July 26, 2021

a week in the “French hospital” in Kabul

By Annick Cojean

Posted today at 01:12

A deep anguish grips, at the beginning of summer, the Afghan capital. An anguish made of fear, sadness, fatigue. A haunting anxiety, which tints each day with diffuse apprehension, and gives everyone a feeling of vulnerability. Certainly, the danger is not new in this chaotic city where every day can offer an encounter with death: assassinations, bus and car bombs, suicide attacks by commandos. But here, in addition to the daily challenge of working and (over) living in this exhausting capital, there is added uncertainty about the future of the country, once the American troops have left, perhaps around July 4. What about the Taliban, who conquer new districts in the 34 provinces every week and advance towards Kabul? What about their intentions, the balance of power with the government? War again? The peace ? But at what cost ? And what rights for Afghans? Above all, what freedoms?

Kabul, June 6, 2021. The facade of the entrance to the French Medical Institute for Mother and Child (IMFE) is decorated with a fresco of ten meters, symbol of the place.

This moment is crazy, which sees the departure of the soldiers demanded by Joe Biden accelerate. The embassies, they are starting to shelter their staff and do not rule out closing in a few hours if the situation requires it. NGOs, too, are on high alert. And panic is spreading to many Afghans who, when they have family or the slightest openness abroad, seek to go into exile. The others, fatalists, can only wait, worn out by four decades of violence, but convinced that the situation will go from bad to worse. The Covid-19? It may wreak havoc, it seems the least of their many worries. Except for those who suffocate and die at home or in the streets, turned away by public hospitals, without intensive care services or oxygen stocks.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Twenty years after their intervention in Afghanistan, the Americans leave with a feeling of failure

In this country in a state of health disaster, where the UN estimates that 18.4 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, a hospital designed and built by the French continues to practice open-heart operations every day – between others – and mainly on children. Some 1.5 million patients have been treated there since its creation fifteen years ago. It is called the French Hospital of Kabul, or the French Medical Institute for Mother and Child. We stayed there for a week.

Thursday June 3: don’t panic

From the early hours of the morning, people flock to the doors of the hospital located in a suburb, at the foot of a mountain covered with slums. They disembark on foot, by taxi, by bike, alone or most often with their families, and offer a sort of puzzle of the ethnic groups of Afghanistan: Pashtuns with light turbans, Tajiks with dark pakols brought back over their eyes (the wool beret in rolled edges, forever associated with the image of Commander Massoud), Hazara bareheaded and with outstretched eyes, perhaps Uzbeks. The women are all veiled; some camouflage themselves in a bright blue or navy burqa which they quickly lift up in front of the various counters; others drape themselves in abayas (long and loose clothing) black, hands often gloved; others finally wear a lighter scarf on their hair, a long dress or shirt hiding their hips and silhouette.

You have 85.87% of this article to read. The rest is for subscribers only.