It never seized to amaze me how regardless of starvation, lack of employment and all the other woes of Yemen – they could still throw a good wedding. The rainbow of colours under the abayas and burqa’s always awed me. I Never refused an opportunity to attend traditional weddings and I always went if I was invited. [If I’m honest it was partly also due to my grandmas never-ending lecture of how rude it would be to refuse]. That day I got ready as usual with my cousins oblivious to what the day would bring, we indulged in just enjoying the atmosphere. Before you knew it, Mohamed was downstairs ready to drop us off while we were pumped up and ready to enjoy the madness that would be in the few hours everything was ‘forgotten’. I walked upto the first landing and after taking my abaya off I proceeded to walk in, It seemed each step I took I ran into someone who I knew or someone who knew of me and I ended up saying Salam and planting kisses for what seemed like forever. Then I walked into the room, and I saw her – actually I think I looked through her expecting…I don’t know what, but something anything other than what I saw. This was Bushra – no this was a little girl…No this was my little sister… In all the madness of getting to my grandma’s house and being ordered to the wedding, I never asked. Call it gullible, unbelievable, naive – matter of fact call it what you like – I never once asked if I had maybe I wouldn’t have gone maybe I would have thrown a fuss, maybe I would’ve prepared myself or done something. However unlikely or unbeneficial this would’ve been. Thageya the proud mother dragged at me by the arm leading as one of the ‘guests of honour’ sitting next to the ‘blushing bride’. I looked over my shoulder, and my mum sat all dressed traditionally and talking jokingly. As soon as my mother stopped talking I asked her how could this be? ‘This is their tradition my daughter’ she replied, and before I could even react, she was catching up with someone else. This seemed like a dream maybe it was just me that saw 12 year old Bushra, so I looked up and got lost in her hazel eyes. The eyes that never stopped dancing were barely flickering, and I sat silently – neither there nor not. As Bushra got taken into the next room, I and my cousin were only one of four allowed in with her as ‘guests of honour’ – an honour which riled me inside but would be my only chance to be with her. As the doors closed – I asked why? I asked my cousin – why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you refuse? I asked Bushra. No-one answered for what seemed like a lifetime, and then Bushra looked straight at me saying ukhti (Sister) Muna there’s no choice. That was it – in that one sentence the conversation ended, and Bushra would be married to a man in his 30’s who wouldn’t consummate the marriage until she began to menstruate. A thing I and every girl knew would be a thing that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Bushra gave birth to a baby girl in Oct 2009, had several difficulties at the end of 2010 giving birth to another girl. A few months ago I got the news at aged 16 Bushra bled out in childbirth yet again, I was beyond devastated. All I kept thinking was – would this be the day she gives up? Would this be the day I lose the little girl who was aspiring to be something? As I waited for news of how she was, I just kept thinking why should she be contemplating death? Why the hell do we have a country ruled by customs? Bushra by the grace of God survived but her baby died. The day Bushra got married will forever be engraved in me, that day was the first time in my life I felt I saw every girl who was violated, will be violated and is being violated in the name of tradition. Humans are odd creatures moved by emotions, riled by anger and the followers of customs all in the name of belonging. I vowed when I got back to Yemen I would go back and take a picture of Bushra’s eyes, I would show the world pictures of all the girls who speak from the heart with their eyes what the mouth cannot speak and what would ultimately be inevitable fate. As the world hears about the humanitarian crisis, AQAP and every other woe in Yemen we forget the girls and women.
In Yemen as if child marriages and young pregnancies weren’t enough to deal with, the lack of adequate medical care fuels what is already a raging fire. Mechanisms need to be put into place in order to protect women, in many different areas, there are so many issues which have been brushed under the carpet and ought to be discussed now rather than later. I’m aware though that would mean addressing our customs and what is now not even considered a catastrophe but rather something of the ‘norm’. It would mean fighting villages, tribal men and women, not just on issues of child brides but of a woman’s choice to family planning. This would mean never allowing tradition to be the sugar-coating of wrong – could that be ever done in Yemen? I don’t know, but I do wish for some sort of advancement.
My last conversation with Bushra was 5 days ago, and she sounded optimistic and determined – how far will that optimism take her? How long will that fire of hunger rage? I don’t know, but the fact she still has that fire is a true testament to her and many child brides’ strength – physically and even more so mentally. Personally I dedicate International woman’s day to those girls forced to be women, mothers & wives… I detest the traditions and customs which burdened them way before their time – but I salute them for carrying on and dreaming. Although this is an all too familiar story in Yemen, their hope inspires me to carry on thinking that maybe one day things can and will change.
*This is a true story with only names changed.