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Anti-personnel landmines : Stories from Kabul

20-07-2001

 Just before his wedding  

 Hakim Masjedi, interviewed by Mir Wais (ICRC Mine Department, Kabul)  

Hakim Masjedi was born in 1980 to a poor farming family in Osider Khil, in the Paghman district of Kabul Province. His father died some years back and his eldest brother Nawrooz was killed four years ago. Hakim, his four remaining brothers and the families of the two oldest all live together. Their father owned two and a half hectares of agricultural land in Paghman District. This is now shared among the family but provides barely a third of the food they need. Five months ago, Hakim got engaged.

It was 20 November 2000. The weather was getting colder by the day and Hakim went into the Arghandi Mountains to gather firewood with his nephew Shamarooz Nawrooz (15). While collecting wood on the top of the mountain, Hakim stepped on an anti-personnel mine. He lost his right leg below the knee and suffered injuries to his left foot, abdomen, face and eyes. Shamarooz ran to help his uncle, who by this time was lying in a pool of his own blood. On the way, he too stepped on a mine, dying a few minutes later.

Hakim is still in the intensive care unit of Kart-e-Seh Surgical Hospital. His family have told him his nephew is only injured and is staying in another hospital.

Asked about mines, he replied, “We’re a very poor family, living under difficult economic conditions. I don’t know what will happen to the Shamarooz family now he’s been injured. What about his mother, his younger brothers and sisters?” He said how much he hated the mine p roducers and the people who lay mines. But he spoke too of how much he appreciated the work of those who were working to clear them, especially in Afghanistan. He sighed, and concluded, “I’m engaged to a girl I loved very much. But that was when I was healthy. Now I’m disabled and don’t know anything about my future, my marriage, my miserable future … oh God … Merciful God! … I can’t …”

He covered his face with the blanket so I couldn’t see his tears.

 
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 The ice-cream seller  

 Noorudeen, interviewed by Kazim Malwan (ICRC Mine Department, Kabul)  

Noorudeen is one of a family of twelve. Their father Mirajudeen was a village elder for the last ten years of his life, but died five years ago, leaving his family a vineyard of about 1,200 vines, together with a piece of farm land – a real treasure in the poor village of Aghasaray in the Kalakan district of Kabul province.

At only 25, the eldest son, Sarajudeen, was already an experienced gardener. As is traditional here, he took over responsibility for the household. He is a wise young man, who knew how to manage the property, and he toiled with his 18-year old brother Noorudeen on their farm land and in the vineyard. Their hard work was rewarded. Not only could they support their large family, but by selling surplus crops, grapes and raisins, they we re able to save some money every year. Fighting between different groups and commanders occasionally got in the way, but for almost five years they had it pretty good in their village. This was not to last. One fine spring day in 1999, violent warfare broke out between two heavily-armed groups, destroying almost everything in Aghasaray. Their house was completely destroyed by the heavy fighting, and Sarajudeen had to flee to Kabul, taking his wife, his elderly mother, two small children and his brothers and sisters – but leaving behind all they possessed.

This marked the beginning of a long period of homelessness, poverty and hunger for the family. After many difficulties, they finally took refuge in an abandoned, war-damaged old house of a distant relative in Yakatoot (a village in Kabul’s 9th district). It took Sarajudeen two months to find a job – a long time with a starving family to feed. Eventually, he was fortunate enough to get a job as a cook in a Kabul barracks. His pay didn’t cover all the needs of the family, but he counted himself lucky because he could bring home left-over food.

His younger brother Noorudeen tried various things. He started a scrap metal “business”, running all over Kabul’s Pul-i-Charkhi Industrial Park in search of scrap he could sell – for a pittance. Eventually, he gave up; the pickings were poor, doormen on the war-damaged factories chased him away and he had heard that handling the abandoned scrap could be dangerous. Shortly after getting out of the scrap-metal business, Noorudeen started a more successful enterprise – selling ice-cream. He borrowed an old second-hand bike from a relative and hawked his thermos of ice-cream around the villages to the north of Kabul. As time went on, he began to enjoy the job, and the satisfaction he got from relieving the thirst of the villagers on the hot summer days – especially the children. Apart from which, he was bringing in money to help his older brother support the family.

