NADIA MUHSIN: The Mystery Unveiled [Archives:2000/05/Reportage]
By: Yemen Times Staff
*Some Photos are taken from the book “sold”
This page is dedicated to an issue that has been puzzling the public for many years. It is dealing with Nadia Muhsin, the girl of a Yemeni father and British mother. Thousands of people all over the world have heard a lot about Nadia Muhsin. She has been mentioned for almost 3,000 times in emails coming to Yemen Times office. There were letters coming from everywhere in the world, from England, Canada, USA, France, Sweden, Austria, Germany, and Yemen asking us about Nadia; where she is and how her conditions are. Several stories have been told about Nadia Muhsin.
As the story goes, Nadia was taken with her sister Zeyne to Yemen in 1980. Both sisters married at an early age of 14 and 15 respectively in Taiz governorate where their father originated. In 1988 Zeyne went back to Britain leaving Nadia behind. Ever since, Nadia has been living in Yemen- that is, for more than 20 years.
There are two versions of this story, and in order to be completely neutral, we had to bring the two versions without censoring or cutting any details.
The mother’s version of the story:
This is the version given by the mother’s side, who is still residing in England along with her elder daughter Zeyne. This story is also reflected in two books “Sold” and “Without Mercy”, that have been written about Nadia and Zeyne’s story. Here we provide excerpts from this version of this story as displayed at web.infiniweb.ca/nadia:
“In July of 1980, at the age of fifteen, Zeyne Muhsin went on a holiday to Yemen, accompanied by Abdul Kadir (a friend of her father) and his eldest son, Mohammed. She went for six weeks, alone but for these strangers, to a distant foreign country. Her sister Nadia was to join her in two weeks’ time. She went to enjoy the sun and the vast plains of Yemen, to ride horses and lie on the beautiful palm-lined beaches of her father’s homeland that he had so often described to her. A dream holiday. The same holiday that her father had arranged years before for her older sister and brother, when Zeyne was just a baby. Aged 3 and 4 when they went to Yemen, they never came home.
From Syria to Sana’a to Taiz, the journey was long and tiring. Enduring suffocating heat and unsanitary conditions, Zeyne was already homesick. In Taiz, they stopped to spend the night at the home of one of Abdul Kadir’s friends. The host’s wife was very kind and friendly to Zeyne, but after some time of trying to communicate with her, she began crying. Zeyne realized much later that this woman knew what was going to happen and wanted to warn her. Everyone knew about Zeyne. And yet she knew nothing. Blinded by the innocence of her 15 years, she trusted Abdul Kadir.
His house in Hockail, near the village of Moqbana, would be her prison. Two hours from Taiz, it was perched on a dry rocky mountaintop, half an hour’s rugged trek from the ground. On arrival, she met his parents and his wife Ward, his son Mohammed’s wife Bakeela and their two daughters, Shifa, 8 and Tamanay, 5. All of them in this house. The living conditions were horrific : a ragged 6 cm mat to sleep on, an unlit cave-like chamber with a bucket which passed for a bathroom, and a hole in the ground for a toilet. Bare mud floors, walls lined with cow dung and stifling heat to intensify the pungent airÉ
But it was only for a few weeks. It was her holiday after all. And Abdul Kadir was nice enough. He had a T.V. for her and brought her special food, and was polite and courteous towards her. She suspected nothing. Then, three days after her arrival, he introduced her to his youngest son, Abdullah, a 14-year-old boy, and said: “This is your husband.” “What do you mean, ‘this is my husband?'” “This is your husband. You are married.”Zeyne didn’t understand. She refused to accept it – she objected, she fought, she denied. To no avail. Her father had arranged everything in England, and Abdul Kadir had paid for her marriage to his son. Her father had sold her for $2,500.
She was alone and abandoned on a remote mountaintop in a strange country with not a soul to help her.
On the very night of this atrocious announcement, Abdul Kadir locked her in her room – with Abdullah – to consummate the “marriage”. Abdullah slept alone; Zeyne spent a sleepless night in shock curled up in a corner. The following night, forced to submit or be tied down, Zeyne was raped for the first time. The ritual would continue night after night, and any time she refused, Abdul beat her viciously the next morning. A high-spirited girl, Zeyne fought back, but he easily overpowered her. He promised that as soon as she fell pregnant she could return to Birmingham. It was the first of many lies.
