x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

How come I am alive? 'Girl in the green dress' talks about the day a suicide bomber made her image famous

Tarana Akbari, 11, no longer wears her best dress, the subject of AFP's Pulitzer-winning photograph when an Afghan suicide bomber attacked a religious festival in December.

Tarana Akbari, 11, says she still has nightmares about the day a suicide bomber made her image world famous.
Tarana Akbari, 11, says she still has nightmares about the day a suicide bomber made her image world famous.

KABUL // Down a rutted dirt alley in Old Kabul, the "Girl in the green dress" - the subject of AFP's Pulitzer-winning photograph - still has nightmares about the day a suicide bomber made her image world famous.

Tarana Akbari, 11, no longer wears her best dress, which was drenched in her own blood and that of her relatives who were among 70 people who died around her at a religious festival on December 6.

The photographer, Massoud Hossaini, 30, won the US journalism prize for his "heartbreaking image of a girl crying in fear after a suicide bomber's attack at a crowded shrine in Kabul", the Pulitzer committee said.

Tarana still cries sometimes when she remembers that day, but she managed an occasional shy smile at her home on Tuesday, as she cuddled her sisters, who were both wounded in the blast.

That her picture was featured on newspaper front pages around the world means little to her, she said, with a small shrug and a fleeting smile.

But when she first saw the searing image she wondered: "How come I am alive? I can see all the dead bodies around me but only I survived."

She is still frightened at times, and that bloody day still haunts her, awake or asleep, but she said she is getting better.

One of the two spartan rooms that Tarana shares with her family of seven has a television in a corner, but what she sees there does not always help her recovery.

Agence France-Presse photographer Massoud Hossaini won the agency's first Pulitzer Prize for this picture of Tarana Akbari crying nearing dead and injured people after a suicide bomber attacked a religious festival marking the Day of Ashura. Massoud Hossaini / AFP Photo

Last Sunday, squads of Taliban suicide bombers infiltrated the capital and unleashed gunfire and explosions in an 18-hour assault before all being killed by security forces.

"It made me frightened again," she said. "I am not happy, because that day when the bomb went off destroyed my family."

Of the bomber and those who sent him on his mission, she said only: "They did a bad thing. They should not have done it."

Her unemployed father, Ahmad, 35, lifts the shirt of Tarana's four-year-old sister to show horrific scars covering her entire stomach from the shrapnel that ripped through the celebrating crowd.

Out of 17 women and children from her extended family who went to a riverside shrine near her home that day to mark the Shiite holy day of Ashura, seven died, including her seven-year-old brother, Shoaib.

Tarana has scars on her legs and arms and walks with a limp. She no longer attends school because her legs hurt, she said. "I hope I can get well soon and go back to school."

Asked about her hopes for the future, the sweet smile makes an appearance and she said she would like to be a teacher, with the local language Dari being her favourite subject.

She spends her days playing with her sisters in the ramshackle house and in the dirt courtyard outside which leads to an alley where huddled young men openly inject heroin against crumbling mud walls.

Behind those walls, the "Girl in the green dress" nursed her pain and her fears, now dressed in a plain, baggy, shalwar kameez hiding the scars from the day her life was torn apart.