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“I survived three suicide bombings”

Civilians in Kabul continue to suffer violence. AFP/Getty Images

Maliha, an Afghan woman now living in Sydney, tells her experiences of the impact of the uncontrolled trade in arms.

It was late at night in 1993, and we were asleep. Suddenly we woke to the sound of an airplane flying overhead and a huge bomb blast. Our house was destroyed, as were most houses on the street. We lost everything.

Our lives were saved that night because we were asleep, wrapped in blankets. We’d been cushioned from the shattering glass of the windows and falling plaster from the walls.

I was 13 years old. After I’d found my two brothers and mother in the rubble, and the dust had settled, we decided to leave Afghanistan.

We thought it would only be for a few months and the situation would become peaceful again. But when we moved to Peshawar, Pakistan, peace in Afghanistan never came.

My single mother supported us and allowed us to complete our education by becoming a teacher in a refugee school. Many years before, when I was three years old, my father disappeared from his job. One morning he left for work and he never came back.

At 16 years old I started my first full-time job with a charity. I would hire women for their sewing and embroidery work to be sold in the UK.

In 2009, through a friend, I heard about a position with Finland’s embassy in Kabul.

After I was successful in getting the role, my mother nervously followed me to Kabul.

I worked there for almost three years as a program co-ordinator, responsible for the funding of different projects for women and children.

Around this time I was introduced to my husband. Originally from Afghanistan, he’d been without his family for the last 21 years in Sydney.

He was working in his takeaway shop, and coincidentally, one of my friends, also from Afghanistan and a regular customer, thought we’d get along and passed on my details.

We started emailing each other. Once we’d gotten to know a little bit about each other he agreed to come to Afghanistan and I was to meet him in person for the first time after seven or eight months.

He arrived at my home in Kabul with his mother and brother. Before his visit I’d tried to memorise a list of questions I’d ask him, but when he arrived, I forgot them all! The funny thing is he’d brought me some red roses but when he’d purchased them, he didn’t notice, perhaps out of excitement, that the flowers were wet and he’d been holding them tightly to his chest. By the time he arrived his suit was completely wet! He was trying to cover the wet patches because he didn’t want me to notice. Despite our nerves, everything went well. He formally proposed to me and I accepted.

My Finnish colleagues were really excited to come to my wedding as they’d never been to any Afghan ceremonies. They said they would come if I had it at a hotel where security was good, so I chose to have it in one of the most secure buildings in the city.

Thank God, everything went well on the wedding night, all my Finnish colleagues, as well as my friends and family from around the world came, and we had an amazing time. It was the 13th of February 2011.

The day after, my husband and I were inside our hotel room when suddenly we heard gunfire and shortly after, a huge explosion. The building started shaking and glass was everywhere. For a few minutes I thought we were finished and our life was gone.

When I opened my eyes, I couldn’t see anything around me, only smoke, dust and broken glass. We couldn’t tell what was going on. When I picked up the phone, it wasn’t working; when I tried to turn on the TV, it wouldn’t switch on. My husband looked outside the window. He said he could see people running away from the building in different directions and then police surrounding the hotel, including troops from NATO.

We were stuck there for the night while they searched for two other suicide bombers. In the end it turned out to be a rumour and we were escorted out of the building.

After our wedding – when I came to Sydney for my honeymoon – I was too afraid to go back to Afghanistan.

Now that I have a daughter, I feel even more that Afghanistan is not a safe place. I travelled back with her last year, so I could visit my mother, as she is alone in Afghanistan. She lives close to Kabul Airport. On my second or third day, in the middle of the area where we stayed, another suicide bombing happened. My daughter was eight months old. Suddenly she shouts and starts crying, as the building was shaking. It killed about nine Americans and many others nearby. After that, I never went outside during my entire month there, except to visit my mother.

Every time I try to imagine a future in Afghanistan and I go back, something happens that makes me run away.

When I had my daughter, I learnt what it is to be a mother. I love my daughter so much, I can understand how it is for my mother. Yes I am safe, but I also want her to be safe.

This story was originally published in Daily Life on 18 March 2013