Twas the night before Eid 5ish in the evening. I was working from home, on my laptop. H rushed into the room, startling me a little. “My mum’s not doing too well, are you coming or not?” he said all huffed. We grabbed our coats and ran for the car.
Phones were ringing non-stop, asking us to hurry up. The traffic was crazy. We asked the driver to stop the car and we ran to the house. We bolted up five flights of stairs to the third level. Neither H or I was sure what was happening. We got to the room. My sister in laws were panicking and screaming and there was my mother in law, oblivious to all of it, her eyes closed. My father in law and brother in law were trying to lift her to carry her down to the car. I grabbed a sheet to lay her down in so we can take her in that, but my sister in laws suggested a blanket, it was cold and a better idea.
Struggling, H, my brother in law, my father in law and I lay her on the blanket. She was unusually heavy for a 55 kilo woman.
Five of us struggled and took her down the stairs, three levels til we reached the car. A small corolla, our Four wheel drive was a little farther and she was way too heavy to take to the other car. We laid her down in the backseat of the Corolla, my brother in law sitting by her head and I by her waist. H in the front seat, our four wheel drive accompanying us with my sister in law and father in law. The traffic was worst than before. Trying to get through the markets, the cars at still. My brother in law, F was crying. I began to do CPR, in short intervals. Too many was life threatening, too few wasn’t good enough. My mother in law’s hands and feet were still warm, I felt for a pulse. It was there, but VERY weak. Or did I just imagine a pulse?! I continued doing CPR, hoping for a miracle. I began crying, tears stinging my face. Trying to keep strong, I told my brother in law to ‘read quraan verses’ it will help him through this. From the front, H asked me ‘how’s my mum doing?’ He was also in tears but wouldn’t let us see. ‘There is a pulse,’ I lied. I couldn’t tell him she was gone, although I was half sure about it.
I continued doing CPR until I realized we were doing way too many and it was time to stop. Her hands went cold. Her face went cold. ‘I think we lost her,’ I told H. H got out of the car frantically telling other cars to make way, we had an emergency. The hospital was only 5 minutes drive, but with the traffic, it took us half an hour. We got to the hospital only for the doctors to tell us they didn’t have the facility. One doctor pulled H aside and told him not to bother taking her to another hospital as we’d lost her already. H wouldn’t let that happen. Another doctor suggested Wazir Akbar Khan hospital, I was familiar with that place. It was the same place we took my dad when he was poisoned by carbon monoxide gases.
It’s not a hospital, it’s a shit hole. No equipment, nothing. We put her in an ‘ambulance’ a crappy van with it’s seats ripped off, no oxygen mask, no equipment, just the stretcher on the cold floor of the vehicle with my mother in law wrapped in a blanket we brought from home.
Of course, no one in Afghanistan gives a damn about ambulances, the siren was wailing. I wished we brought our armoured vehicle which would have bullied its way through the other vehicles. We got to Wazir Akbar Khan hospital. H and his brother and father carrying the stretcher to the “emergency room”. We laid her on the bed, a lady looking like she’s dressed to go to a wedding dilly dallied near us.
She was the nurse.
We asked her to call the doctor. My brother in law grabbed the oxygen mask and put it on his mum. She seemed careless. She paged the doctor. A few minutes later, it seemed like hours, the doctor arrived. He did CPR, pulled out a scrap piece of paper from his pocket, swiped it in her eyeballs and put it back in his pocket. His eyes were in tears as he left the room, my brother in law stopped him to ask him what was wrong. The doctor said he will call the specialist.
Another crucial few minutes.
Visitors from the other room had come to see what was going on. Ha! So much for an emergency room. The paramedics from the ambulance were also standing in the room, like vicious hungry foxes, they heard me and H speak in English so he knew we were from abroad. There’s no way they were going to leave without forcing cash out of us. One of the guys approached H. H yelled at them, ‘how much do you want? A thousand, a hundred thousand?? I’ll give it to you, just wait. Can’t you see my mums about to die?’ H’s brother calmed him down and took the greedy bastards aside and paid them.
I told the ‘nurse’ to call for the doctor. She calmly picked up the phone to call him. She listened for a while and then ‘Well, what’s left for me to tell them? I think they already figured that out!’ she said to the person on the other end of the line.
My mother in law was dead!
No specialist, no doctor, no prayers, no hope will bring her back. I looked at her two sons. It took a while for it to hit them. My sister in law began sobbing loudly, H holding her in his arms. My father in law asked for a piece of cloth, he tied it around his wife’s face and another around her toes. He didn’t cry. My brother in law was crying alone. I held on to the bar of the bed and cried. I was angry, upset and sad. But this wasn’t about me, it was about her children and her husband of 40 years that she left all alone.
I gathered myself, I needed to be strong for my husband and his family. Someone had to do it. I helped my father in law, I spread her shawl over her and covered her in blanket. I held my sister in law and together we cried, softly.
We put her in the ambulance, all of us fitting inside. H and his brother began talking about funeral arrangements, how much money is needed, who to call etc. my brother in law took care of that.
