EXCLUSIVE – Leaving the village in a remote area of Northern Yemen is virtually impossible for Mitchells Plain born Masnoenah Al Taheri. The now 40 year old mother of two told VOC News in an exclusive interview that her husband and other men in the village watch the local women like hawks. In her first interview since her disappearance, Masnoenah painted a bleak picture of life in Yemen. Her typical Cape Town accent has faded and she sounds mostly Arab now.
“We cant leave the village and visit friends in neighbouring villages without a male chaperone. If any woman is found walking alone in the area, any random man will enquire about her whereabouts and threaten to take her back to her husband to get beaten if she is planning to run away,” Masnoenah explained.
The tribal areas, the northern area of Yemen and other areas outside the hussle of the city life in the capital Sanaa, is very different to that of western life. It is mostly governed by Shariah Law and allows little to no diplomatic missions from South Africa. Tribes live by the principle ‘an eye for an eye’ and so, centre their daily lives and all it consists of around this saying.
After living there for more than seven years, Masnoenah still has no idea of her exact location. She has estimated that she is about 6 hours away from the city, Sanaa but has no idea as of where she is currently.
“When I stand outside the house and look to all directions, all I can see is mountains. There is very little here besides the desert. I know more or less of a small market nearby but I would not dare to go off wondering or asking any suspicious questions. I know for a fact I will get beaten,” Masnoenah said.
Masnoenah, nee Adams, reflected on the depressing home life which she has found herself in after leaving the country with her husband, Saleh Al Taheri nearly eleven years ago under the impression that he would be taking her on pilgrimage to Makkah. She in fact never made it to the holy city, instead Saleh took her to his home village in Yemen and has since held her captive.
Masnoenah is not allowed to move freely and neither is she allowed to speak openly to her family about her life in Yemen without being beaten and emotionally abused by the man she once loved.
“Wallahi, there is nothing I wouldn’t give to go back home to my parents. I speak to them now and then on my prepaid mobile but only when my husband is not here. He has made several promises to my family about my return but those are just lies.
“Here in Yemen, the men are the kings. Women have nothing and are nothing in the eyes of the tribal men here. We are regarded as property. He beats me with his gun and as a result, my health has deteriorated in my time here,” Masnoenah revealed as she fought off tears.
While her family have been exhausting almost every avenue to get their daughter home, they have reached a dead end in their pursuit.
Masnoenah said that she is still hopeful regardless of her current situation. She has two sons, both of whom she will be leaving with their father if she is to return home.
“My sons are their father’s children. They have grown up in this way of life and also share the same outlook on women as their father and other men of this country. It saddens me but to remove them from their father is something I know they will never forgive me for,” Masnoenah said.
Since her husband has expressed to her that he no longer has romantic feelings for her, she feels a sense of relief.
“I don’t love him anymore. He no longer regards me as his wife. He never asks me if there is anything I may need or if my health is good. He works away from home for most of the week since he has bought his new truck with the money he promised he would use to purchase a plane ticket for me.”
Masnoenah says she has given up on the South African government as no assistance has been received from the Department of International Relations and Co-operations.
According to the department’s Nelson Nkgwete, this particular matter is a “domestic one”. The department apparently faces a number of constraints as Yemen is governed by Shariah law. In an emailed response, Nkgwete further explained that the department has a strict policy against financial assistance for South Africans in distress in other countries. VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)