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Living in fear

My first memory of violence goes back to when Benzair Bhutto was assassinated in 2007. I could not comprehend why a group of angry men would try to set my school on fire if someone they loved had passed away - shouldn't they be mourning, I wondered. I was strictly instructed by my parents to stay indoors and engage with something at home. Out of boredom, I started to paint what I saw on TV all day long. My maternal uncle once asked me to show him what I had been busy with. It was a picture of men running with torches in their hands, with all the buildings in the background set on fire.


My second encounter goes back to class 4. As acts of terror increased in the country, all schools were asked to prepare. In my school, the first drill went unannounced. In the middle of the day, a spine chilling alarm left us all frightened. I still remember seeing my class fellows cry as our teachers instructed us to rush towards the playground. After a while, all of this became the new normal. The alarm did not frighten us anymore.


The third experience goes back to when the APS attack happened. I was residing in a boarding school then. When we first came across the news, it was extremely difficult to process, but more fear-inducing. This rush of emotions was unique. My heart was longing to hear my parents speak, to hear them comfort me. We were asked to gather at the auditorium after the dinner. I saw my housemaster trying his best to explain the events that took place earlier in the day. The next morning, we offered ghaibana namaz-e-janaza for the kids. I could not stop picturing myself in the scenario. I was angry at the world for the first time. After a while, conversations around 'what would you do if our school gets attacked' became normal.


Why was an 8-year-old kid not painting flowers and swings, why were we not frightened by the sound a heart-wrenching alarm, why was picturing yourself locked in a classroom while your school was under attack becoming the new normal? I have grown up in fear all these years. I am sure all of us have. Our reflexes are a product of these experiences. Would we have lived a different life if violence was not so mundane, if our schools were just schools?

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My first memory of violence was also the same, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

On that day I remember the shades of fire and flames from a vary far place were touching upon the walls of my neighbours house and my neighbour became so emotional that she said that she was even able to see Benazir Bhutto on the moon. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto undoubtedly made people emotional and it proved to be an unforgettable sad event.

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Eman Rashid
Eman Rashid
08 mai 2021

This was written so beautifully. It felt like my own childhood experiences were being narrated. I think since we were all just kids at the time, maybe we didn't really understand the gravity of the situation then. Looking back now, it gives me chills to think of the way we still went to school despite the bomb threats and escalating situation. Can't imagine what our parents must have felt sending us off to schools and, in some cases, making us feel like everything was still normal when it was anything but that.

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En réponse à

Thank you for reading, Eman. I feel like our parents have functioned as our shields for long amongst all that has been happening. There should definitely be more discussions around the role and contribution of parents.

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The way you wrote this gave me goosebumps, this is a beautiful piece. Even though it became so normal, the sound of that shrill alarm and fear and discussions of what we would do, I find myself scared of standing next to doors to this day, because I'm scared of it opening suddenly from the impact of a bomb blast. I still find myself more frightened than I should be when there's thunder, or fireworks. I know we got accustomed to it, but I don't think we ever really recover from it. I think children in all these conflict zones may get used to it, but the impact lasts and you never really get over that. My heart still starts…

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En réponse à

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I definitely agree with what you said about children in the conflict zones being vulnerable and broken inside. No one should be going through that. If anything, this piece may help us empathize more with them. I wrote this with an aim to dedicate some thoughts to what it could have been like without the violence and to question the 'normal' around us.

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It is sad to read your experiences and I can't even imagine the sort of suffering you must have felt at your end. As Mahnoor mentioned, when we analyze closely, most of us have been exposed to conflict in one way or another. The implications of such exposure are often not talked about because of how we tend to cage ourselves. Reading this, I felt as if someone was narrating my own experiences and I just started to reconsider as to why I never openly talked about them.

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En réponse à

Thank you for reading. I am glad this piece was retrospective for you. As sad as it can be, it is truly thought-provoking how we can connect through our personal experiences. What is sharing, if not an attempt to recover.

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Usama, you have penned down your experiences so beautifully. It is chilling to think that all of us have similar experiences growing up when it comes to our encounters with conflict. You and I have been lucky to think conflict has never "directly" shown up at our footstep and hindered our education but upon reflection, recounting all the ways it has affected and shaped us is astonishing. In places where children are forced to get accustomed to the conflict around them, where children come into the crossfires of fights adults were responsible for, our childhood got taken away from us - we were forced to grow up and face the consequences of those before us.

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En réponse à

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Mahnoor. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you have written. As mentioned in the conversations above, I wanted us to empathize more with children who have it worse and to question our own experiences. I believe, in order to let go of thoughts and habits we have normalized, it is important that we start recollecting our own past. Mentally re-experiencing everything may not be pleasant, but it is imperative for our growth.

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