By Nami Al-Nami
In some Yemeni villages, men traditionally carry their guns with them night and day, but there is no such tradition in my village; we only carry guns at night. In fact, it is considered shameful if residents carry weapons in broad daylight. Villagers may mock you and ask why you don’t put it away and get to work on the farm. Exceptions are made for guarding your farm from thieves, traveling to a different village or attending a wedding.
On the other side of the coin, it might as well be forbidden to be outside at night without a gun. Contributing to this night-time weapon culture are conflicts such as abductions.
Two years ago, my uncle and brother went to a wedding. They danced in the morning and shot their guns. They shot at rocks and other inanimate objects; some fathers took the opportunity to teach their sons how to shoot. Following the dancing, they had lunch, chewed qat, and did the traditional Zafaa for the groom, the wedding march with music to declare that the wedding is about to begin.
In the evening there is more dancing, followed by the recitation of poetry to the sound of gun shots. As my brother later recounted, he and my uncle were heading toward the tent, loudly reciting a poem, while another guest, Mohammed, shot his gun. Mohammed was a relative of the groom, in his forties, and a preacher at the mosque.
After about 15 minutes, they heard more gunfire, and suddenly, confusion and panic spread, my uncle said. Three guests – relatives of the groom – were shot. Fortunately, no one was killed, but chaos ensued as other guests rushed to carry the injured to vehicles to be taken to Sana’a hospitals, with accusations being thrown around before the injured were even evacuated.
So who did it?
Mohammed was about to confess when Abdullah and three other guests led him away from the tent and hid him in Abdullah’s home. Abdullah later told me he shut Mohammed up because he knew it had been an accident and feared that, in a fit of rage, someone would kill Mohammed.
After Mohammed began welcoming guests, he forgot to lock his gun. He entered the tent and sat down with his gun next to him. When another guest entered the tent, he said, he wanted to offer him his seat and as he stood and raised his gun, he accidently pulled the trigger. His fingers and hands seemed frozen in place until his gun shot about 17 bullets.
The villagers helped Mohammed collect money to offer the families. About YR 4 million has been spent on treatment. One of the injured is permanently disabled and has been taken to Egypt and Jordan for treatment.
Incredibly, as I traveled back to my village last week to attend another wedding, I discovered that folks had not learned any lesson from the tragedy. There were still guns, there were still shots being fire, there was still danger. I even saw Mohammed with his gun, firing it into the air. When will people learn?