It was a hot summer’s day at the end of July. The burning sun had sent both man and beast in search of shade. But not Noorudeen. Ignoring the heat, he was cycling from village to village, selling as much ice-cream as he could. He sold a lot that day. Cycling back from one of the villages, he called on a man who happened to be holding a large piece of metal he had found by the road a few minutes earlier. The man fancied some ice-cream for himself and his children, but had no money. So he offered Noorudeen the piece of metal. The former scrap merchant made a quick appraisal, the deal was done, and the piece of metal changed hands for 20 ice-creams. Noorudeen reckoned he’d got a good deal – he’d be able to sell it for the price of at least 50 ice-creams. When he got home, he put the piece of metal in the corner of the yard and rushed off to tell his elder brother about his good fortune. He and most of the family came out to see Noorudeen’s prize.

As soon as Sarajudeen picked up the piece of metal it exploded, injuring him, his brother, his mother and two small daughters. Sarajudeen lost two of the fingers of his right hand, and the other fingers were injured.

We interviewed Sarajudeen the day he was discharged from his ICRC-supported hospital. “War is nothing but destruction. Being a displaced person in your own country is a disaster. How can I forget that I used to have a fine vineyard, a plot of land and a simple but comfortable house in my beloved village? Now I’m homeless. I’ve nothing. No house, no garden, no land. Nothing. And the explosion has made things a whole lot worse. Me and the other four who were injured, we’ll take a while longer to recover completely. I know the dangers of mines and UXO. The stuff’s all over my country. And now I know how dangerous it is to collect scrap. But what can you do? Poor people have to take risks. I beg all the agencies and demining agencies to work hard at clearing our country of this hidden enemy. And I beg my fellow-countrymen to stay well away from these devices.”

With a hopeful, optimistic smile, Sarajudeen was off, out of the hospital and into the crowd on the street outside.

 
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 Survival  

 Aminullah, interviewed by Arif Najibi Wardak (ICRC Mine Department, Kabul)  

Walking through the ICRC-supported Kart-e-Seh hospital, I saw a boy crying on one of the beds. I stopped and asked him his name, and why he was crying. Drying his tears, he told me his story.

“My name is Aminullah. I was born in 1990 in a small village called Sinjet Dara in Parwan province. Lots of us children have been injured by mines in my village.” He said he was crying because he was worried about how his family were going to survive.

“My father is old, but he still has to work so we can buy food and the other things we need. We were all hoping my eldest brother would be able to provide for us, and he was working and taking care of the family until he stepped on a mine last year. He’s lost his right leg and hurt his left one really badly. So he can’t do heavy work anymore. After that, I was the only son who could work and earn some money so we could eat. My sisters knit sweaters to earn money, but knitting work is available only for part of the year.

Before the mine, I used to help the others with farming to earn some money, and I used to deliver bread and other food to an army base on a mountain near our village. They gave me five loaves for doing this and every night I shared them with my parents and my little sisters.

It was a hot, sunny afternoon. I was carrying an armful of bread through the hills and mountains, dreaming about how life and money were going to get better. Then I went up into the air and fell down. My eyes were full of dust and soil. So was my mouth and my face. I looked down and saw my right leg was gone and my hand was broken. Blood was running into my eyes. When I woke up I was in a CIRCA hospital.

I always used to think about my brother. How he felt about losing his leg and how his life has been since. Now I’m the same as him. I just praise God that I can still help my parents, who have nothing and have no-one to work for them except me. The mine didn’t just make me disabled – it’s going to make it hard for my family to survive, because I was the only one who could work. Mines attack everyone, whether they’re fighters, civilians or even animals that have nothing to do with war.

They’ve been fighting here for twenty years. It’s ruined my country. And now these mines mean people are frightened to go home.”

I asked him if he had a message for those who use mines. The tears started again as he replied, “Stop using them. Mines can’t tell the difference between fighters and innocent civilians. Why don’t people just stop planting them, and save lives?”

