Guest post by Afghan Student Mohammad Naser Akbar* — Our fight against Ignorance in a Third World Country

On August 24, 2016, it was much like any other day; although normal days in Afghanistan are somewhat different than those in Canada or the United States of America. That day just happened to be the first day of classes of the fall semester at the American University of Afghanistan. Everyone appeared excited Three story Bayad Buildingand delighted for a new beginning; just as how I felt. Nothing alerted or prepared me for the tragedy and death, including my own near death experience that occurred that day in which the University turned into war-zone.

The morning started like any other day; I did my morning preparations, and went to work, as I both worked and attended classes. After work, I drove to the University, and entered the campus after going through security clearance and a body-scan machine. Everything was normal, I stepped in the library, and logged in to a computer to find my classrooms.

I had three classes to attend. The first two classes were a mixture of joy and boredom, as the first class was public speaking (a topic I thoroughly enjoy and am passionate about) and the latter was calculus (a topic that causes myself and others to yawn at times). Then, I attended a class on corporate finance. Without warning, approximately 40 minutes into the class there was a huge explosion, causing windows to shatter all around the classroom. Everyone hit the floor in fear. Insurgents flooded the campus and the University became engulfed in conflict. The insurgents’ goal: to suppress higher learning and snuff out the students’ ambitions, including my own.

After we somewhat regained our composure, the students went in to survival-mode. Some students fled the class and ran toward the emergency gates. Others, including myself, were worried about being intercepted by the insurgents while fleeing, and decided to remain in the classroom. We put chairs and tables in front of the door to make it harder for anyone to enter.

While also fearing for my own life, I was gravely worried about my sister. She was also attending classes that day, and was stuck on a different floor. I tried to call her, but there was no answer. Further fear and concern flooded my every thought. By this time the lobbies were already taken by the insurgents, who were equipped with machine guns and hand grenades. It was impossible for me to run to the aid of my sister, which broke my heart.

My parents were out of the country, so I could not call them to seek their councel and comfort. I called my other sister, who was at home, to let her know what was happening and that she should not call back, as the noise would cause me, and those I hid with, danger. After twenty minutes of hiding under tables and chairs, there were two additional explosions that came from the class opposite to where we were hiding. That terrified everyone even more. Moments later, the insurgents kicked in the door to our classroom.

Staying in the class was choosing death. After a quick judgment call, I jumped out from the second-floor window. My left foot got stuck on an air conditioner that was below the window and I lost my balance, causing me to hit the ground so hard that I broke my hips and right wrist. I blacked out. When I came to my senses, everything was painful. I heard my classmate screaming. I could not see her, but she yelled in a desperate-tone, “Help! Please somebody help me”. Everyone ran for their own lives. The only noises were those of machine guns, explosions, and intense screams of students who ran from these merciless sounds. In the crowd of noise, I lost my classmate’s voice. She was lying near me. She was facing the grass on the little lawn in front of the structure, surrendered to death. To her right was a wooden bench which allowed for those seated thereupon to have a calm view of the rest of the campus.

Her name was Jamila, she had plans and hopes for graduation, a new job, and applying for her masters degree. If for one moment she knew any of these incidents would happen to her, she would not have left her residence for the University that day. Fate is cruel and hope can be dangerous. I had heard this many times before in the movies and in life, but it was never real to me; until now.

I was trapped inside the campus for four hours. Most of that time I could only crawl with my forearms, given my injuries. Even with this limitation, I spent the entire time looking for a haven. As I crawled closed to a faculty building, a friend of mine, who had a broken leg but still able to walk, yelled, “Naser, get up and let’s go!” I replied, “Where would you go!? Every place is more dangerous than previous.” He continued on his way. I ended up crawling about three hundred feet from where I had originally fallen, heading towards an emergency exit, but never made it. I fainted. I do not remember for how long I was lying there, but when I woke up, one of the insurgents crossed over my body while murmuring to someone. A short time later, I heard rifle sounds. I thought that the insurgents were coming towards me and that it did not matter whether I was dead or alive; they were going to shoot me either way to make sure I was dead. Regardless of one’s faith, all pray to God (or whatever religious equivalent) to save one’s life in these dire circumstances. I laid like a dead corpse. The sounds grew closer. I saw green lasers coming from behind the bushes and then, suddenly, an ease captured my whole body.

I heard a soldier’s voice whispering to another “go behind the faculty building wall and cover for me.” It was like a miracle; an angel arrived just in time to save my life. One of them approached and then two others. The first one took cover and the other two had their rifles pointed towards me. With a shivered voice I said, “I’m a student; my legs are broken please help me.” One approached me with a low voice, and said, “Has anyone placed any object under your body?” He was referring to explosive devices. I said “I don’t know.” The soldier directed me to move, and I moved as much as I could. The soldier then picked me up on his shoulders and carried me to the ambulance. It took me two months to recover from my injuries. Those who lost someone that day at the hands of the insurgents’ violence will never be the same; their hearts will never fully heal; and they can never fully recover from the eternal pain inflicted.

The difference is stark between viewing the above as a fictional movie and experiencing it, to say the least. It was an appalling, shocking and awful real-life situation; I would not wish it on my worst enemy, if I had one. The concept of fate that was always vague to me; all of a sudden seemed so definite and real. The persons who lived and died did not choose either; it was left completely out of their control.

The insurgents’ goal was clear: to disrupt and discourage higher education. It is a bigot who acts harsh and ruthless to the youths who have nothing but a strong desire for furthered education. These are young people who grow up facing countless challenges and risks, all pursuing and pushing for a better tomorrow. Unmindful that fate is waiting thirsty for their blood in the most barbaric way to take their lives in instant. One wonders what causes people to decline to this inferiority where they kill students just because they have a strong desire for knowledge!?

What some people tend to overlook when considering their own dreams are the dreams never fulfilled by others. In my part of the world, people are born in a war-zone. There are frequent sounds of bullets, and the color of blood is just like any other color from the countless list of colors. Some of us are lucky enough and make it through life. Others are ill-fated and lose their lives in the struggle for a change that has been fought for the last three generations. It is a constant struggle for change; maybe never-ending, but we have nothing more to lose, so we continue. As Garcia Marquez reads, “children inherit their parent’s madness.” It is ignorance that allows this abhorrent behavior to subsist. We must work to enlighten persons vulnerable to being manipulated into performing heinous acts. Education must prevail, and we must persevere until it does so.

*I was recently working on writing an essay about my experience from the terrorist attack on the American University of Afghanistan. I have tried to illustrate it from a student’s perspective, different from what you might hear from media. Ken Kast my mentor from New York helped me a lot in writing this, Andra Ionescu also helped me from Poland I want to say thank you to them.