The Darkest Night of Her Life — an Afghan Woman’s Story of Surviving the American University Attack in Kabul
Note: I’ve worked with Sveto via the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. As the project is on hiatus Sveto has asked me to share her first-person account of surviving a harrowing night in what should have been a place of safety: the American University of Afghanistan. This is Sveto’s account, written by her.
Sveto’s Story: It was 24 August 2016. The first week of the fall semester. New students arrived on the campus, having big dreams and hopes to start their studies and become someone in their lives. It was just the first week of their studies at the American University of Afghanistan. Who could think that in the very first week they had to face the insurgents?
I had accounting class following anthropology. It was 6:30 pm. I had to leave for the anthropology class which was in Azizi building. I was in the Bayat Building, which was bombarded half an hour later.
I reached Azizi Building and about 15 minutes later had to leave for the Maghrib prayer. I came back. Our professor was a new professor. It was his first semester teaching at AUAF and also his first week in Kabul. He was explaining some anthropology definitions.
We all heard a big blast! Windows were broken, the light was gone, the dust and smoke was seen everywhere. Students were screaming and for a few seconds we laid down. Then the guard started screaming and saying, “Ruuuuuun”!
I grabbed my bag, notebook that was on the table and my phone. I was hugging my bag and my hands were full with my stuff. Students were screaming, crying, and panicking. It was a shocking moment for everyone. But I tried to stay strong, tried not to give up, and tried to escape from that place. I was with my friend who was sitting near me in the class. We all ran to the corridor of the A building where all students, professors and staff were there.
BANG, BANG! The gunshots were heard consistently and the screams of the students were even louder. The guard asked everyone not to panic and move faster.
We ran, ran, ran. Finally we reached the secret exit door. On that way, I lost my friend who was running with me. I looked back, screaming her name and looking for her, but the guard shouted not to stop and keep running. I kept running. I was left alone for a few minutes. Then I saw a girl, who was running behind me. I grabbed her hand and we run together. I did not know her before, but there was a special bond between us. Nobody talked, everyone run. There was a silent conversation of understanding between us. There was not time to look back, there was not time to talk or ask questions. Just run. Run holding hands not to lose each other, even not knowing each other’s names.
While we were passing a jungle, my “running partner” fell and all her books fell on the ground. I told her to be fast and we continued running. We reached the streets where there were a lot of students crying and trying to find a shelter. I and the girl were confused where to go, since everyone went to different directions. Suddenly, a guy told us to come this way and showed a way to us. He opened the door and asked to come inside, we went inside and it was the girls’ dormitory.
There was complete chaos in the dormitory. Students crying, screaming and hugging each other. Every student was talking on the phone, crying. Some were concerned about their brothers and sisters who were still stuck at the university with the terrorists. I called my family and informed them of this incident. I told them I was safe and in a safe place. I asked them not to worry about me. From that moment, I was busy answering calls from my family, friends and colleagues concerned about my situation.
Our injured classmates were brought to the dormitory and it was unbelievable seeing them in that situation. I called my other friends asking about their safety. All of them were safe and in the neighborhood.
Except two. I tried to call my those two friends but they wouldn’t pick up their phones. I called once, twice, and then finally one of them picked her phone. I asked, “Where are you???”. She replied in a very low voice saying, “I’m in the large conference room and in the corridor two terrorists are taking loudly and I can hear their voices coming to us, help us”. She hung up.
I could not utter a word. I was shocked. I did not expect my friends to be in danger. Since I was myself in a safe place, I thought everyone was safe. But I wish that were the truth. Someone called me and asked me to report this to the guard so that they will inform the university and help my friends. I tried to help them and told the dormitory guards about their situation. The guards reported it to the university and they promised to help them.
I could do nothing except wait. Different things were coming to my mind. I was wondering what were they doing now, how they might feel. I was sitting on the corridor and waiting for good news. I tried to call them again but their phones were switched off, making me even more worried. But I had faith. Deep down, I knew they were strong girls, they were brave girls and they could get out of there safely.
The girls from the dormitory were allowed to leave and go home one by one. When the clock turned 11:17 pm, it was my turn to leave the dormitory. My mind was with my hostage friends, but I had to leave. I reached home safely and everyone was happy seeing me alive. But I was worried about my friends: what if they won’t be able to go home? What if they were stuck there and would not succeed in coming back home? There were a lot of what if’s but I had no answer to them.
Two of my friends along with their whole class were stuck with the terrorists until 4:00 am. Until 4:00 am, they were waiting for the death in the Bayad Building. They were in the same room with the terrorists until 4:00 am. They could not even breathe, but Allah helped them and the police rescued them. They were not even injured. Yes. Miracles happen.
In this incident, 16 were killed and 58 were injured. This incident taught me a lot of lessons. One of those is that Allah helps a person if he/she has a faith in him and miracles DO happen when you truly trust and believe in Allah.