 
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 An old Kuchi man  

 Said Kareem Meherdel, interviewed by Mir Wais (ICRC Mine Department, Kabul)  

Said Kareem is 55 and was born in Spairai, a village in Sarobi District, Kabul Province. He’s tall and thin, with a white beard. He’s been married twice and has two sons and five daughters. He and his large family live in a village, and he supports himself and his family by herding animals.

On 3 November 2000, Said Kareem was tending his flocks in a mountain pasture in Anar Bagh, a village in Sarobi District, Kabul Province, with his sixteen-year old nephew, Astana Gul Shir Baz. The mountain had previously been a minefield, but there was nowhere else with bushes for the animals to eat.

Said Kareem was walking a little ahead when his nephew called out, “Stop! Mines!”. He turned and started back towards Astana Gul, but stepped on a mine before he could reach safety. Seeing his uncle lying unconscious, Astana Gul tried to help him, then ran to get help – not an easy matter. Said Kareem lost his right leg below the knee and suffered injuries to his left leg. He’s currently in Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital.

Asked about his family life and this incident, Said Kareem replied, “We’re Kuchi. Animals are our job, so we live in many places during the year. In the winter we go where it’s warm, in the spring, summer and autumn we go to cooler places. We’re always on the move. This year, for instance, we spent the time from mid-spring to mid-autumn in Morghgeeran, Paghman District. We could feed our animals well there, because there were lots of pastures. Some time ago, we moved to Sarobi and planned to stay there for the winter. Between me and my brother Shir Baz, we have about 150 sheep.

I have to provide my family with everything they need. How can I do that from hospital? How will they survive? I forget the pain, because it’s always on my mind. What am I going to do when I get out of here? We’re Muslims and I trust in God. I believe this was Go d’s will. I was lucky I just lost one leg – I still have the other one, and the rest of my body. When I heard the explosion, I lost consciousness, and when I woke up I couldn’t imagine ever getting better. Everyone here in Afghanistan hates mines. We call on all the decent people of the world to make the mine producers and users stop what they’re doing. These things are Public Enemy No.1.

I really appreciate the work of the organizations that are fighting mines, especially here in Afghanistan. Every mine they remove saves the livelihood of a family. Every two mines removed protects several families from death or injury.”

 
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 Still a happy deminer  

 Abdul Haq, interviewed by Ghulam Ali (ICRC Mine Department, Kabul)  

On 21 November 2000, I went to Kabul’s Kart-e-Seh Surgical Hospital to visit mine victims in the old out-patients’ department. A young mine victim was lying on one of the beds. His face told the story of a hard life and of pain. As I generally do, I sat down beside him and asked how he was. Our conversation, about mines and the misery they cause civilians, gradually turned into an interview about his own “mine incident”.

“My name is Abdul Haq Ghulam Sakhi. I was born in 1972, in Baghlan Province. My father is a mullah. He moved to Baghlan from the Toghbedi village of Charikar in Parwan Province many years ago, and served there as mullah for a long time. I got married in 1998, but I don’t have any children yet. I have ten brothers and three s isters. I never went to school, but my father did give me some religious education in the mosque.

Ten years ago, my family moved from Baghlan to Kabul Province. In 1991 I took a job with the Halo Trust demining agency. I started off as a deminer and in 1996 they promoted me to Team Leader because I did my work thoroughly and honestly. I was proud of my work, feeling I was fighting a heroic battle against mines. They’re the enemy of all mankind.”

I asked him why he chose demining. After a pause, he replied, “I kept hearing about innocent men, women and children getting blown up, day after day. I decided to help save my fellow-countrymen from mines, so I joined the Halo Trust. I personally destroyed 700 mines and made many square metres safe.

The day before yesterday, I went to work as usual. What I didn’t know was that this would be my last day as a Demining Team Leader. I was up with my team on Mount Shadkhana, in Paghman District, clearing the mines that had already been found, when I heard an explosion and fell. The team evacuated me and I was admitted to this ICRC-supported hospital. Sometime later I realized I had stepped on a mine. My right leg was amputated below the knee and I’ve got other serious injuries. But even though I’ve lost a leg I’m still happy, because I was able to save the lives of thousands of innocent people.

His message to those who supply the mines? “Instead of sending mines, send us the industrial machinery we need to rebuild Afghanistan.”