Fatal Games brings sad end

National Yemen

Yemeni boy scouts hold fireworks during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of North Yemen’s Sept. 26, 1962 revolution in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, Sept.

By Tahani al-Sabri

Festivals, holidays, religious and national celebrations: all will inspire a sense of joy in the recognition of a special day or event. In our country, weddings and other holidays are associated with certain traditional customs. Among these, one of the most well-known is the use of fireworks, “al-Aqrah.” Children start collecting all kinds of fireworks—popular varieties include “Tomach, “Tauliaat,” Audio Rockets, Audio Grenades, “Pistols” and “Kalashnikov”—weeks before festivals begin.

Perhaps due to their common source of amusement for children, few see fireworks as a danger, or as a lethal toy that can sometimes lead to death. In the Rima governorate, an 18 year-old boy was playing with a firecracker known as “bomb,” which is bigger than the popular “Tomach.” The boy attempted to set off the firework, but due to the shortness of the wick, the incendiary exploded in his hand.

In serious pain and with his hand bleeding, he was rushed to the nearest clinic. That clinic, unfortunately, had no specialist on hand for first aid, so the medical staff applied gauze to the wound and recommended his companions bring him to a larger hospital. This treatment would soon prove fatal.

At the al-Thoura hospital in Sana’a, doctors quickly realized that the gunpowder of the firework had mixed with the boy’s blood. When no anti-poisoning treatment was administered at the clinic, the poison was able to spread throughout his entire body. After long hours in the hospital, the boy died. No one thinks that a small game could lead to a loss of life.

In recent years, Yemenis have come to realize the dangers of fireworks, particularly since the recent political wars in the country. In the past, young Yemenis would come up with games to entertain themselves: wakal, swinging, kites, football, “guess the car.” Children generally used traditional methods to play these games: kites are often constructed using four wooden stalks, a plastic bag and some strings.  Model cars can be built with plastic boxes, and hanger, and four box covers. These games encourage children’s creativity, forcing them manufacture their own toys and use their minds in positive ways that do not cause serious damage, like fireworks.

Mohammed Sultan, one of the merchants in Sana’a’s Salt Market said, ” the profits I gain from fireworks exceed those of any commodity bought by children in any given year”.

On the other hand, Naji Dabwan, social researcher, notes that, “unfortunately, supervision [of firework sales] by inspection committees is absent. Therefore, vendors take advantage of the government’s silence, and now neighborhoods and even parents feel comfortable trading fireworks in broad daylight and in public”.

He added that this phenomena affects children’s personalities. It is not strange to see a child carrying a gun instead of a pen and notebook.

Doctors in emergency centers shared that a number of children come to their centers with serious eye injuries caused by “gun beads.” Dr. Abdul Qader Mohammed, eye care professional at al-Thoura hospital, described the problem.

“[Playing with gun beads] poses a significant threat to the safety of children’s eyes. These beads cause many children to lose their eyes due to retina laceration, while others are afflicted with internal bleeding in the eye”.

Mohammed al-Yarimi , father of an injured child, arrived at al-Thoura, by one report, carrying his son’s eye in his hand. Another child had shot his son in the left eye with a gun bead on the morning of a festival. The doctor ordered an X-ray for the boy’s eye, but the injury was so severe that the boy lost vision in that eye.

Al-Yarimi puts his hand on his cheek and asks, “what can I tell his mother now? How can I tell her our son has lost his eye and will no longer see from it? It is a crime to give vendors permission to sell such things”.