KABUL: Tarana dressed up for the holiday in a specially tailored bright green robe, a 12-year-old Afghan girl excited to set off with her family for a religious festival that a decade of war had so far spared.
After a suicide bomber ripped apart the lives of Tarana's family and scores of others, the image of her standing horrified in the blood-stained outfit came for many to symbolise Afghanistan's violent present and its uncertain future. "Suddenly there was an explosion. It was as if the world had overturned, as if all the walls had collapsed on me," Tarana Akbari said, surrounded by tearful relatives. "When I could stand up, I saw that everybody was around me on the ground, really bloody. I was really, really scared," said the girl, whose name means "melody" in English. Out of 17 women and children from her family who went to a riverside shrine in Kabul a week ago to mark the Shiite holy day of Ashura, seven died including her seven-year-old brother Shoaib. More than 70 people lost their lives in all, and at least nine other members of Tarana's family were wounded. Like millions of people in Afghanistan, the family lives hand to mouth in a mud-brick house, struggling to survive in a country ripped asunder by decades of conflict. During Tarana's young life, an insurgency against US-led troops has grimly escalated as the Taliban battle to regain their lost power. Refugees to Pakistan during the darkest days of the 1992-96 civil war that turned Kabul into a battlefield, the family returned in 2002, full of hope for peace and prosperity after a US-led invasion brought down the Taliban. That hope has slowly ebbed away since, eroded by the insurgency and the lack of progress under a government led by the President, Mr Hamid Karzai that stands accused of gross corruption and cronyism. Their dreams finally disintegrated on December 6 when the Islamist insurgency destroyed a family that had never imagined it would die for its faith, the minority branch of Islam in a nation that is 80-per cent Sunni. "I have a broken heart now — the family won't be able to gather together again and that's a really sad feeling," Tarana's mother, 30-year-old Bibi Hava, said at their two-room house, which is shared between seven people. "I hate this country, because everybody just dies."– A scream heard around the world — Tarana's scream was captured by AFP photographer Massoud Hossaini, another Shiite whose family are wearily familiar with exile.
He had already seen her in the crowd and been struck by the vibrancy of her outfit earlier that day. A week later, Tarana's family are mourning their dead. Relatives gathered at their modest homes, clustered together around a small, muddy yard in the poor neighbourhood of Murad Khani, where the stench of open sewers laces the winter air and children scamper among piles of rubbish. Tarana likes to play hide and seek, and marbles. But for now, she nestles under a thick blanket at home, where a small electric heater is the only source of warmth, her sad, brown eyes peeking over the top. She spent three days in hospital. She has bandages on her legs, and limps when she tries to walk.Bibi Hava's two other daughters, Sunita, 15, and Sweeta, four, are still in hospital. She herself has ball-bearings from the bomb lodged in her neck and arm, and is badly bruised.Her anguish over the death of her son Shoaib, Tarana's little brother, is still raw. "I will never see my child again. He used to walk in here for his breakfast and go out with his father to work," Bibi Hava said. "This morning I woke up and saw he wasn't there, and I just cried. "Dressed in black velour mourning with gold bracelets around her wrists, Bibi Hava looks far older than her 30 years as she describes what happened the moment the suicide bomber struck. She blacked out briefly, but as she came around, she realised she was surrounded by people covered in blood."Little by little, I started to recognise my relatives," she said, welling up. "I screamed and I was watching as they died. The extended family lives communally — a common arrangement in Afghanistan, particularly in neighbourhoods like theirs, which is impoverished even by the standards of one of the least developed countries on Earth.