It was a normal autumn day in October 2001 when the bombs went off. My mother was fixing lunch, and my brothers were playing with kites out in the yard. The boys thought the objects in the sky were rockets. They had never seen a jet before and were excited, until a noise unlike any other occurred. The bombs were dropped so close to my house that the walls and windows shook. No one knew what to do. The women ran from their houses without their headscarves or shoes. I ran myself, I ran as fast as I could. I did not know where I was running; I just ran. Finally I reached a safe place. When I looked back at my house, all I could see was very thick, dark smoke. The tanks at the nearby Taliban base were burning. I did not know what had happened to my family. I did not know what to do. Finally my brother found me and told me that all of my family was alive.
The winter of 2007-2008 was particularly difficult for the 45 orphans who lived in the female orphanage in my hometown. The cold weather was unrelenting for an institution housed in an old building with very little heat. Sometimes the electricity worked and sometimes it did not. Sometimes there was fuel and sometimes there was not. The war had made life very grim for the young children to maintain enough body heat to live through the winter. Many adults died during that winter due to the cold. But thanks to the efforts of an organization for which I worked as a social worker, all the orphans lived through that winter.
In some ways, the orphans and I have a lot in common. We are survivors. Some define a survivor as someone who manages to live through a bad situation. Others define a survivor as one who lives on after their loved one has died.
A real survivor is someone who gets through the bad stuff and does not let the bad stuff get in the way of life. There is a big difference between someone who simply lives through a situation and one who comes through a bad situation and thrives afterwards. It is one thing to make it through. It is another to come out the other end with a renewed sense of your identity and what you want to do in life. The orphans lived through the bad winter and were able to go on to grow and hopefully lead good lives. They lived but I do not know if they survived, because I do not know how they are living their lives. I survived the bombings. I lived through them. I can remember the terror I felt and also look beyond that terror to focus on my goals—helping women in Afghanistan. I did not crawl in a hole. I am out exploring and living my life to the fullest. I am surviving.
photo by Seamus Murphy