BENEFITING: SYRIAN AMERICAN MEDICAL SOCIETY FOUNDATION
EVENT: Aleppo Relief Fund
How I Survived the Afghan Civil War...
It was a beautiful sunny Friday in the summer of 1989. I was outside playing with crayons and working on what must have been one of my first homework assignments as I had just started first grade. I was drawing a tree and trying to find the right shade of green that matched the leaves and greenery around me in the garden. I would look up every once in a while and see my mom running around doing laundry with her head full of pink and blue hair curlers. I had made my dad promise to come back home for lunch when he left earlier that morning to meet his friends in the city. I sat there drawing while waiting for my dad to return and suddenly heard loud and deafening gun shots. I ran towards my mother screaming and wrapped my hands around her legs holding tight scared for my life. She could hardly untangle my hands to go get my two younger siblings who were awakened by the sound of the gunshots and crying. I knew it wasn’t good news when I saw tears rolling down my mother’s face as all four of us sat curled up in one corner of the living room away from the windows. That was the start of the civil war in Kabul as I remember it and the last time I hung out in the garden in our house until 2003.
The gun shots continued non-stop with a two hour break at midnight. That was the agreed upon quite time between the two tribes in war for the sake of the trapped civilians. My mother would run into the kitchen to prepare anything she could during this break and bring it to the basement, our hiding place. On the third day, we had to leave our house as it got swallowed by fire from the flames of the gas station that got hit by a rocket behind it. Everything we owned burned down to the ground all at once. The scene was chaotic to say the least. The unbelievably large orange flames were taking over the entire neighborhood really fast. People were crying as they ran for their lives and watched their homes get destroyed in front of their eyes. My crying helpless mother left alone with three kids didn’t know where to begin so I had to be a grown up and carry myself while she carried my other two siblings. We walked through fields, back streets and valleys for days until we found our way to the city center where my aunt lived. We weren’t alone. Hundreds of people were on the same journey. I am not sure anyone knew exactly where they were going, but the crowd was walking the same direction. We would walk all day and take refuge in people’s basements at night. Each basement would be packed with sixty or more people overcrowded and loud with crying kids. At times it was difficult to hear the person next to you. One morning my mom woke up to the sound of my dad telling someone that he was looking for his family. He must have come in late at night to rest for a few hours before he continued searching for us. Our reunion was a miracle as I didn’t know if I would ever see him again.
The days were tiring because of all the walking and the nights sleepless despite our exhausted bodies. My feet were so swollen that I was afraid to touch them yet, I didn’t feel any pain. It was stormy and dusty during the day with the wind blowing against us which made it harder to walk. We would duck down to the ground every five minutes or so as rockets dropped nearby so we wouldn’t get hit by flying debris. Every time we got up, a few people would remain on the ground. If you could walk, you kept going without looking back and hoped rescuers came by to help the ones left behind. The crowd would slow down and cheer if they saw a truck in the far distance because most of the time that meant aid workers were waiting with food and water. I will never forget the generosity of those who helped us along the way, the tears in their eyes as they handed us food, and the words of encouragement they spoke to us to give us hope and keep going. An army officer knelt down on his knees in front of me and said “you will be OK child” as he handed me a piece of bread and patted my head. I remember his dust covered eyelashes and eyes full of compassion like it was yesterday. Many people like him had put their own lives in danger to help rescue us. Their empathy was the most beautiful thing to experience in those hellish days. As I witness media coverage of Syria, I can’t help but fall back into those difficult memories. Having lived through similar situations as Aleppo and experienced people’s generosity first hand, I know how big of a difference every small piece of support makes. The support is not just material (which is much needed), but also shout to those suffering that there is hope in humanity and that it will get better. Please support my fundraiser in the spirit of the holidays and help me return the beautiful gift of hope and kindness that helped my family escape the war.
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