Don’t Breathe, Just Run: An Unforgettable Night of My Life

It was 24th August 2016 and the start of a new semester after the summer break. It wasn’t just about a new semester; it was also about seeing your friends again, taking new classes, facing new challenges, learning new things, and, most importantly, being back to the campus which most students consider their second home. I can still recall how calm, cloudy, and mysterious that day was, as if the universe already knew what was going to happen, and which would soon be revealed. I could see students greeting and hugging each other with wide smiles on their faces. It was obvious that everyone had missed each other very much during the break. We were carrying new heavy books with both excitement and a little fear.

It wasn’t just about a new semester; it was also about seeing your friends again, taking new classes, facing new challenges, learning new things, and, most importantly, being back to the campus which most students consider their second home.

Shama Hassan
AUAF Campus picture taken by the author

Everyone was rushing to their classes to meet their new professors and classmates, including me. I had a corporate finance class in the B-building on the 2nd floor with two of my friends. The professor who was teaching that class was my favorite professor. I knew I was going to learn so much from his class and I always studied eagerly for his classes because I loved them. I spent the first half of class in full enthusiasm and participation. We were then given a 5-minute break for evening (Maghrib) prayer. As usual, the professor selected me to be the class coordinator to lead the girls to the masjid and to bring them back on time to class again.

Back from the masjid, everyone got seated and the lecture started again. Just one minute later, we heard a loud and strange sound of a car accident followed by gun shootings and a bomb blast. As the noise explosion was so close to the building we were studying in, I felt numb and thought it could be nothing than a mere car accident on the street, so I tried to concentrate on the lecture. As I turned back to the professor, I saw the red fiery flames in his eyes and suddenly felt broken glass pieces from the window landing on me.

As I turned back to the professor, I saw the red fiery flames in his eyes and suddenly felt broken glass pieces from the window landing on me.

Shama Hassan

My friend pulled me down and screamed, “We are under attack! Get down, or you will be killed.” That was when I realized that we were under attack. I could see bullets coming through the windows into our class and everyone was screaming and crying. We all kept our heads low and crawled slowly from our classroom to the classroom on the other side of the corridor, which was a bit safer. We were all woefully unprepared for this situation, and many students were crying and screaming that we were all going to die.

Remains after deadly attack, Chad Garland, 25th August, 2016

At that point, I did not care if I was going to die or live; I just thought of my mother and family. Every night, my mother would sit in the hallway next to the kitchen to wait for me to return home from university. She would prepare me a delicious dinner meal no matter how much I insisted that I already ate at the university. She would listen attentively as I share about my day and what I have learned. I never thought I would depart without even saying goodbye to her and the family, and without getting to hold them for one last time.

Every night, my mother would sit in the hallway next to the kitchen to wait for me to return home from university. She would prepare me a delicious dinner meal no matter how much I insisted that I already ate at the university. She would listen attentively as I share about my day and what I have learned. I never thought I would depart without even saying goodbye to her and the family, and without getting to hold them for one last time.

Shama Hassan

 In the beginning, I gave up, and unlike other students, I was standing in the corner without crying and screaming and waiting impatiently for the attackers to come and kill me, because I wanted it to come to an end sooner. The nonstop sounds of explosions and gun firing made the situation worse and increased the fear in each of us with every single second. I don’t know how, but suddenly the utter despair and feeling of surrender left me. It was as if I was unconscious for 10 minutes but suddenly regained consciousness. I pulled closer to my friends and classmates and tried to calm them down. I told them that screams would only make it worse and give away our location to the attackers, but that did not stop them. One of the students called the security guard to ask where the attackers were as she thought we could maybe run and leave the building.

After that student ended the call, another student went next to the window, broke it with his elbow and suddenly screamed, “Jump from this window if you want to get alive out of here!”

Everyone followed him. It was very strange to me to see that these students who were just crying and fearing death now wanting to risk their lives in order to survive. My friends and I decided not to jump because it was very high and jumping from that height would either kill us or make us disabled for the rest of our lives, which is worse than death itself. We hence decided to just run away and not wait for the attackers to come and kill us. We did not look back.

We hence decided to just run away and not wait for the attackers to come and kill us. We did not look back.

Shama Hassan

The corridors were dark and the floor was full of broken glass pieces, which made the floor very slippery and hard to run. I could see the floor painted in red from the blood of injured or dead bodies. It was tough to breathe because the air was full of gunpowder, and it felt as if we had swallowed acid.

As we ran down the stairs and got to the first floor, the attackers entered the corridor from the right end and started shooting. Some were injured and killed, but I made it out with my friends and a few other students. We were the last batch of students getting out of the university that night, while the rest of the students were locked there until 4 in the morning.

We were the last batch of students getting out of the university that night, while the rest of the students were locked there until 4 in the morning.

Shama Hassan
28 August, 2016. Photo Credit: Arg (Presidential Palace)

Every semester we would do a security drill, but we usually did not take it seriously. It was that day that we realized how we had taken those drills for granted. The outside of the university was scarier than the inside. A second after the attack on our university, a power blackout occurred throughout Kabul city and the streets were dark. We were frightened by anyone attempting to help us and could not also trust the police officers who were not wearing uniforms. We thought that they may be the attackers who would try to abduct and kill us. There is a saying in Dari language that “a person who is bitten by a snake is even afraid of the rope,” and we could not relate more to that saying.

Every semester we would do a security drill, but we usually did not take it seriously. It was that day that we realized how we had taken those drills for granted.

Shama Hassan

Finally, after 3 hours of suffering, the police officers dropped each of us back home. Despite being out of the danger zone, I was not still feeling well until I got home and my mom embraced me warmly. That was when I felt like the soul that had left my body for the past 3 hours returned to me.

Despite being out of the danger zone, I was not still feeling well until I got home and my mom embraced me warmly. That was when I felt like the soul that had left my body for the past 3 hours returned to me.

Shama Hassan

In the beginning, I was sad about not being able to return to my studies because the university remained closed for more than eight months. The next day when I read about the attack on the news, I felt downhearted by the loss of some beautiful lives that night, most of whom were senior graduating students and talented professors. I learned that nothing could be more important than human life, be it education or success. Everyone desires to live a successful life, but to fulfill our potential of living a successful life, we must first have the right to “LIFE” itself.

Beautiful AUAF Campus. Photo taken by the author.

I learned that nothing could be more important than human life, be it education or success. Everyone desires to live a successful life, but to fulfill our potential of living a successful life, we must first have the right to “LIFE” itself.

Shama Hassan

Author: Shama Hassan studied Business Administration with a concentration in finance at the American University of Afghanistan. She is currently working for Afghan Women Educational Center empowering women in local communities by raising awareness and educating them about their rights. She is working as a Project Manager/Finance Officer for ‘Women & Peace’ project, which works with women at grassroots level in 8 provinces and provides them training on conflict resolution.

Editor: Hui Zhen

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