Realizing the awful fate awaiting her little sister, Zeyne desperately wrote a letter home :
“To my dear Mother,Please don’t let Nadia come to Yemen. They say I’m married. I don’t know what’s going to happen now. I’m scared. I need help. I’m begging you, please don’t let Nadia come, I beg you Mummy darling. Help me. Most of all do not let Nadia come.”
She had no choice but to give the letter to Abdul Kadir to mail. It never reached her mother. In desperation she tried to run, to no avail. Mohammed caught her in no time. In any case, there was nowhere to go. She was in the midst of a hostile, rocky desert. And a woman in the Middle East, in western clothes, with neither money nor passport, can’t get very far.
A week later she met up with Nadia at the home of Gowad, another acquaintance of their father. Nadia couldn’t understand her sister’s distress at their reunion, and Zeyne could do nothing to prepare her. In tears, she was made to tell Nadia of their new fate : that they were married, that their father had sold them off, and that Nadia was now the wife of 13-year-old Samir, Gowad’s son. Same shock, same horror. In that moment, Nadia lost the carefree oblivion of her fourteen years, and became a listless slave to these men.
But Zeyne was more obstinate than Nadia; she was stronger, she would fight. Nadia was susceptible; she would tolerate, submit. And Zeyne didn’t want to leave her that day. She knew what was in store for her, but her protests were in vain. Nadia was taken into Gowad’s house in the village of Ashube, with her new “husband”, Samir, and Zeyne was sent back to Hockail. The plan was to separate the sisters so that they might assimilate more quickly.
For a while, Abdul Kadir allowed Zeyne to visit her sister in Ashube, a half-hour’s walk away. She went every day, always accompanied by her jailor, to speak to Nadia in English, keep her dreams and hopes alive, to console her, comfort her, and fight for her.
After a time, Abdul brought the girls a tape recorder and forced them to record a happy, well-meaning message on cassette for their mother:
Dear Mummy-Nadia arrived safely, we are in a pretty village, Yemen is magnificent. They’re going to kill a sheep for a celebration in our honour. We are very happy. Send my love to everyone, Ashia and Mo. Tell them I love them. My love to you, from Nadia as well. See you soon Mummy.
She recorded these lies in the dullest monotone she could muster, and Nadia added a few words at the end. Zeyne could feel the emptiness in her sister’s eyes; she only hoped her mother could hear it.
As time went by, with no word from the outside world, the girls had no alternative but to participate in the menial tasks of a Yemeni wife – fetching water on foot from wells five miles away, gathering wood on the rocky plains, cooking in crude stone ovens, minding children and enduring the rape of a child husband, day after day, night after night.
Zeyne constantly wrote pleading letters to her mother, Miriam, but they were always intercepted by Abdul Kadir or his collaborators. Miriam had discovered what her husband had done to their daughters, but was at a loss as to how or where to begin finding them. Her husband tortured her with lies and half-truths, delighting in his own shallow power.
Three years after their arrival, Nadia fell pregnant. On February 29, 1984, she gave birth to a son, Haney in barbaric conditions: delivery on a bare mud floor with an old woman to assist and a rusty razor blade to cut the cord. No medical help, nothing, if something went wrong. And Zeyne knew she would fare no better when her time came.
Having succumbed malaria several times, Zeyne eventually found an ally in a doctor stationed in Hockail. He agreed to post a letter for her without its falling into the hands of Abdul Kadir’s agents, and told her she could use his return address. She immediately wrote to her mother, confident that the letter would get through. Two weeks passed before she heard any word, but when she did, they had regular contact. Finally she could tell her mother where they were and the truth about the situation.
After four years of complete darkness, Nadia and Zeyne could finally see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Zeyne urged her mother to contact the media and make their story an issue. This was the theft of all thefts, the rape of all rapes, and not “just another kidnapping”.
Then in 1986, Zeyne fell pregnant, and Nadia for the second time. In May Zeyne gave birth to a son, Marcus, and Nadia delivered a daughter, Tina, who would suffer genital mutilation four days after her birth. The sanitary conditions in Nadia’s “house” were worsening, and her health deteriorated. The laceration from the birth, inflicted with the same rusty blade as before, was a long time healing.
After seven years in their mountaintop prison, their mother finally found the girls, having received no help from their father or any Yemeni authorities. She brought with her two British journalists posing as relief workers. For the time being, there was not much they could do for the girls, but the photos they took and the subsequent story they ran created a lot of pressure and embarrassment for the British and Yemeni governments.
As a result, the Head of Police in Taiz arranged for the two sisters to come and stay with him, minus their “husbands” and children, and tell him their story. He was a fair and kind man, but did his utmost to change their minds about going home to England, and to stop the publicity. They were to stay with him for several days, and their children were to join them later. The girls thought the nightmare was coming to an end.
