Author: Lalah Rahmani
Zainab Ataie, a survivor of three separate explosions and a symbol of women’s resilience in Afghanistan, is currently receiving medical treatment in Turkey. Her story exemplifies the experiences of countless Afghan women who endure hardships, setbacks, and injuries but continue to stand up and push for a better future. In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, Nimrokh shares Ataie’s inspiring tale of survival and perseverance.
Recently, I visited Zainab at her home in Dasht-e-Barchi, situated to the west of Kabul. After learning of her harrowing story through social media, I was eager to check up on her. I found her still carrying the embedded shrapnel from the most recent explosion she had survived.
Despite the traumas she has endured, Zainab remained remarkably upbeat during our meeting. She spoke with a contagious energy and zest for life, discussing the struggles she has faced and her unwavering determination to overcome them. Notably, Zainab shared her ambitions of becoming a doctor – a field she is deeply passionate about.
“As a child, I had an insatiable appetite for learning. When I was five years old, I begged my parents to take me to school, but the principal turned me away, saying that I was too young and that I needed to wait until I was seven and had lost a tooth. Therefore, I went home and broke my front tooth to meet the requirement. Upon showing the principal, he laughed and finally allowed me to enroll. However, for the next several years, my front tooth remained absent but, from the first grade through the twelfth, I remained at the top of my class.”
Zainab has survived three separate explosions, the first of which occurred while she was in the Mawood Education Center. She now carries the reminder of that traumatic event with her in the form of six stitches in her left hand and 12 stitches in her left leg.
She recounts the Mawood incident as follows:
As we were leaving, there was a sudden explosion and, in the blink of an eye, there were blood, body parts, and corpses everywhere. I was injured and had lost my way out of the center building. Later, I tried to find out where my friends were. In the first call I made, I was informed of Rahela Laali’s death, and the second call brought the news of Kausar’s demise. I didn’t have enough courage to call anyone else. The news of Rahela’s death and seeing her lifeless body was extremely traumatic for me. Rahela and I were not only good friends but also colleagues at an educational center where we taught English together.
After that incident, I felt a constant sense of fear for about a month, always thinking that there might be another explosion. It was a terrifying experience, but I was determined to overcome it. Because I believed that if I let fear consume me, it would give satisfaction to Rahela’s murderers. With the support and encouragement of my family and teachers, I slowly began to recover and regain my strength over the following months.
In 2018, Dasht-e-Barchi residents were not spared by the chain suicide attacks and Zainab was injured for the second time in one of those attacks.
“I sustained only superficial injuries, and one of our teachers lost his daughter,” she says. “While the incident was undoubtedly painful and the casualties were not insignificant, I remained strong and determined to keep going.”
On the morning of September 30, 2022, tragedy struck when a suicide attacker detonated explosives among the students of Kaj Education Center. The attack claimed the lives of more than 50 Hazara students and left more than 100 others wounded, including Zainab.
First, we heard the sound of gunshots, and it felt like it was getting closer and closer every moment. But we didn’t think much of it since the police station was nearby, and we assumed the sound was coming from there. Suddenly, the attacker entered the classroom, and chaos erupted. Everyone was screaming and scrambling to either run away or hide under the chairs. I also wanted to hide, and then but I did not remember what happened next. When I opened my eyes, a dead body was lying on me. The wall, debris, the dead body, and I were all hurled into the corridor. I was trapped, unable to move due to my injured hands and feet, as blood gushed from inside the class. My friends eventually found me and rushed me to the hospital.
Zainab was injured in the classroom where she and her classmates were preparing for their university entrance exams, scheduled for a few days later.
On the day of my exam, I also had a hospital appointment for my injuries. I left the hospital to take the exam, pretending to go for a shower. I felt fine at first, but as the exam progressed, a severe pain began to develop on the left side of my head and in my left eye. It became too much to bear, and I eventually lost consciousness. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital.
Zainab, who has been targeted by suicide bombings and explosions three times while preparing for the Kankor exam, is deeply saddened that she went to the exam hall with a wounded body but cannot recall the exam from the middle onwards due to her injuries.
“The day the Kankor exam results were announced was the worst day for me,” she said. “I felt an immense sense of defeat because I had spent over a year preparing for the Kankor exam, but I could not complete it”.
“Undoubtedly, the future looks bleak,” she says, “but I have hope that I will study again and I work even harder to achieve my goals. I strongly believe that any pain that doesn’t kill me will make me stronger. My ambition is to become a specialist doctor and establish a modern hospital.”
She now longs for a future without the ravages of war.
“I have a wish for Afghanistan to be peaceful so that as a future doctor, I will never have to remove shrapnels from the body of a wounded patient.”
Zainab, at the age of 19, is currently receiving treatment for the injuries caused by the third explosion she has experienced yet.