by Beth Tichborne
For the first time in my life I heard a bomb today. It was a long way away, and it turned out to be a ‘controlled explosion’ by the Afghan National Army, so nothing to worry about, although a lot of people must have been scared, and a lot of windows must have been shattered. I was working on the ‘2 Million Voices’ campaign with Hakim, mentor of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, in one of the upstairs rooms in the APV compound. There was a sudden rumble and a gust of wind swept up the side of the house and shook the windows. It was nothing scary from as far away as we were, just an eerie, window-rattling blast of wind out of a calm blue-skied day. I wondered if it was a bomb, but it seemed like a silly thing to say somehow. So we got back to work. Ten minutes later someone came upstairs and said it might have been a suicide bomb near us, so we went on facebook and looked up the news, and discovered it was the just the army, apparently blowing things up on purpose. I can’t see how that’s a good idea in a city full of worried people and heightened political turmoil, but at least no one was killed in Kabul today.
It’s the third explosion since we’ve been here: the first was a suicide attack on a NATO convoy at the airport, that failed to kill anyone but the teenage bomber, the second was some strange kind of accident near the embassies, and then this one. I still can’t imagine what it’s like to be close to a bomb, I’m one of the many people in the world lucky enough not to know. I’ve only seen the video of the aftermath of a bomb near the APV’s previous compound. Just watching the video tears at my heart, to see my friends, pale and laughing shakily in a room full of broken glass. The failed suicide bomb, the accident and the controlled explosion are a reminder that explosions are common here, a constant possibility, barely news when no one has been killed.
And barely news even when people are killed. Today the APV held a commemoration for two of the ‘civilians’ killed in the attack outside the Polytechnic. Hashim and Zukoom were at the scene because they work in the streets after school, polishing boots. Three of their classmates are supported by the APV, with some necessities each month, and help with stationery and study materials. This support means that their families can afford to let them go to school, as it frees them up from having to work on the streets full time.
These little classmates came to the compound today and told us about their friends who had died. We held candles, and a dictaphone was passed around for everyone present to record their thoughts and feelings about the 2 million lives lost in Afghanistan. The first man to talk was Basir, a friend from our last trip, one of the people I’d been most looking forward to seeing again in Kabul. He’s a writer and a poet, blogs about women’s rights, a non-violence activist, and always has something interesting (and often provocative) to say. He spoke about his family members that had been lost to war. I didn’t even know before today that he had such a personal reason for his activism.
Other friends’ stories I had heard before, the childhood memory of seeing a brother shot, growing up orphaned… each loss unbearable and momentous, as every death is. There have been more than 2 million of these unbearable, terrible, undeserved deaths. The 2 million voices campaign isn’t about lobbying a politician to fix it, people have lost hope in that approach. It’s about connecting human beings around the world to share their pain at the world as it is, at the losses of innocent life in Afghanistan, and to share their friendship and hope for the future. Bombs shouldn’t be normal, children’s deaths shouldn’t be statistics, entire nations of people shouldn’t be written off as less deserving of life and safety. Through connecting, person to person, we can start to dismantle the systems telling us not to care, not to notice, not to remember. The APV are asking people around the world to sign the petition, and then to contact the group, through Skype or social media to say ‘we remember them too’.