The person states, “Who could’ve known that this would happen? Even almost two weeks after the shooting, when I look up at any of the buildings, I feel like someone is aiming at me and will fire from behind the windows. I’m not the only one in this situation – all my classmates feel the same way. It was not an ordinary day to be easily forgotten. We have not forgotten and are still having nightmares, but I think that for others, that bitter day at Kabul University has become normal. Apart from ourselves, who went to Ruqaya and Ahmad Ali’s house on the World Student Day, did anyone else seek them out?”
I sit at my desk and my mind is trying to find the right words. I scroll through Facebook and Twitter to find a better subject to write about. Social media networks have become a showcase for the celebration of World Student Day. Colorful photos of students laughing in photos and eyes sparkling with hope for the future. I tell myself that student life also has a world of its own. For a few seconds I think of Afshar and Pul Surkh, Haji Nabi Township and Khair Khana, Pul Sokhta and Onchi station of Barchi, where households celebrated World Student Day this year in mourning gowns. A black flag on the door of the house, candles lit in the yard, and a strange smile frozen in a picture frame; students who enthusiastically started the seventh semester just two weeks ago and had only a few months left to celebrate their graduation on a day that never came.
November 17 is International Student Day, and among all the subjects to write about, I return to Kabul University, to the Faculty of Law and Political Science, to the Judicial Training Center, to November 2, at 10:46 a.m., to classrooms splattered with blood and dreams that were reduced to ashes in the midst of war and hatred by the invaders. After reviewing the list of Kabul University Administration and Public Policy students, I call Elham Poya, a student from Class ‘B’ who was present in the classroom on the day of the attack. Even before, two of his classmates had died in front of his eyes and he had witnessed the injury of another classmate. In his words, “It was heartbreaking, very heartbreaking. All my classmates were jumping down from the second floor one by one… the ground was rosy. Except for Ruqaya, who was shot and killed by the attackers, others limped away in a zig-zag motion. The shots fired one by one hit my classmates. What a chaotic day! Aside from Ruqaya, Ahmad Ali was also killed.”
I tell him that I understand that he is not in a good physical and mental condition, but the fact is that he is the one left to be the surviving narrator of that day. When I ask him what happened, he replies, “Who could’ve known that this would happen? Even almost two weeks after the shooting, when I look up at any of the buildings, I feel like someone is aiming at me and will fire from behind the windows. I’m not the only one in this situation – all my classmates feel the same way. It was not an ordinary day to be easily forgotten. We have not forgotten and are still having nightmares, but I think that for others, that bitter day at Kabul University has become normal. Apart from ourselves, who went to Ruqaya and Ahmad Ali’s house on the World Student Day, did anyone else seek them out?”
“We were on the second floor when the sound of gunfire and explosions came. We crowded towards the four windows of the classroom. Fear gripped us, as the sound of the attackers’ footsteps grew closer and closer. Every time I tried to open the fourth window, my hand was shaking and I could not hold its handle. Bezhan, one of my classmates, managed to open it. All the windows had a screen, and I hit the screen hard with my head and shoulders to tear it. First, we helped the girls escape. I got ready to jump as well. We all jumped down, except for Ruqaya, who was unconscious and couldn’t. For this reason, she was the last one and the attackers killed her with five bullets. Ruqaya was a calm and well-educated classmate. Monday was the first day of the new semester that Ruqaya had attended. Before that, I had called her to ask why she hadn’t come. She said that they had had an engagement party. I said to her, ‘Congratulations, are you engaged?’ She laughed and said, ‘Nah, it was not my engagement party, but mine might come soon!’”
I jumped down and hit the ground hard, but I was not in bad shape. I told all the classmates take refuge behind walls or trees and went to help the wounded. I can say that the scenes lived in those moments were more than just a disaster. I saw my friends jump from the second floor in that moment of terror. Sahar fell to the ground on her face. Naheeda injured her leg from the impact and was shot while fleeing, while several continuous shots were fired at Ruqaya, Ahmad Ali and Naeem. Of the three, only Naeem survived. Geeti broke her lower back, while Mubarak Shah, Rashid and Wahab received gunshot wounds. Blood was falling from the sky of Kabul University’s Judicial Training Center. If these scenes do not count as a disaster, then what does? This is the security status of the country’s largest educational institution.”
Elham’s stories are bitter, especially at moments where hope hangs from a single strand of hair. For instance, “Naheeda injured her leg when she threw herself from the window and was hit by a bullet in her hand while fleeing. She was within the second attacker’s shooting range, but there was no sound for a moment. I said to myself that maybe their magazines were out of bullets, so I immediately ran to Naheeda. It was a critical moment, as they could have shot at us any moment. I shouted at her, ‘What are you doing? They will kill you, woman! I helped her and we went up 30 meters. I handed her over to two university employees, I was out of breath. I came back, and we were Sahar, Bezhan, Husna, Nazir, Donya, Sadia and Homa and I. We had forgotten the layout of the university due to sheer fright. We fled from behind the Faculty of Islamic Studies, and hoped to climb the wall and escape from the side of campus that led to Dehbori. The top of the wall was covered with barbed wire and only had a small, narrow way to escape. It was terrible to send Sahar first. When she wanted to cross and jump, the corner of her headscarf, which was wrapped around her neck, got stuck in the barbed wire. When she jumped, for a moment we thought she’d got hanged, and we rushed to her aid. This was just part of the tragedy after the escape. Others were when we came to our senses and noticed that we did not have Ahmad Ali and Ruqaya with us, when we went to the hospital one by one to take care of our injured classmates, and when Marwa was in the worst condition among us. To say the least, we were worried.
Ahmad Ali, who died in the November 2 attack at Kabul University, was a close friend of Elham. He describes Ahmad Ali as his “buddy” and says that “that mischievous and energetic boy had fallen in love recently. He would sing Ahmad Zahir’s songs and sometimes shared his sorrow, but the world was not loyal to him and his love.”
November 17 is World Student Day, and this is part of the story of young people who study in the shadow of war and violence in Afghanistan and go to university with thousands of dreams. Some manage to survive and some die in the very classes in which they used to study, in cruel and cowardly attacks. The conversations between Elham and I are so bitter that I forget and before saying goodbye, I tell him: “Oh, Happy Student’s Day!”