Days turned into weeks, and then into months. The “husbands” came with the children to join their “wives” in Taiz and the two families were crammed into one small, dingy apartment. Dingy, but a far cry from village life in Moqbana. And while it seemed that everyone in Yemen was trying to convince them to stay there and be happy with their lot, they could think of only one solution : going home to England where they belonged.
In this final struggle, their mother joined them for a second time. And as escape loomed closer, a new obstacle emerged : if the girls truly wanted to leave Yemen, they must first apply for divorce. Once divorced, they would be free to go – alone. They could not take their children with them. The Yemeni law states that custody goes automatically to the father in a divorce, and the childrens’ fathers would never allow them to leave.
So the sisters made a pact : the first one to get out would leave her children in the care of the other until they could all follow. Zeyne was prepared. She would leave Marcus behind. But Nadia couldn’t bring herself to leave her children. So Zeyne would be the first to go.
Every effort was made to dissuade her : intimidation, corruption, threats, lies. But in 1988 she had a new passport and a plane ticket, and all alone she finally flew home to England.
Zeyne is free now, but her liberty weighs heavy as long as her sister and their children are held against their will.
It’s now 1999. Nadia has been a prisoner of Yemen for 19 years. She is 34 years old.”
Mission of seeking the truth begins
We -Editor in Chief of Yemen Times-, and a journalist- arrived to Taiz in the morning of Monday January 24th. As soon as we arrived, we phoned a person who we were told that would help us in our mission and will be our guide in the trip. No more than 10 minutes passed before the guide came to the Yemen Times Taiz Bureau, where we were awaiting him. He explained that he would be helping us in getting permission from Nadia Muhsin to make the interview and guide us to her house. Later in the day, the guide was able to contact Nadia telling her that Yemen Times wants to interview her. We were surprised, as the guide was able to contact her so fast. We thought that he would need to go all the way to the village of Al-Shuba where she lived. Consequently, we asked, “doesn’t Nadia live in Al-Shuba village far away from the city?” The guide, replied,” of course not, don’t you know that she has been living in Taiz city for more than 4 years now? She moved a long time back.”But as expected, Nadia was shy and was not willing to be interviewed. She rejected the request thinking that it is just another report that media people want to make money from. We began whispering to each other, “Oh no, it cannot be that we return all the way to Sanaa empty handed..” so we urged the guide to do his best and convince her.
At long last, the guide succeeded and finally, after a long conversation, he was able to convince Nadia to be interviewed as he explained to her that our only aim is to know how she is doing and the conditions she is living in. However, we were not able to get the green light, until her husband, Samir Gawad was in the house and agreed.
We were relieved that Nadia had agreed to be interviewed, and immediately, along with our guide drove to the neighborhood where she lived.
As we approached the targeted address, we found a two-floor fancy building that seems to have been completed soon. We asked our guide, “is this where Nadia Muhsin lives?” He shook his head positively leaving a question mark in our minds about the amazing contradiction of what has been said in the story mentioned in the book “sold” describing her ‘terrible’ accommodation conditions.
We rang the bell of the door and were received by Samir Gawad, who welcomed us with a smile. The way Samir welcomed us made us feel comfortable from the first minute we entered his house. We then were delighted to see a young girl of around 4 years old welcoming us and shaking our hands, later we realized that she was Nadia’s youngest daughter. As we entered the dining room, we witnessed how neat and organized the room was. We then started chatting with Samir about the house, Taiz, the weather and other things. Then we realized that we are running out of time and that we should get into the subject. We explained our mission to Nadia’s husband who interrupted us asked his elder son to serve us some cola. “We have come all the way from Sanaa to investigate the truth of the story of Nadia Muhsin. We want to see with our own eyes how she lives, her house, and her children, and want to know if -as the book says- is living under tremendously tough conditions and circumstances.” He replied, “let me get out of your way and call Nadia to meet you personally to ask her yourself. I don’t want to be in the picture, so you can interview her in English and ask her whatever you want.
Then within two minutes, a lady with the traditional female costume -fully covered with black- entered the room. We immediately realized that she was the one concerned, she was Nadia Muhsin. Then we began asking her questions, in which some she felt very emotional and in some quite angry. One thing that made us feel that she was frank is that she said, “I do want to visit England, but not now.” The interview with a lot of shocking and interesting statements will be published next issue.
To be continued next week.