Updated: Jul 7, 2020
(This important story is told because it may otherwise go unspoken, sadly this article contains upsetting descriptions of real life incidents).
Written By: Chiara Rambaldi
These are the stories we don’t get to see. These are the stories left behind. In a world that revolves around money, innocent lives keep fading away but still silently.
I am writing this story from Europe, but my mind is in Kabul. I imagine I am there and I am hearing a 27-year-old girl, Zainab, crying her eyes out, year after year struggling to get pregnant. She finally gave birth to a baby boy on Tuesday morning at a small hospital in the southwestern corner of Kabul. She was overjoyed and named the boy Omid, meaning ‘hope’ in Dari language.
But then the atrocity happened.
Sadly, outside of my imagination and in the real world of Kabul:
It's around 10 am on Tuesday, an hour before she and her family were set to return home to neighbouring Bamiyan province -a three-hour drive away-, three gunmen camouflaged as police agents burst into the hospital’s maternity ward and started shooting.
Zainab was in that hospital. She heard the turmoil and rushed back from the washroom. She could barely stand at the view of that dramatic scene. She spent seven years trying to have a child, waited nine months to meet her son, and had just four hours with him before he was killed.
Zainab can’t say a word, she keeps crying.
“I brought my daughter-in-law to Kabul so that she would not lose her baby,” said Zahra Muhammadi, Zainab’s mother-in-law, unable to contain her grief. “Today we’ll take his dead body to Bamiyan.”
“We gave him the name Omid. Hope for a better future, hope for a better Afghanistan and hope for a mother who has been struggling to have a child for years,” Zainab’s mother-in-law said.
Zainab tries to explain that the gunmen turned to target the cradle where Omid had been asleep. As the sound of bullets reverberated through the ward, Zainab was already too late to save her baby.
“When I opened my eyes, I saw that my Omid’s body had fallen to the ground, covered in blood,” she recalled, as she wailed with grief.
The Kabul attack began in the morning when gunmen entered the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital, throwing grenades and shooting, government officials said. Even if security forces had killed the attackers by the afternoon, the tragedy had already happened. Zainab and the other mothers thought they were safe in the 100-bed, government-run hospital. The maternity clinic was run by Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Just four hours before the attack, Zainab’s mother-in-law had tweeted a photo of his newborn in his mother’s arms at the clinic after being delivered safely by emergency caesarean section. Omid was four hours old when his life was taken away.
“Whilst fighting was ongoing, one woman gave birth to her baby and both are doing well,” Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said in a statement. “More than ever, MSF stands in solidarity with the Afghan people.”
Deborah Lyons, head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, condemned the hospital assault in a tweet. “Who attacks newborn babies and new mothers? Who does this? The most innocent of innocents, a baby! Why?”
No group has claimed responsibility for the massacre of 24 people, including 16 women and two newborns. Including the little Omid. But perhaps more indignantly, very few newspapers, not to say none, chose to talk about this, and denounce the inhumanity that lies covered in some business news. At least six babies lost their mothers in this bloody attack that has shaken even the war-torn nation numbed by years of militant violence.
The atrocity did not end in the maternity hospital. On the same day at least 32 people died in a suicide bomb attack on a funeral in the eastern province of Nangarhar, threatening to derail progress towards the US-brokered peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attacks and ordered the military to switch to offensive mode rather than the defensive tactics it adopted while US troops withdraw from the country after a long, inconclusive war. The Taliban, the main militant group, has denied involvement in both attacks, although trust among officials and the broader public has worn thin.
The Afghan authorities announced an offshoot of Islamic State is among the suspects: it then admitted it was behind the Nangarhar bloodshed.
With this shacking news, I hope to take a step further to open people’s and media’s eyes. I wonder how nurses and doctors who survived the hospital attack can resume their duties after such an emotional challenge on top of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. In the Western part of the globe, we would just choose to rest and stay with our beloved ones. But the truth is that this is not an option for everybody on Earth.
“Since yesterday my family has been telling me to stop working in the hospital, nothing is worth my life. But I told them ‘No, I cannot stop working as a health worker, not in this needy situation’.”
“Last night I could not sleep, as scary scenes of the attack kept crossing my mind,” said Masouma Qurbanzada, a midwife who saw the killings.
Officials at MSF said they were working to try to normalise operations and had received support from other hospitals to treat dozens of infants and adults wounded in the attack. “I saw patients being killed even as they begged and pleaded for their lives in the holy month of Ramadan. It is very hard for me to work now, but I have to, there’s no alternative.”
Before writing this article, I saw a photo of a woman lying on the ground still holding tightly to her baby, who had survived and had been moved to an intensive care unit at another hospital. That was my call. That was the point of no return when I realised no media was willing to do what we and my team feel the urgency to do.
It is still unclear why the maternity hospital in Dashti Barchi, a 100-bed facility, was targeted. An attack against humanity and a war crime.
In the evening hours, husbands, fathers and family members of the hospital's patients gathered around the hospital, desperate for the shocking news of their loved ones.
A man read out the names of those who had been evacuated to other hospitals. He kept reading but could not find his wife’s name. She did not have the chance to be evacuated. She did not have another chance.
I want to conclude this article saying that the purpose of this is for the leaders and the media to start awakening to the horrors civilians continue to face, in the world’s areas a few people really care about.
But there’s hope. We can change. Urban Kapital is here to condemn this violence and to advance a change that we hope, with your help, will never stop going.