THE WORLD OF EXTREME POVERTY IS LITTERED WITH LANDMINES.
Kambale cried as he walked alone. There were no other people in sight, and he was afraid. He was only six years old, and he had been searching for his mother for hours. They were refugees in a war torn area of their country, and they had become separated during a forced march. Feeling exhausted, he slowly took another step, and the sudden force of a powerful explosion hurled his small body into the air. He landed in a grotesquely twisted position. He had stepped on a mine that someone had missed when the area had been swept. He was dazed as he looked down at where his feet should be. Both of his tiny legs were blown off above the knees. Kambale began to scream for his mother. He screamed and screamed and screamed for her, but the blast had perforated both of his eardrums so he heard only silence. As his heart pumped, huge streams of blood were forced through his gaping wounds. After a short time his voice weakened, and he quickly bled to death. He died alone.
An hour later Martyna found Kambale’s mutilated body. Starving animals had already attacked his corpse, so she barely recognized her own child. Horror and despair overwhelmed her. Sobbing in agony, she gathered up the remains of her little boy and was immediately soaked in his blood. She began to plead with the other refugees to stop and help her bury her son, but they were afraid to step off the road for fear there might be other mines. As Martyna sat on the ground rocking Kambale’s body, the militia arrived and told her to leave her dead child behind and to start walking, but she couldn’t bear to put him down. She became hysterical, yelling at the soldiers that she had to bury her son. The militia had strict orders to move the civilians out of the area before night fall, so the commanders were in no mood to be patient with her. The ranking officer ordered her once more to get on her feet and start moving, but she ignored him. Without hesitating he raised his handgun and shot her in the back of the head. The problem was solved. The bodies of Martyna and Kambale were drug out of the way, and the stream of refugees slowly continued along the road, each person taking care not to step in the pools of blood.
Amare and Dabir unconsciously held their breath as they slowly made their way across the barren valley. The two young boys were being forced to walk ahead of a group of soldiers through a suspected minefield. The militia could not risk losing any men, however, the boys were expendable. The two had been friends all their lives. They had always done everything together, and now they were terrified they would die together. The soldiers had threatened to kill their families if they did not cooperate, so they had no choice. Their hearts pounded, and they shook with fear each time they placed their bare foot down in the dirt. For what seemed like hours they slowly made their way across the barren stretch of ground. They had pleaded with the soldiers, that if they did step on a mine, to please shoot them and end their suffering, but the leader said he could not afford to waste ammunition on such things. If they set off a mine they would be left where they lay. The boys had seen the awful effects on those who had survived such a blast. The individuals were crippled and maimed for life, and since they were unable to work, they almost always slipped into poverty. The streets were lined with beggars who were missing limbs. The boys did not want to face that kind of life.
The soldiers stayed a safe distance behind. Amare and Dabir could hear them laughing and joking as they made bets with each other on which boy would die first. They each took a few more terrifying steps and then somebody won the bet. The blast shook the ground. For an instant Amare thought he had been injured. He had been knocked down, and he was covered in a red mist. But as the shock of the concussion wore off he realized he was drenched in the blood and tissue of his friend. He stared in horror at Dabir’s mangled body as it flopped a few times like a fish that’s been placed on a river bank, and then it was still. Behind him he heard the soldiers laughing and paying off their bets, and their laughter only increased as he rolled over and vomited. Amare still had two hundred yards to cross.
Nadifa was eighteen and engaged to be married. That was not surprising since she was often considered to be the most beautiful girl in her village. As she walked, her thoughts were focused on her upcoming wedding, the last thing on her mind was death. As she bent over to pick a flower with her left hand, she took one more step. Suddenly her world exploded. There seemed to be smoke everywhere, and it took several moments before she realized she was laying on the ground. Her body was shaking uncontrollably as she gasped for breath. The air smelled burned. Suddenly waves of pain began to sweep over her. The severity of it was shocking to her, she had never felt such agony. Her vision was blurred, and when she tried to focus she realized she couldn’t see out of her left eye. She raised her left hand up to her face and saw that she was missing three fingers and that her thumb was only attached by a strip of skin. Her mouth was throbbing with such intensity that she didn’t think she could stand it. Her undamaged hand tried to touch the left side of her face but most of her jaw was missing. She glanced down and saw her bloody teeth scattered on the ground. It was then that she realized she had stepped on a mine.
A million thoughts flashed through her head. Was she going to live? Would her family be able to take care of her? Would her fiance still want her? Would she be able to have children? But the searing pain quickly drove everything else from her mind. She told herself that she had to get ready to die, but then softly, off in the distance, she began to hear voices coming towards her. She recognized the language was English, which meant it had to be the Americans. Their military had a medical post some distance from her village, and they must have heard the explosion and were coming to help her. Her heart swelled with hope, although she knew they were risking their own lives to come near her since there could be other mines. When the first soldier reached her she feebly tried to thank him, but her shattered face made it impossible. Soon others gathered around her, working quickly to save her life.
18 months later Nadifa was still dealing with the effects of the explosion. Physically her life had changed forever. Walking any distance was almost impossible due to her lack of balance, and the doctors had to remove her left hand above the wrist. But it was her face that had received the most damage. She had lost her left eye, and she had endured multiple surgeries to rebuild her jaw, but despite the best efforts of the doctors she was left with horrific facial scars. After a year and a half it was still shocking to see her reflection. No longer the prettiest girl in the village, people often looked away when she passed by. Small children were frightened of her. However, the worst pain of all had been when her fiance refused to marry her. He had told her that she was no longer the same person on the inside or the outside. She knew that was true because she felt like a different person. She realized that although her life had been saved, in many ways “her life” had been taken from her. Deep down she knew her suffering was only beginning.
THERE ARE MORE THAN 100 MILLION LANDMINES IN THE WORLD TODAY.
CIVILIANS MAKE UP THE HIGHEST PERCENTAGE OF CASUALTIES.