She Weeps For This City

by - 8:07 PM


12:00pm, 2nd November, Kabul – I was giving a young student his first piano lesson when someone barged in saying there’s been an attack on Kabul University nearby. All the students were soon sent home. Our lesson was cut short. My heart sank to see the hasty way in which my poor student stood up from the piano and grabbed his schoolbag to join the leaving bus with his classmates. The teachers were also soon told to go home as soon as possible. I went to grab my bag and laptop. I was alone in my piano room when I let out an expected yell of frustration: “Aggghhhh!” I turned around, almost wondering whether it was me or someone else. I felt embarrassed to have let it out. But there I was, feeling the frustration at another day interrupted, at the possibility that just five minutes away, people were dying. And my students can’t learn properly.  

Everyone was trying to get home, or at least avoid the main road that led to Kabul University. The traffic was at a standstill, as the few roads that remained open were congested. Hordes of people on the streets – mostly school students, university students, and day workers – who were walking instead of taking the local minivan or bus taxis due to the blocked roads. The gun-battle between Afghan police and attackers were still ongoing at the time I left work. It distressed me to see a photograph posted on social media of young men clambering desperately over the university walls (and barbed wire!) to try to escape. The first thing I did was to check on my friends, some of whom I knew would have friends studying at the university.  

To take a life that God has given, to rob someone’s right to life and learning is evil. These evil acts are not only against others, but a searing of the attackers’ (and those who plotted this attack) own conscience before God. It will be taken into account. Someone posted these heartbreaking words: “As Kabul University is under attack, a friend called. His voice was barely coming out. ‘This country, at work you can’t go. To the hospital, you can’t go. To school, you can’t go. At home, you can’t go. Where... where can we go, where...”  

I woke the next morning heavy with the thought of families who have lost their children. School classes for our morning shift young students were called off. There was a demonstration happening on the streets about the attack. Honestly, since the Doha ‘peace talks’ began earlier this year, there has been an upsurge in violence more than ever. University teachers also lost their lives. I’ve had conversations with colleagues who lived and taught through the Taliban times. They cannot imagine going back to those dark days. The Taliban denied involvement in the attack, and ISKP (Islamic State Khorasan Province) was the one who claimed responsibility for it. But there remains dispute over whether there is any difference, whichever name these insurgent radical groups call themselves. Whether it was the Taliban or ISIS, it is obvious that things are getting more and more out of hand in Kabul. I can’t even imagine life for those in the provinces, as their towns are being taken over, or turning into frontlines overnight. By the end of this first day of the incident and even throughout the next day, I did not cry.  

However in the evening, on 3rd November, I saw a post that broke me. It was made by one of the university teachers, Sami Ahmadi – who was devastated by the brutal point-blank killings of sixteen (yes, sixteen!) of his fourth-year Public Policy and Administration students in the Law department... It was reposted by war journalist Lyse Doucet with the caption: “A teacher’s pride, a teacher’s pain.” Reading that phrase, especially the word ‘teacher’, and seeing the mundane photo identification pictures of these students, just triggered something in me. I let out an unexpected gasp, and cried. I broke down weeping inconsolably. It was only a fraction of what the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and friends of these students must be feeling now.  

I was supposed to have a call meeting with a dear friend that evening. But when I saw the post and started weeping, I thought I wouldn’t be able to speak with anyone intelligibly. Fortunately, some forty minutes later, though I was still crying and praying with groanings, I felt like I needed to call this friend. I made the call, and I was still crying. It is the first time that I have done this. But it was good to be able to share with someone, though my words were failing me. I was encouraged to have someone there on the other end of the line. The unexpected weeping surprised me because since yesterday I had not felt the urge to cry. Even after seeing the horrific photographs that were circulating on social media – bloodied classroom floors, even dead bodies of the students, the pockmarked walls, shattered windows, spent bullets, and charred notebooks. 

Now in hindsight, it amazes me that it wasn’t the gruesome photos of the attack that made me cry. It was these ordinary headshot photos of the students and the fact that their teacher had posted it, that made me weep truly. It got to the heart of my affections as a teacher myself. I could sense a small portion of the sorrow and loss of this teacher, Sami Ahmadi. I thought about my own students.  

Looking at the students’ faces several more times left me breathless in my weeping. Winded. Like someone was knocking the breath out of me with a sharp stab. Yet still, it is only a tiny fraction of the agony that is now felt by the families and friends of these lost sons and daughters. They will probably live with this scarring heartache all their lives.  

Over twenty students were killed, and I have no doubt that there are more that were not reported. There are those that are battling for their lives in the hospitals. I know someone whose brother is recovering in hospital. I have a very good friend who lost two of her girlfriends in this attack. One was her fellow scholarship classmate in an English and business course, another was a member with her school debate team. One of these girls’ names was becoming widely spread on the internet even while the gun-battle between the police and the attackers was going on for almost 6 hours. It was because of a photo that was posted by someone fleeing the scene. Her face was on the ground, lying beside a textbook. It is a terrible, terrible photo. I thought of these students, some in their 4th year, about to finish – they were also especially targeted because they would be future builders, lawmakers, policy-makers, and public leaders in Afghanistan. Some of them may do things very differently from former leaders if given the chance.  

One of them is a young man – only 22 years old – named Mohammed Rahid, who earlier in 2020 started an initiative called “Learn to Live”. He recently posted a video on the social media page talking about the importance of forgiveness! Oh how my heart weeps for this city. This evil, and injustice.  

I recalled the words that Jesus said in the famous Beattitudes verse, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.” 

The third day following the incident, 4th November, I was miserable throughout the working day. I felt like I could cry any moment. It took at my strength to make it throughout the day going about my responsibilities and teaching music. I messaged a few friends to pray for me. When I got home, I made a pot of tea and sat down with my ukelele to sing. I finally let out the tears and cried for what I had to hold in throughout the day. A dark cloud of sorrow hangs over Kabul. I could feel it the entire day. It wasn’t just me. The pain of all these people, was amplified by the special significance of these lives that were lost. They were future leaders. Some were already examples of peacemakers in their communities. As a teacher here, I thought of my own students, and I wept even more. I know how difficult it is to be a student here. I can imagine what kind of obstacles that both these young men and women had to face in order to reach their final years of university. They are also mostly likely students from families that are not affluent, since they could not afford a private university or go overseas to escape this place.  

How easy it is to destroy what has taken years to build, cultivate, and nurture. When you plant a seed, it grows. That’s what it does. It lives. That life, how does it happen? Is it man? Is it God? One thing is for sure, it is not an accident or a fluke in the universe. You cannot dare destroy a living thing without suffering the consequences of that destruction yourself.  

When there is perpetual bloodshed and violence, when there is disregard for life and for stewardship of the good gifts that God has specially bestowed on each land and people, you find the earth becoming barren, dry, a wasteland uncultivated, full of thorns. It happens spiritually, psychologically, and manifests even physically. You see it with your eyes. It breaks the heart because that is not how it’s meant to be.  

In this country there are people trying to build and rebuild, they are trying to grow something. But they get cut down. There are also always many who are not building or growing. They may be surviving, languishing, stunted by pain or oppression of various kinds. Or they may be contributing to the destruction and corruption.  

We can never stop building, we can never stop speaking up, we must be resolute in our purpose. That purpose is the seed that will grow by the grace of God alone. May you discover it with the time that is left. 

Photography by Najiba Noori.

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