Day 7/16 of Activism Against Gender Violence: My Name is Rana...
My name is Rana Hadi and I am 24 years old. I am in my fourth year of study at the Science College in Baghdad. I have always known that a human being has only one life. Yet I have had two, and I will share them with you.
My first life
It was a day like any other; I woke up in the morning to start a new school day. I got ready to go to college. As I left home, I cast a farewell glance, thinking of the all the challenges we confront daily. As we go off to our colleges, we know that we may never return. After all, he tragic bombing of Mustansiriya University shortly preceded the events I now narrate.
Later that day, we walked out from our classes at university. Me and my friends Huda, who was 23 years old, a student in her fourth year at the chemistry faculty of Science College, and Mais, who was 22 years old, a student in the faculty of biology, were waiting for the car to take us home. When the clock struck 12.45 on Thursday, April 15, 2007 - just ten minutes before the car that usually takes us home arrived - we heard a loud explosion that threw us to the ground. I shut my eyes involuntarily, ground my teeth and clenched my fists so hard that they bled. The pressure was so powerful that I was trembling and quivering violently. My ears were buzzing.
At first I thought that the explosion was far from us. Then I opened my eyes. What a horrific scene it was. Nothing and no one was in its place... scattered rubble and body parts were lying everywhere. Deafening, terrifying screams were heard … screams of goodbyes were mingled with screams for help…clouds of dust raised up to the sky, and oh, that infernal heat.
I had not yet grasped the situation. What happened to us? Am I alright? Where are Mais and Huda? All of these questions were swirling around in my head. After a terrifying moment, I started to feel my body…my hair was burned, both my face and chest were bleeding … there was blood everywhere…on my hands... Where are Mais and Huda? I did not see their faces. All that I was seeing were body parts and broken branches impaled in my chest. I tried with all my might to move, yet I remained helpless.
Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice. It was Huda. She was crying, “help! Help!” I could not reply to her. I saw her feet pointing towards me, but I could not see her face, so I shook her feet and then I turned my face in agony in an attempt to see her. And when I turned my head I found that Huda had turned her whole body towards me and started to crawl in my direction… The poor girl…my good friend…she was all burned. Her insides were hanging out and sticking to the ground.
I mustered my courage as I saw her pulling herself next to me as if she was saying: ‘come on let’s die together.’ The gaze of fear and farewell were fixed in her eyes. I started to speak to her with great effort - ‘I witness that there is no God but God, and Muhammed is the messenger of God.‘ At this she gave me a serene, peaceful look, as if telling me that she was ready to leave.
Minutes ago she was brimming with hope and life, and now all that was gone... now here she was, brimming with death. That was the last I was ever to see of her. Later on I heard that Huda died from excessive bleeding. As for Mais, I found that she was divided in two halves by the blast, a half which remained sitting and the other half thrown on the ground.
Those of us still alive were transferred to the hospital in trucks covered with blankets, instead of being taken in ambulances. The numbers of injured were high and most of the wounded died eventually of bleeding and the lack of equipment and medical care. I was the only survivor from that blast.
Today, even after all this time has passed, I still relive the disaster minute by minute. The echoes of our giggles preceding the screams that followed still resonate in my ears whenever I fall into thought…and whenever I wake up I find my hand clenched in a bloody fist.
My second life, with hope
Injuries from the terrible explosion had almost killed me. My legs were very badly injured. At one point, the doctors considered amputating one of my legs. I underwent many operations, hoping to be able to walk again, to return to my university and complete my studies. However, all that I got was a wheelchair. I used this chair to go to the university to extend my sick leave. I went to the Ministry of Health and several humanitarian organizations to ask them to allow me to travel outside the country for treatment. But all I got out were unanswered demands, and promises which could neither alleviate my pain nor heal my wounds.
All of that changed when I met Hana Adwar from the Iraqi Al–Amal Association. She exerted great efforts in order to get my case in front of those who could help. From her to the Red Crescent Association to the International Relief and World Development organization – finally, I travelled to Amman for a four hour operation on my knee. A four cm long sliver was also removed from my right eye. Once they removed my stitches, the very next day I returned to Baghdad. And this time, I was pushing that wheelchair in front of me.
It was a tough, cruel and painful experience. I thank God I emerged from it strong. But I still had a lot of thinking to do. How to return to my life and reality, and go on? Where do I start? How do I start? I was frustrated, but then I thought of getting back in touch with Al-Amal, and they extended their endless support to me. They offered me a free seat in Women in Technology (WIT) classes for computer and professional skills training. Thus I renewed my interaction with others and connection to the people around me. I saw my self-confidence gradually return.
Now that I have finished my training, I want to give back. Today I work closely with women and survivors of the explosions, with women under the influence of post-conflict trauma, with widows.
I intend to pursue this work in the future. It is through this experience with civil society that I truly found myself, where I had the reward of sharing my experience and learning at the same time.
And that is not where it ends for me. I have applied to University again, and now I await the start of a new academic year, with more hope and greater aspirations than ever.