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The Eagle in the Tree

Around September 2008, I was sitting in the lounge watching the television when my father turned on the news and everyone got really quiet as the channel reported that a suicide bomber had brought down the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. It was a violent affair, watching the remnants of the building laying in rubble, not knowing what was underneath all of it but suspecting that human lives had been lost in numbers unprecedented. We didn’t talk about it after, it was something that had happened and now we stayed inside our house on days when we were usually out.


Sometime later I was in school, it was a cold day. I can’t remember how many periods we had sat through but all of a sudden everyone was told to stay inside the classroom, to shut the windows, stay away from them. The teachers were instructed to make sure we didn’t leave. When we asked what had happened, our teacher told us that an eagle was flying around the big tree outside and that it was dangerous for us to be out because it could attack us. Shortly after, parents started arriving and my class mates left with them. We were confused because how dangerous could this eagle be and why had it never been a threat before? I was scared my parents wouldn’t come pick me up because they would have no way of knowing about this eagle. But a little while later my dad came and picked me up and when I sat in the car, I saw that he had picked up both of my siblings who studied in another school and I asked them about eagles. That’s when he told me about the bomb blast that had occurred in the neighbouring area, and we hurried back home. The entire ride back I felt like I was going to die.


The school gave us a couple of days off and in my naïve innocent mind, this was the best thing that could ever happen. I had always disliked school and the violence happening in my country was a distant event that did not concern me.


However, when I returned to school, I realised that things were going to change. We would no longer have assemblies outside at 8am in the mornings where we would sing the school anthem followed by the national anthem. We wouldn’t get to see our friends from other sections and there would be no plays or short skits that different classes arranged every day. That sense of community was gone. Now we would go straight to our classrooms, and we wouldn’t be allowed to leave or play in the grounds. At the end of the school day, we would have to sit in lines and stay put till our names were called and we would be escorted to our cars. The walls of the school were protected by tall shrapnel so no one could climb over.


The teachers told us we were going to start having emergency drills. Some while later the school rang a thirty second bell and that was our signal to lock the doors and climb under our desks and to be very, very, quiet. We were kids so we tried to make it fun, and even a look from one of my friends would drive me to laughter because I didn’t fully understand what was happening. But our lives had changed forever. We had to lock the car doors when we drove around the city. My heart would start beating very loudly whenever my dad was inside a shop, and I was left in the car with my mom and a stranger would get too close to the vehicle. It felt like there was danger everywhere.

There was never any serious conversation about what was happening and what had happened. We were expected to go on as usual in school when so many restrictions were placed upon us. And the teachers weren’t allowed to answer our questions because it was a “sensitive” issue. I think in times like these someone should have told us what was happening, someone should have guided us about the fear that was slowly seeping into our bodies.


I think it is important to highlight my privilege in never having come into direct contact with any of the brutalities that were happening in my country. I and my friends may have felt fear but I didn’t have to think about my daily needs not being met. What about the countless children who grew up with war raging right outside their doorsteps?


It is dangerous for children’s development to think bombs and guns and violence are a part of daily life. We were desensitised to such gruesome terror, as are so many children around the world today. It’s no surprise that we don’t question our systems and governments when such horrific images appear on our screens because our entire lives we have been made to believe that this is all normal: just a part of life.

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Brought back so many memories. While I feel sad for the environment we saw in these times, I actually felt hopeless back then. I still remember that after the APS attack, our school was closed for 2 weeks and when we came back, the boundaries of the school were made higher and had barbed wire placed on them. There were metal detectors around the campus and we also had similar drills. Morning Assembly was abolished as well as the break time was also decreased.


One can only feel what the APS students and other similar school attack students would feel. While there has been a massive improvement in these terror activities, we sincerely hope that the upcoming generation of students…

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Absolutely, school started feeling like a scary place and that too without anyone addressing the situation or being empathetic towards the children!

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It must have been really hard to deal with all of that especially since you were so young. It is important to realize that you naive minds are extremely malleable and while most people might not think is affecting young children affects them greatly, like the loss of normalcy a change in routine, the conflict that ups described is often painted as normal due to the frequency of it, its important to take into account the negative impacts it has on young children from experiencing it to watching it on the news, while looking fro solutions for this what would you particularly suggest, seminars for students post events like these? Safe talking spaces for children in school ?

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Yes, I think just providing children with safe spaces where they can openly talk about their feelings and realize they aren't alone in their trauma can be very productive. Especially in Pakistan, where any mention of a difficult topic is instantly shut down and repressed. Also providing children with seminars on how they could cope and improve their quality of life amidst all the conflict would have been better than how they actually handled the situation.

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I can relate to what you've shared because of my almost same experience. Since we were boarding school students, several limitations were imposed on us when Taliban militants invaded the Army Public School. The teachers began visiting our hostels to teach us. We could not leave the dorms—even the roofs were locked—and we were forced to stay in the confined and closed spaces. But we were told of what was going on. Though all of this was done for our security, but being children, we couldn't comprehend it. It adversely affected our mental state and studies because it placed us in a depressed state.

And you are absolutely right about these conflict situations are said to be normal whereas it's…


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Thank you for sharing your own experiences with those attacks. Do you think in our context it is better to let the students know exactly what is happening, especially for students such as yourself, who are far away from the comfort and security of their homes and families or to try to create a false sense of security by leaving them in the dark? Would holding these serious conversations help them? Or only make it worse? I would love to know your opinion!

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