The 24th of August was the third day of my second semester at AUAF. I had started with so many hopes. I was in statistics class on the second floor of the Bayat Building, listening carefully to the lecture, when we heard gunfire close to campus. Growing up in Afghanistan, we think of gunfire as routine. Our professor continued his lecture. Seconds later, an ear-blasting bomb shook the building and shattered the window glass. The campus was under attack.
My hands and feet trembled as I rushed with the rest of the students into the hallway. In the dim light, I was shocked to see gunmen on the first floor shooting everyone. I saw students falling to the ground. I realized it was too late to escape the gunmen, too late to escape death.
Not knowing another way out, I followed everyone back to our classroom at the corner of the building. We lay on the floor. I called my younger sister, Alia, but received no response. Now my heart was beating even faster with worry. What if she had been shot? What if she was close to the explosion? My elder sister and my father called me and they were also concerned about her. I did not know she was in the same building, on the first floor.
There was silence everywhere as we lay on the floor playing dead. Then somebody entered the hallway. I could hear his footsteps crossing the broken glass. Everyone was barely breathing. I heard the gunman push open the classroom door with his gun. But then he left and walked to the third floor.
From 7 to 11 p.m., we waited. The police were calling to us, saying: “If someone enters your room, do not scream. It is the police.” Suddenly someone entered the hallway. He seemed to be angry and he was kicking classroom doors and firing his gun. We got up and pressed toward the window, pushing one another. Some people were jumping out the window. I was ready to jump, but when I got to the window, I saw bodies lying all around the campus. I saw my professor who was shot and was on the ground right below our window. I saw an armed man; he was one of the Taliban. I returned to my place on the floor, covering myself with my bag so only my head was exposed. I thought if the gunman shot me, then it would be better in the head so I would die without feeling pain. I heard someone kick the door in the hall next to us, but it was dark and the Taliban did not come to our class. They went up to the third floor.
At 2:20 a.m., I got a message from my father that they had found my younger sister and she was crying for me. It was then when my first teardrops fell from my eyes. I cried for a few minutes, but then the fighting erupted again. The Special Forces had reached the second floor and the Taliban were in the next room where we could hear shooting and then they started using explosives. The Special Forces threw four grenades into the room where the two Taliban were hiding. It was silent; one of the soldiers told the commander that they must be dead by now. After a minute I heard two of them walking slowly down the hallway on the broken glass. Suddenly a Taliban started firing and I heard the two soldiers screaming and falling down on the glass. Then everything was quiet again.
My left hand was totally numb; I could not move it at all. My father called me again, but I could not answer his call anymore. As the grenade explosions and firing started again, I put my head on the ground and covered my other ear with my hand. It was traumatizing to hear the brutal noises of gunfire, grenade explosions, and the helpless students around the campus. I thought these were the last few minutes of my life. With no control over my tears, I wondered why it had to end like this. I was tired, and hoping they would just enter the room, shoot us in the head, and end this nightmare.
After another long hour of fighting, the soldiers managed to kill the insurgents hiding in the room next to us. When we came out of the classroom, the hallway was full of dust, broken glass, and blood. I saw the blood of the soldiers who were shot by Taliban. There was more blood in the stairway. On the first floor where the students had been shot in front of my eyes, I saw blood again. At the exit door, there was the dead body of one of the Taliban wearing a police uniform. As I was walking, I slipped and fell on a body. The soldiers helped me get up. Gunfire could still be heard from the third floor.
Outside, I called my father. It was 3:40 a.m. when they picked me up. I hugged my father. I could not stop crying; that was the only thing I really could do that night. I saw my mom crying and then my sisters. I got back home at 4 a.m., still not believing I survived.
I don’t know if I will be ever able to walk on the campus where I saw dead bodies everywhere, or enter the hallway where I saw blood of our hero soldiers who died rescuing us. I don’t know if I can enter the classroom where death was so close to me. But I know that I am determined more than ever to continue my education, which will be my only weapon against Taliban.
By Arifa, age 18
Photo by US Embassy Kabul.