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“Come on down”

“Come on down”, sang the the Italian artist Vianello in 1963.

Regular people, curious, religious or not, those who speak of “common, economic migrants”, ordinary citizens who say “I’m not racist but …”, politicians, those who really care about others: come on down, please. Come and see Lashkar-gah. No, it’s not that difficult, it’s just a few hours away by plane.

Come on down, because by coming here you will make this place real, you will realise it that it actually exists. There are villagers, young people, women, men going to work, cars, shops, the fire station. There’s even a cricket stadium – it’s very popular here.

But this city does not exist, at least until “we”, those from the “right part” of the world, know it does.

This is the third time I have come here, the first was in the summer of 2011. I know a lot of people here, mostly staff from our hospital. I know the name of their children, their habits, I know who’s a smoker and who’s not, who’s married, what motorcycle they drive. Exactly as you would know your colleagues back in Italy.

Except, when one of them tells me how things are going in the city, instead of saying “ah, really? tell me more about it”, maybe I should tell them the truth. Maybe I should say “Do you know that no one knows Lashkar-gah, apart from you? Do you know that because no one knows where you live, you don’t exist for them? You are like ghosts.”

As a ghost, Lashkar-gah occasionally makes some noise.

At about 11:50am on June 22nd, a car bomb exploded at the Kabul Bank, 150 metres from our hospital. A few windows shattered, some rubble flew, a piece of the suspended ceiling came down. Later, we also found some car parts in the garden.

Then came the ghosts. About 80 people, ghosts in flesh and blood, completely torn.

I know that many of them were screaming, some were not, most of them were missing body parts, many were completely black and burned, someone was walking around in shreds. We realise only hours later how slippery the floor was: it was covered in blood.

Twenty-six of them did not make it, about forty had surgery. We had to equip an additional operating room, add beds to the wards, we asked relatives to donate blood.

The ghosts wearing EMERGENCY uniforms, our Afghan colleagues, worked all day long. Many of them were home, off work, but they heard the blast and they came helping without anyone calling them.

Tell me the truth, if a bomb exploded in your city, would you leave your home, leave family and children, to go to work even if you hadn’t been called?

Many of them stayed there all day.

You know, Lashkar-gah has made some noise many times before, for many years, and EMERGENCY’s hospital has been hearing it all since 2004. But you, over there, you heard none of it, did you? Ah, right. Lashkar-gah does not exist, it’s like Gotham City.

Please come on down, you don’t even have to move. For the people living here, it would be enough to know that, for you, they aren’t just ghosts.

– Roberto, EMERGENCY nurse in Afghanistan