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.
They do the same job as me but they’re also war victims. They belong to EMERGENCY more than I do, perhaps. After all, I’m a foreigner and I’ll be back in Europe in just a few months. I may be leaving, but others here never will. My mission will come to an end, but what about theirs?
Our local colleagues don’t have passports or return flights. They have to deal with bombs, mines and poverty. They bear the scars of war every day. In fact, a lot of them haven’t lived a single day of their lives in peace.
Every time my plane takes off from the runway, I think about all this. As I’m flying, I think back to the sounds of their voices and their children’s names. We’re not just colleagues. Over time, we’ve become friends.
One of them writes to me on Facebook: ‘Roberto, how are you?’. I think it should be me asking him. But these moments let me know they’re still there – quite simply, that they’re still alive. That’s what the war in Afghanistan is like – one day someone’s there, the next they’re gone.
It happened two years ago, for example, in January, to our colleague Samiullah. He was killed in an armed clash. It happened to Gul Ahmad and Musa Khan, a supervisor and a cleaner at our First Aid Post in Andar, who were killed by an aerial attack.
War is the real illness here.
As I see my colleagues going about the garden, the ironing room and the operating theatre, I realise they are the real face of EMERGENCY.
One day I asked my colleague Gul Badin: ‘If I gave you a European passport, would you get out of here?’ Do you know what he said? Probably the same thing you would have: ‘Yes, of course I would. I’ve known people who had to spend thousands getting away and now I don’t even know whether they’re dead or alive.’
Another morning I got a phone call from my colleague Tawoos. He told me he couldn’t come to work. His cousin had died in a bombing and he had to be with his family.
I’ve seen colleagues who were off work brought into the emergency room, to join the ranks of war victims.
‘Let me tell you the story of this scar,’ Murteza said to me the other day, as he lifted his clothes and showed me the gash on his calf. ‘They hit me in the leg and I was brought to your hospital in Kandahar, then to your facility in Kabul. You treated this wound.’
When he recovered, Murteza came to us in Lashkar-Gah to apply to be a nurse, and he’s still working here today. Like so many people, he went from patient to worker, from lying on a bed to standing in the ward.
I realise my plane is touching down on the runway in Italy. All I can do is repeat to myself the promise I’ve always made to our colleagues back in Afghanistan, and which I intend to keep: to return.
Roberto, EMERGENCY nurse