From a Nightmare to a Disaster (part three)

By Mozhgan Mahjoob

You can read parts one and two here.


For more than two weeks people lived outside their houses in the open, far from any buildings, lacking equipment and any utilities. Some had tents to sit in, while others did not. The long cold nights passed with fear and tension for everyone. Now, after several quakes and countless aftershocks, it was not only the matter of remote districts and villages but of the whole city of Herat and its 600,000 people.

Beyond the high mortality rate in Herat there were many consequential damages. Countless houses were partially cracked or fell down entirely. Banks, markets, and some super markets stayed closed. Most people in Herat have to find work each day to feed their families; unfortunately, there were no jobs for them during the disaster. Among the rubble, after each earthquake, were plastic dolls and kids’ toys, while the kids who should have played with them were gone or dead. The burning coldness of the nights stole sleep from everyone’s eyes. Rich and poor alike had to spend days and nights in the open spaces.

Those who had gardens moved into them with their families. Those who had some kind of shelter and access to power had the facilities to at least be warm during the cold weather. There were many people who had none of these. A woman sleeping in the city park died because of the cold. Some people had heart attacks. Even those who moved to other provinces to be safe experienced car breakdowns or accidents and were injured.

Those who saved money by working hard for many years to build houses were worried because if the house fell down then nothing would remain for them, and all their years of hard work and savings would be gone. Everyone suffered, both rich and poor. The combined stress of the earthquakes, sand and dust storms, poverty, cold, lack of work, fragile houses, and lost loved ones took away peace of mind from the people of Herat; but, above all, people suffered from boredom. All we could do was wait and hope that the earthquakes would end. For more than two weeks the aftershocks continued both days and nights. I wished that it was just a nightmare and would end as I woke up, as if nothing had happened.

After spending fourteen days outside the house we returned home, and most people went back to their houses, thinking the earthquakes had ended. Then, on 22 October, another aftershock happened. It scared the people and most came out of their houses into the streets and the deserts once again, but we decided to stay at home. We would accept our destiny, since life in the tent was too difficult, some aspects even impossible for some of us. After spending fourteen days in a tent, I admired those who live in tents for their entire lives, accepting all the hardships and impossibilities. One needs to walk in the other’s shoes to know what they are going through.

The earthquake made us more familiar with our neighbors. We became aware of the sufferings of those who have nothing in the cold nights, the ones who have to live in open spaces. Our hearts filled with kindness and mercy for the people around us. In those hard times people knew the importance of each moment in life: that even as it was passing in horror and fear, we all tried to be safe with our families and prayed to God to protect us from the calamity. In those difficult moments everyone realized that nothing would work. The most beautiful, biggest, best equipped buildings and apartments would not last, and privilege wouldn’t help them when the earthquake came. All that would remain forever was piety and virtue.

The remaining houses and buildings needed to be checked properly by a civil engineer for the safety of those who returned to live in them. Some repairs had been made after the earthquakes. We needed to strengthen our houses, buildings, and apartments against earthquakes and aftershocks that could have happened at any time.

I worry not only for myself but for everyone, especially the kids who should go back to their rooms again. The colder winter nights are coming. The worst feeling is the fear of shaking that comes even when a big car crosses the street, as if the earthquake is starting again. Now, even days later, the tremors continue; I feel as if there is a wave under the earth, and from time to time it shakes. With each shaking my heart beats faster. The sleepless nights, staying awake in fear of the earthquake, and the rumors that a very strong earthquake may happen again have a mental effect not only on me but everyone who suffered here. Its impact remains, and even for years people might not have a normal life again. Yet I’m hopeful that tomorrow will be a different day and that next autumn we won’t be this sorrowful again.

4 November, 2023