Photo: AFP/Habibou Kouyate
With his head bowed, Moctar Toure recalls the day two months ago when hardline Islamists blindfolded him and chopped off his right hand, robbing him of his independence and his livelihood.”It is not our arms they cut off, but our lives which they stole,” says the 25-year old.
He and a fellow truck driver, Souleymane Traore, both suffered the brutal punishment, a result of the harsh interpretation of Islamic law imposed by extremists who have been in control of the north of Mali, a territory the size of France, since June.
Unmarried couples have been stoned to death, smokers and drinkers whipped, and thieves’ arms amputated. Ancient saints’ tombs that have been declared world heritage sites but are considered “idolatrous” by the Islamists have been torn down.
“On that day, the Islamists hid my head in a cover,” Moctar recalled. “A doctor came and gave me an injection.
“They blindfolded me and with a knife they cut off my right hand.”
Souleymane, also in his twenties, is still in shock. His amputation took place a week after Moctar’s and he doesn’t want to relive the trauma.
He struggles to comprehend the extreme punishment, believing his hand was sold by the Islamists for some sort of “black magic”.
The pair were working in the north of the country when the Islamists arrested them for stealing and trafficking in weapons.
They acknowledge their guilt and say the weapons concerned had been taken from the Islamists and were bound for government troops.
A driver without two hands is not a driver, they say, and both have to find a way to overcome their new handicap and make a living.
“We no longer have a life. It is over for us,” Moctar says as he hides his amputated limb underneath his flowing west African robe, known as a boubou.
Both men are living with relatives in the capital, Bamako, where they pass their days resting and watching television.
Not only can they no longer drive, but they need help to bath and get dressed.
“My new life means doing everything with one hand, the left hand, and I am not left-handed,” says Moctar.
Both would like to retain their dignity and learn a new profession. Moctar is thinking of becoming a singer to “shout” out his hatred of the Islamists. Souleymane doesn’t know. Maybe he could “sell recharge cards for mobile phones”, he says.
“I don’t even want to see any more journalists,” says Souleymane. “They come from France, Germany and almost all of them offer me money to get undressed so they can take a photo of my hand.
“It is not a photo which will bring me back my hand!”
Malian psychiatrist Habib Toure has volunteered to help the young men.
“They cannot start a new life without the right mindset. They want to understand their trauma and our role is to explain to them what has happened.
“It is an entire process. There have been cases of suicide after a similar shock,” he said, adding he has advised them to go for a 30-minute walk each day.
Everywhere he goes, Souleymane feels the burn of others’ eyes on him.
“Even when no one is looking, I think they are looking at my arm,” he says.
Despite their misery the two men consider themselves luckier than others who crossed “the barbarians” — as they refer to the Islamists — and lost both a hand and a foot.
Copyright (2012) AFP. All rights reserved.
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