSF supported General Rural Hospital in Thi As Sufal district Ibb

The MSF supported General Rural Hospital in Thi As Sufal district Ibb. 

Abdurrahman is one of many patients I’ve spoken with. I interview them to tell anyone who is interested about the people living in a country that has been ravaged by war for more than 22 months now.
 
People in Yemen vary in the degree to which this war has affected them. But the majority of them are like Abdurrahman; this war has shown them no mercy. They cannot find a job that offers them a sufficient means of living. Others have been displaced from their homes, along with the shelter they provided and the memories in their walls. Some already know that they are not going home, because their homes have been destroyed. Some remain in their houses but cannot find enough food.I once met a patient who was forced to choose between buying a day’s food for his family or spending that money on hiring a vehicle to transport his son to the hospital for medical treatment. More and more people have to make similar decisions and prioritise what is essential. Often they don’t make the right choice, and prioritise food over healthcare, thinking that he or she will get better. Far too frequently, MSF hospitals receive patients at an advanced stage of their conditions. And as a result, they either develop health complications they have to live with for the rest of their lives, or they simply die.
 
 
The story was first published in MSF's "Without Borders" magazine, issue 35 / January-March 2017. MSF is an international non-governmental medical organization working in nearly 70 countries in the world including Yemen. In Yemen, MSF provides healthcare directly to patients in Sa'ada, Hajja, Amran, Sana'a, Ibb, Taiz, Al-Dhale' and Aden and supports health facilities in Abyan, Lahj and Mahweet.
 
 
 
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