This is the story of Shafiqa Ahmed Hussein who I meet in the village of Sacheck, Afghanistan at Imam Sajjad (A) Clinic on May 27, 2010. A demure, pretty woman of 22, Shafiqa tells me the following heart wrenching story of her Dad’s massacre by the Talibaan; here is the story in her own words:
I am Shafiqa Ahmed Hussein, a midwife at CAI sponsored Imam Sajjad (A) Clinic in Sachek, Afghanistan; about 18 hours of hard driving from Kabul. For those not familiar with this general area of Afghanistan, for many, it is probably one of the most remote areas in this world. This village is home to about 9,500 of very poor farmers and sheep herders who can only relax about 5 months of any year; the rest of time is survival of the fittest in severe and bitterly cold snow and ice.
In 2001, I was a happy teenager, daughter of a small shop owner Ahmed, who managed to provide our family with a lifestyle better than most in the village of YawKawlang, about 2 hours drive from Sacheck. At age 12, I was as cheerful and innocent as any teenager her age would be. I went to school with my siblings, sisters Najeeba 15 and Aziza 9 while Mother Hallema stayed at home with Latifa 4 and brother Momin 2, too young for school.
On January 1, 2001, a blistery, bitterly cold day, I was home helping Mum with breakfast so Dad could go and open the grocery store we owned; school was on winter break. At about 10 that morning, while I and the elder sisters cleaned home and prepared for our next meal, Dad came running in, anxiety and fear written all over his ice cold face. We must leave immediately, all of us, he yelled. The Talibaan have entered YawKawlang and arresting people. We will go up the mountains for a few days. Pack up all you can, especially food. We must leave now! Most people have already left, hurry up!
All of us were paralyzed with fear, could not believe nor understand what Dad was on about, which made Dad uncharacteristically mad and irritated. He franticly began stuffing empty boxes with clothes and flour and sugar and cans of cooking oil. The crazed and frenzied looks on Dad’s face jerked Mum into action and then all of us as well. We packed as much as we could carry and some more; Mum wanted to pack the whole house! But Dad, usually a calm and easy going man who gave in to Mum’s occasional whims easily, was very firm and abrupt and ordered Mum to leave everything except warm clothes and food, which made Mum weep. We wore our coats over our home clothes and with wheelbarrows full of boxes, clumsily trekked up through piles of snow and ice into the mountains that surround our village.
We stayed in the mountains for about a week, sometimes with sympathetic animal headers and some days in caves. It was bitterly cold and I remember all of us huddled together for warmth and as security in case our cave was visited by wild wolves. I also remember the days spent in utter boredom, fear and absolute, miserable, bone chilling cold. After about a week, we ran out of food and Dad decided to go back to town to get more and assess the situation. All of us, but especially Mum were not willing to let him leave but Dad, again strangely, roughly told us to be quiet and left the next morning, even before I woke up. We never saw him again, alive or dead.
Dad did not return after a few days, I don’t remember how many now, but they were the most difficult days of my life when I cried tears of blood. Mum was an emotional wreck and my other sisters helpless to do anything for her. Latifa and Momin took cues from Mum and cried along with her. When it was evident something very bad must have happened to Dad and afraid we would die of hunger if food was not imminently available, I decided to take us all back to YawKawlang. We returned to a dead and devastated village. The Talibaan had massacred 351 men and children, from age 7 to 80 in front of our Jamia Masjid on the day we had escaped.
Shafiqa breaks down and weeps long and bitterly at this point. I and my interpreter look away and I ask Basheer who is videotaping this interview, to stop. There is so much emotions a human can take; not a single person in the clinic room is dry eyed at this point. Shafiqa apologizes and continues after regaining composure:
We learnt later that Dad was arrested and sent to a military commander who sentenced him to death for practicing a faith not recognized by the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. He, along with many others were tied behind their backs using belts or shalwaar strings they wore and then murdered in cold blood with a single shot of a bullet through the back of his head.
There is a bout of bitter weeping again and we break for a short while once more before Shafiqa continues:
A sole survivor of the massacre whom we knew, later informed us about Dad’s murder and possible burial 5 days after the killings when the band of killers departed YawKawlang. A woman went looking for her dad and discovered him in a pile of bodies. She brought all of the bodies to the main masjid and the martyrs were given a mass burial because the bodies had begun to decompose even in the bitter cold of January. We have yet to determine with absolute certainty that Dad is among others in the mass grave but we have no other choice but to assume that is the case.
My tears of blood did not end here; when we finally went home, we found it razed to the ground, with all our contents inside destroyed. My Dad was murdered in cold blood; my Mum, already an old woman at age 23, was a widow with 5 children to support and our house was burnt and destroyed. Time, however, is the best healer of wounds. Although fate had slapped us hard, we regrouped and survived. My Mum is still devastated of course, but resigned to her fate. Najeeba is married; Aziza, Lateefa and Momin all go to school and alhamd’Allah, I support them all. Although we were not allowed to study under Talibaan rule, I still managed to complete high school after which I studied nursing during the day and worked at a local hospital in the afternoon, getting important firsthand experience. This has made me possible to work in an important role of Midwife here at Imam Sajjad (A) Clinic in Sacheck.
I must add that Comfort Aid International is the only NGO or any other organization that has made it possible for a human being a chance to survive here. The clinic is a lifeline for many, many desperate people who would have simply died but for the medicines and our medical services. For example, I had to walk quite a distance today to a home where a full term pregnant woman had vaginal bleeding. I gave her a serum immediately and she stabilized; this woman would have definitely lost her baby had it not been for the medication.
The pregnant woman gives birth later that day to a healthy baby girl and both baby and mother are doing well up to the time I leave Shacheck. I go visit Shafiqa’s house afterwards, see the remaining shell of her burnt home and feel immense sadness for this young, unique girl-woman; what she has been through. Remember, this is Afghanistan where women do not work outside of the home to support families. Shafiqa has broken all taboos in conservative, rural Afghanistan by her sheer will for survival. Her entire family depends on her salary for continued existence. At age 22, when most Afghan girls are married and have children, it will be hard for Shafiqa to find a life partner (working outside of home does not help either). But I am sure Shafiqa will survive; she has not shed tears of blood for no reason.
CAI would like to rebuild Shafiqa’s home; it will cost about USD5,000. If you are interested in helping, please visit www.comfortaid.org and click on donate link; make sure your write “Shafiqa Home Fund” as description.