We got home, my sister in law got to the rest of the family first. I was climbing the stairs behind my mother in law on the stretcher. I could hear screaming and wailing and thumps. Heads banging. I bolted the stairs two at a time.
My second youngest sister in law was hysterical. I held her and told her to stop. My other sister in laws began praying and reading Quran. In a matter of minutes, the house was filled with relatives and neighbours offering their sympathies and assistance. Loud sobs and wailing was all I could hear. H told me he was going to the village for the funeral, I told him I will come with. He said I didn’t have to because he knew how difficult it was for me, but as I said, this wasn’t about me.
We were leaving for H’s village in Jalalabad that night. It was already around 7pm and pitch dark outside. H and I went home and quickly packed a few things, toiletries, and clothes. We packed for 2 nights. H wore his peraan tomban, I wore my black Punjabi and pulled my black hijab cloak over it. We needed to blend in as much as possible. We informed security that we were leaving – they let us because they knew they couldn’t stop us. We were going to take the most bombed and most dangerous street in Kabul.
Two buses full of people. We left that night at 9.30ish at night. It was the safest option, I was told. Better than leaving in the morning. The coffin was besides us in the bus. H was wearing a Patto (a woolen shawl men wear). It looked nice on him. I held H’s hand throughout the 3 hour trip. I couldn’t fall asleep, I didn’t want to. I was nervous and wasn’t sure what the next few days were going to be like. The bus swerved through the sharp curves and turns of Mahi Par.
We got to the village. Lanterns were lit as there is no electricity. Taking careful steps on the uneven mud floors, we went inside. H went to the men’s side, I was with the women. The screaming and wailing began. The night was long. The coffin was open, we were reading Quran and praying. Nothing else was going to help her. My sister in laws and a few of H’s relatives took her to the bathroom to wash her. I didn’t go.
The next day H’s sister from Pakistan arrived. Screams and wails. I hoped they will take her soon for burial as it puts everyone at peace. Eventually at 9am, the men came and carried her away. Screams and wails filled the air.
The next few days were people coming and going, we spent the third day of her death there.
Strangely, I really enjoyed the village. The mornings were peaceful, the people were nice and friendly, everyone knew each other. I tried cooking bread in the tandoor, people wash clothes by hand, there are cow barns everywhere, they cook on wood fire, not on gas stoves. I loved every bit of it. The bathroom was a kenaraab (a hole in the ground). It was the first time since I can remember that I hadn’t taken a shower in 3 days, and when I did, it was out of a bucket in a cemented cold bathroom with only a small square window that allowed light to enter the room. Women carried trays of food or bread on their heads, balancing it and walking through the ruggedness smoothly.
I visited the land that my mother in law fought for. Land is something Pashtoons kill for. It’s their pride. H and my father in law didn’t really care that their relatives wanted to take over their land, but his mum did. And she didn’t let it. She got the village to form a jirga of community elders and she got back her land, built tall mud walls all around it to enclose it and got a gate installed. It was her pride and joy and no one was going to steal it from her. Her children never appreciated it because they never liked the village. But now it all made sense. It’s a story I can’t wait to tell our children.
At the same time, she was a women who loved giving charity and helping the poor. She would buy clothes for herself but give it away without wearing it because she felt sorry for them. She helped everyone and didn’t upset anyone – a few days before her death she visited her tribe in her village and asked everyone to forgive her if she’s upset them. The night before her death she dreamt a man in white had come to her, similar to an angel, washed her palate and told her that she’s going to be at peace now. No more doctors and medicine and hospitals.
We stayed in the house H was born and raised. A mud house in a large piece of land. I loved how there was a sense of belonging for H and his family there, their tribe, their village, their history – all in one place. The cemetery that my mother in law rests in is not far from their house. A short walk. H’s great grandfather is also buried there. My mother in law rests besides her father and mother. We woke up at 6am and visited her grave, prayed for her and her parents. The 3rd day, we left for Jalalabad city. I hate good byes but I had to do it. I had falled in love with the place, the people, the dryness, the dust. Everything about it. I felt so at ease and at peace there, away from all the worries and complexities of the modern day life.
We went to Jbad and stayed with H’s uncle who is not doing too well. H’ wanted to go back to the village for the khayraat. But there was no way I was going to let that happen, I was afraid for the both of us. I told him we need to go to Kabul, everyone else agreed and so it happened. H needed time to grieve, he couldn’t do it in front of everyone else. He needed to be alone.
H’s cousin’s husband came and drove us to Kabul, stopping on the way and telling me stories of the places. He talked a lot but it was good, he made H laugh and that was good for him. He had lots of stories to share. After the 2nd stop, I didn’t feel like stopping anymore, I just wanted us to go home. I was exhausted.
H’s family came to Kabul a few days after us. We cleaned the place, bought lots of junk food for them and they really got happy about it.
It’s been three weeks, they’re healing but it takes time. I hope God gives them the strength and patience to be able to celebrate her life and live on with the memories they shared together.