“I don’t need to imagine what the children living in tents are going through in Gaza. I know it”. I responded to the potential donor on the phone. I could hear her breathe catch.
“How? How can you know this.” She said, the shock apparent in her voice.
My family was displaced for the first time in Afghanistan when I was 10 back in 1993. We were in what was called the Kabul camp, on the Nangahar highway close to the border with Pakistan. At first we lived in the basement of a building, the top floors had already collapsed from the fighting around us. We were so many families crowded in there, there was no playing, the basement was always shaking because of the bombs, we couldn’t sleep close to the walls in the event of the walls collapsing. Food ran out. The market collapsed. Hospitals were bombed. Surgeries were carried out in homes. Children were abandoned, lost as families tried to run away.
I remember my mother clearing our tent of rain water, fighting a losing battle against the wet and cold. My siblings and I would huddle in the driest corner. I remember standing in line for food with my sister and then queuing for water.
I’ve been displaced four more times since then. I’ve always survived by propelling myself forward, even as a kid. I’ve worked at a burger joint, tried and failed to start an ice cream business, sold fellow students’ popcorn, candy, and biscuits.
It’s a hurt that I’ve never fully confronted, I’ve never been able to pause and confront. Forward motion. Perhaps that is why I am putting in 20 hours days at INARA without even noticing it. I can feel, taste, smell war. I remember little me, and I see little me in the faces of Gaza’s children.
My father used to work day and night to get us out of our tented existence. I put myself through school with odd jobs, I would study, take computer classes, and English classes. It was no surprise that I ended up in the humanitarian sector, I knew what people needed, I could see the flaws in the system, I could trouble shoot and find ways to circumvent. When I studied humanitarian charters, aid and protection, no harm principles I could see all that was wrong with my own experience and the trauma that is just added on.
When I joined the humanitarian world in Afghanistan, I was able to alter some aspects of what I saw. Food was no longer just tossed from trucks to outreached hands, I recruit volunteers from the camp to distribute in an orderly fashion. Water distribution no longer happened without buckets and canisters, I made sure those were also provided.
Watching Gaza now, all these memories I’ve suppressed of the fear, of nowhere being safe, of watching my parents desperately move us from one area to another. I retell these stories with a bit of a smile but
I tell these stories with a smile now, but the memories still hurt. Perhaps that is why I am putting in 20 hours days on our Gaza response without even noticing it. In full on forward motion, my pain again fresh, my mind going full kilter wanting to do whatever I can to end the pain of those in Gaza.