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Fri, 03/02/2012

Abdul Al-Ramih lost a leg in the Libyan civil war. In Berlin, he learns to walk again.

We already talked about Abdul Al-Ramih in this blog. Now the Berlin newspaper Berliner Morgenpost published an article about him. For your benefit we translated the most important parts:

When he hears their voices, Abdul Al-Ramih knows that it is too late. He will not be able to flee, the soldiers have surrounded his house already. Seven of them rush to pack him, his brother and uncle and drag they out to their jeep. They will bring us into prison, torture and interrogation us, he thinks. But when the car stops on the large square in the middle of the city of Sawija in northwestern Libya, Al-Ramih knows that he was wrong. The soldiers push the men from the jeep. "Turn around", one of them orders them huskily. "And now: Run!" Then they opened fire.

Al-Ramih is not ten feet away. The first bullet penetrates his left leg, lacerates his lower leg. The second and third bore into the lower leg and thigh of his right leg. Al-Ramih falls into the sand. Besides him, his uncle goes down, he has also taken a shot in the legs. His brother is a few meters behind them - he is dead. The soldiers leave, only one remains with them. "Stop crying," he barks at them. Twenty minutes later an ambulance pulls into the space. It takes the survivors to a hospital in Tripoli which is 47 km away.

"The regime has used us for propaganda," said Al-Ramih. "Gaddafi's people wanted to show us how strict they deal with rebels. But also, how good they are. So they shot my brother, but got my uncle and me to the hospital. For two months Al-Ramih remains in Tripoli.

"After the hospital stay, the soldiers wanted to take us to jail," says the 31-year-old. But on August 21 Libyan freedom fighter occupied Tripoli. The new interim government transferred the most seriously injured in foreign hospitals, which are better equipped for complicated cases.

"I've been very lucky," said Al-Ramih. He lies in a twin room at Martin Luther Hospital in Berlin. His left knee is swollen, a six-inch-long scar is visible on his shin. In Tripoli they have taken his leg, 30 centimeters remain. The other leg should go as well. But the German doctors were able to safe it in four operations. To fix the left leg and fit him a prosthesis for the right leg the surgeon needed twelve hours.

"When he came to us he had a severely infected fracture. The bones in the lower left leg were completely smashed", says Wolf Petersen, head of orthopedic and trauma surgery at Martin Luther Hospital. 35 patients from Libya, he has been treated. Most had gunshot wounds. "We never have operated so many before," says Petersen. "That was quite a challenge."

However, the clinic has not only to adjust to the serious injuries but to the cultural and linguistic barriers as well. Several Libyan native speakers are in daily service, taking care of the patients and translate between them, the nurses and doctors. Instead of the normal hospital diet Muslims can order Arabic food. In a hallway nurses have set up a prayer room. What the hospital can not afford, says Petersen, is psychological support due to a lack in Arabic-speaking staff.

"We assume that a large proportion of the men is traumatized," says Petersen. Most Libyans are between 20 and 35 years old. Many look much older. "The media often report about the 30,000 deaths in the Libyan civil war," the chief doctor says. "But it is often forgotten that a whole generation has been damaged physically and mentally. And that is precisely the generation that now has to rebuild their country."

Before Abdul Al-Ramih can contribute to it, it is still a long way. But with his younger brother Salem, who has accompanied him to Germany he tours the city in his wheelchair. Their favorite place is Sonnenallee Street in the Berlin district of Neukölln where many Arabs live. "There are so many Arab shops - this is almost like home," says Al-Ramih.

In June a constituent assembly will be elected in Libya. Until then Al-Ramih will be home again at the latest. The fact that he is limping then is of secondary importance to him. Thoughtfully he massages the stump of his right leg and says: "Freedom has its price."