Saturday, August 1, 2015

Forgotten tragedies

The clock strikes 00:00 and the world erupts in celebration. People swarm around landmarks like bees, their shining teeth reflecting the blue, red, yellow of the sky.

January 3- Baja, Nigeria
Gari, five years old, son of a herbal doctor. He holds his father's hand and runs. At some point, his hand slips. His father tries to look for him through the frenzy of gunfire and screams. A group calling themselves Boko Haram have taken over their town. Gari is one of over two thousand martyrs who were killed that day, not counting those who drowned crossing the Lake Chad. These are only estimates, they say, nobody stayed back to count the bodies.

February 15- Sirte, Libya
Yusuf stands in an orange jumpsuit at the shore of the Mediterranean coast. Before him stand a savage, merciless bunch. One of them holds a camera. Later, the video of his beheading would go viral, play on laptop and phone screens around the world, maybe even reach the eyes of his family back in Egypt. But for now, he and the twenty others with him are entirely alone with their killers. They die whispering Yasou.

March 24- the French Alps
Paul boards Flight 9525 bound to Dusseldorf. I imagine he hears the safety instructions without really listening to them, his mind probably filled with thoughts of the internship which he is due to begin next week, or of the change of flights ahead of him on his way back home to the UK. Or maybe re-living some moments from his trip. In any case, thoughts far away from the pilot at the front, who has locked his co-pilot out of the cockpit and is steering the plane deliberately into a descent. Paul and the one-forty-four passengers and six crew members die far from the rest of the world, their bodies hardly recognisable.

April 2- Garissa, Kenya
It is 5:30 am at the Garissa University College Campus. Elizabeth, linguistics student, awakens to the sound of chaos at the dormitory. A group called Al-Shabab are rounding up students, taking some hostage, killing others. Elizabeth rushes to call her family, back in the town of Kitale. Her mother hears three gunshots before the call ends. A hundred and forty seven students were shot that day, lying face-down on the grounds of dormitory halls, at the mercy of masked men.

May 3- Baghdad, Iraq
It's a busy Saturday night in the Karrada district. Restaurants and coffee-shops buzz with customers. Ali is one of the customers, sitting with his friends at a coffee-shop, drinking chai. Maybe they are playing cards or mheybis. Maybe they are ranting about upcoming exams. A car casually passes by and explodes. Ali dies instantly, along with thirteen others. Meanwhile, a tweet from an ISIL member lays proud claim to their lifeless bodies, to this burning city.

June 26 - Sawabir, Kuwait
Jasim, a PhD in Psychology, Chairman at the Kuwait University. It's the month of Ramadan, a Friday, and he is headed out to the local mosque for prayers. Inside, he bows down in prostration with the congregation. They bow down and don't notice the suicide bomber in the corner. He sneaks in, carrying his explosives with him. Earlier, a group calling themselves ISIL released an audio statement, calling on Muslims to "clear the Arabian peninsula from the Shia heretics." So here he stands, the suicide bomber, looking down at the worshippers before him. Dr Jasim dies with twenty-six others, their cars still parked outside, their throats still dry.

July 31- West Bank, Occupied Palestine
Ali, eighteen months old. Lives with his parents and four-year-old brother in the village of Duma. Somebody thought a good idea of "revenge" would be to put his house on fire. What can your child do at eighteen months? You can expect your eighteen months' old child to be able to walk, maybe needing a helping hand at climbing stairs. He may be able to string together a phrase or two to make sentences. At eighteen months, your child can recognize himself in the mirror, realise he is more than just an extension of yourself. Not for Ali, though. He burns to death, a victim of hatred.

Is it just me, or does every passing year bring us a more exuberant celebration than the year before? Is it just me, or does every passing year bring us more frequent, more morbid and more forgotten tragedies?


Note: All characters and incidents appearing in this work are entirely true. 

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