22-year-old Sharifa is one of the thousands of Afghan mothers struggling to overcome the hurdles that are posed by a healthcare system weakened by decades of war, poor facilities, and social and cultural barriers that are difficult to break.
Samiullah, our colleague, a nurse at the Lashkar-Gah Hospital, was killed on Saturday in a gunfight. He found himself in the midst of a shootout whilst on the way to a wedding.
He was not a soldier, he was not a fighter; he was a man just over 30 years old, about to celebrate his friend’s wedding. This is war: the death of innocent civilians first and foremost.
Samiullah worked with EMERGENCY for 9 years, proud of helping his people concretely every day. We send our thoughts to his family and all our colleagues who continue to work at the Lashkar-Gah Hospital. We chose to remember Samiullah through the words of Roberto, a nurse who cared deeply for him.
“I met him in 2011 on my first mission to Lashkar-Gah as an A&E nurse. He was a boy at the time, and he was little more than a boy today. Almost all of us expats called him ‘Sami’.
Hyperactive, always laughing, he often said a word too many – when it would have been wiser to keep quiet. When it wasn’t the right time to ask a question, he’d ask one anyway. He couldn’t sit still, not for a moment, always walking around – sometimes he was told off. But then when it wasn’t his shift, you would ask yourself why he wasn’t around. He could manage, he could anticipate, he was hungry to learn. Everyone should get half an hour of Samiullah per day.
During my missions in Lashkar-Gah, I was his trainer in dozens of courses, lessons, seminars, exams on A&E, trauma, resuscitation. He was always there, Sami, to learn and to respond, to trust you and at the same time to challenge you – he would challenge your patience, mostly. He wouldn’t let you finish a sentence because he said he already knew a little about what you were explaining. During trainings, he wanted to explain things to his colleagues himself because he had already ‘understood everything’.
Over the years, he got married (who? Samiullah? well what about that…!) and had two children. One of his bottom teeth fell out and he never had it replaced, he put on a little weight (ouch, marriage!), he bought himself a scooter and a bright yellow watch that he’d swear was made of gold.
How many times have we called him at the office, with the grave look you use when summoning someone who has seriously messed up, thinking ‘we’re going to give him a warning now, he must understand’. Then, as soon as he was out the office, the Medical Coordinator and I would burst out laughing. How could you get angry at Samiullah?
Last time, before I left, he gave me a typical dress from Lashkar-Gah – candy pink. Afghan coat and trousers. Candy pink?! Oh well, thank you Sami. See you next time, and be good.
This morning’s phone call was one of my worst nightmares, the one you could only imagine would come but that you hoped never would.
I was in my lovely house in the Italian countryside, after a night shift in my lovely Italian hospital. It was Simon, our logistician in Laskar-Gah. “Robi, it’s Simon. I know how much you care about the boys and I did not want you to learn about this via other channels. Today was Samiullah’s day off, he was going to a wedding and he found himself in the middle of gunfire near Shoraki, just outside Lashkar-Gah. They killed him”.
Cold sweat, a lump in my throat. Samiullah.
Samiullah was a boy, he had a voice, a smell, a character, a family, a scooter.
I knew Samiullah. He was one of those people who really ran the hospital. He, like others, was there day and night. They are not on a mission on the field, that ends with a return ticket to your home country. He was born in the wrong place, and he lived there.
And he died there today, after seeing thousands die and after trying to cure them.
I’m begging you. All those who think ‘Let’s repatriate them all’, ‘Afghanistan is no longer a country at war’, ‘the military mission must be given new funds’…
I’m begging you. Let’s think for a moment.
Goodbye, Samiullah. Tonight I’m hugging that pink candy dress, and I hope that my hug will reach you too, my friend.”