Today, it is my birthday. But not much reason to celebrate. This morning, someone got into our office in Islamabad, Pakistan, and blew himself up.
He took the lives away from Botan, Farzana, Abid, GulRukh and Mohammad. Our colleagues and friends.
Botan Al-Hayawi (41) was Iraqi. He leaves behind a wife, two sons and a daughter. Botan was on mission in Peshawar when suicide bombers blew up the Pearl Continental Hotel in June. I met Botan several times back in 2002 and 2003 when I worked in Iraq.
Yesterday, Botan posted something on the Interagency ICT discussion forum:
I arrived to Islamabad last Monday morning with a busy day planned. I had just returned to Islamabad after recovering from the Peshawar blast on June 9th, 2009, which left me with some minor injuries but did not break my spirit.
He wrote this less than 24 hours before someone took his life away.
Farzana Barkat (22) was an office assistant. She worked in our logistics office, right next to where the suicide bomber blew himself up. A young woman at the start of her life.
Abid Rehman (41) was our senior finance assistant. He leaves a wife, two daughters and two sons. I worked with Abid when I was based in Islamabad from 2000 to 2002. We always exchanged friendly and teasing jokes as I stretched the finance unit with my urgent requests.
GulRukh Tahir (40) was our receptionist. She leaves behind a husband.
Mohammad Wahab (44) was our finance assistant. He leaves a wife, two daughters and two sons.
I am a bit numb at this moment. I think back of all the people I have known, and who lost their lives in the line of duty. Abby, Saskia, Pero, M.....
I think how it is possible to be close to those we want to serve, without having to isolate ourselves with barbed wire and sand bags. I think how we can still work in places we are still needed, but know we are at risk. Algeria, where our offices were bombed in 2007. Somalia, where we lost two colleagues earlier this year. Sudan, where we lost several drivers over the past years... Only to name a few.
It is strange.. It is only after the hours go by that the cruelty and the reality of the act today really seeps through... And the consciousness that if we are to work in a higher risk environment, there actually is not one place, where one is totally safe. Where would that be? In the office? They drive a truck through the gates and blow it up. In the guesthouse or the hotel? Same thing...
You can restrict the movements of staff and reduce field visits to minimize the risk, you can drive armoured cars - as we do in some operations - but then again, what holds them from blowing up an anti-tank mine underneath your vehicle as you stop in front of the traffic lights? What holds anyone from gunning you down when you get out of the car. Even when you think you are safe in the office compound.
Security for humanitarian workers has been more and more restrictive on what and how we can do our work. "Protecting ourselves" is a must. But how far does that conflict with being able to do our work, which entails having direct contact with those we serve? Should we all pack and go home?
I do not know the answers. I know one thing. This is not a happy birthday for me...
This song keeps on playing in my mind...
Picture courtesy The Nation