Stories From The Safe Room

On Wednesday, August 24th, students and faculty at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul either tried to escape or scrambled for cover as attackers launched a deadly assault on the campus. Media outlets are reporting that the attack lasted between nine and ten hours.

By Edriss Bazger (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Maryam Danesh was on campus at the time of the attack. She describes the experience of being on campus when the attackers first struck, then being shuffled between safe rooms in an email exchange with Queens Free Press.

“After leaving [the] office, I arrived at university around 4, got books for fall semester and got out of university around 5,” she writes, “I went to [the] dormitory. I was on my bed, checking Facebook that I heard a very loud and close explosion (sic). I saw the outside looked like a yellow color (sic). As it was very close, I thought they have attacked on the dormitory (sic).”

She could hear the sounds of gunshots.

Shortly after, she was rushed to what would be the first of two safe rooms—this one in the basement of her dormitory.

“The residence hall assistant screamed that get into the safe room that was the basement (sic),” Danesh says, “We turned the lights off. We even didn’t use our phone to avoid making lights that could help them to find us. We could hear firing and didn’t know what was going on outside (sic).”

“I thought maybe we would die,” she continues.

While in hiding, she managed to send her sister, Razia, a quick text message.

“I am fine,” read the text.

In a separate conversation with Queens Free Press, for a different article, Danesh’s sister, Razia explains that it was extremely difficult to get ahold of Maryam after receiving that text.

Maryam was feeling the same sense of frustration.

“I knew that no one from outside could help me except police and guards of [the] university,” says Danesh, “The phones got out of coverage in [the] safe room. Once I checked my phone. It was working. I sent my sister a message that I am fine…And then again phones were out of service.”

In that same conversation with Queens Free Press mentioned earlier, Razia Danesh remembers her sister saying that the girls had considered carrying knives to protect themselves.

Unfortunately knives weren’t just discussed for self-defense.

While in the first safe room, one of the girls spoke of suicide.

“Once one of the girls told [me] that I wish I had a knife so that I could kill myself before they do something to me (sic),” recalls Maryam Danesh.

Eventually, guards came and moved the girls to a different safe room where girls from all different buildings were gathered. It was there that a girl suggested that they all arm themselves with knives or other objects.

The girl she was sitting next to in this second safe room was injured. The girl had fallen from the second floor of a building. “We hugged each other,” says Danesh. Later she would accompany that same girl to the hospital.

One thing Danesh remembers about the ordeal is the way everyone came together. “Now I feel happy that the girls who even didn’t know each other, helped each other (sic).” Girls comforted girls who were crying or were just afraid. For example, Danesh remembers seeing a young girl who had just enrolled in the university, sitting by herself, looking around and saying nothing. “I knew her a bit. I sat next to her and asked her that are you okay (sic)?!!”

When she was finally able to escape, Danesh accompanied the girl she sat with in the safe room to the hospital, where she was reunited with her family.

On August 25th, one day after the attack, Dr. Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the US, released a statement regarding the attacks. In it, he reminds the public that the “cowardly terrorists…did not succeed in their mission.”

Like many Afghans, Mohib is also looking to the future after the attacks. He concludes the first paragraph of his statement with a promise: “But we will also never allow men with guns and bombs who prey on helpless civilians pursuing an education stop young Afghans from pursuing their dreams, or stop Afghanistan’s progress.”

That’s good, because Maryam Danesh has no plans on stopping.

“I always hoped to educate in a good university and AUAF is the best one in the country. I am not leaving it very easily (sic),” Danesh replies, when asked if she is planning to return to AUAF once it re-opens, “They can do whatever they want, but they cannot take away our hopes and future. AUAF will shine and stay stronger this time.”

The university has every intention of reopening.

They’ve even started a crowdfunding campaign to help injured students, and assist the families of those who died with funeral expenses.

Together they will rebuild.

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