Why were you in Afghanistan?
I was covering the war for the Toronto Star, where I was a journalist and editor for more than 20 years. On 9/11, I was in India, establishing the Star’s first South Asia bureau with my husband, freelance photographer Hadi Dadashian. The next morning, we left for Afghanistan. The war was my final assignment as South Asia Bureau Chief.
How do you know it was al Qaeda?
We were attacked by men in black shalwar kameez who ambushed us on a dirt track in the desert. They tossed a homemade bomb (IED: improvised explosive device) at our vehicle. We learned later al Qaeda fighters were in the area where we had travelled for a day, interviewing Afghan villagers. The Pentagon has alleged that our attackers were al Qaeda members.
An Afghan alleged to have been involved, Abdul Zahir, has been held at Guantanamo Bay since he was captured in July, 2002. He was charged with war crimes in 2006, but still has not had a trial. Zahir is also known as “Guantanamo Captive 753.”
What happened next?
An Agence France Presse crew stopped at our ruined vehicle, and rushed us to a clinic for emergency help.
A colleague at the Washington Post, Peter Baker (now at the New York Times), coincidently stopped at the clinic to locate American war casualties. Finding Hadi and learning I was dying, Peter offered to intercede with U.S. Special Forces, stationed in the desert nearby. Peter convinced the U.S. Special Forces to rescue us. We credit them with saving our lives. (And some of the crew from “Mud Puppy”, the initial rescue plane, have become friends-for-life.)
After surgery at the military trauma unit in Kabul, the U.S. military flew us to bases in Uzbekistan, Turkey, and then Germany, for more life-saving surgery. After I emerged from the coma, the Star sent a private Lear jet to Landstuhl to take us to Vancouver, Canada.
When Hadi was asked by military officials where I would choose to go for more surgery and recovery, he replied, “Where would anyone want to go when they’re hurt? Home to Mom!” Or something to that effect. I was in a coma. We had no home.
How long were you in hospital?
A couple of weeks between Afghanistan and Germany. A couple of months at Vancouver General Hospital. My final reconstructive surgery was at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver in 2003.
Were there any residual effects?
I had to learn to walk again.
It took months before I stopped relying on a wheelchair, then walker. It took one year before I could walk without a cane.
I was permanently disabled: It’s an “invisible” disability because clothing hides my leg brace.
So, unable to return to India, I left journalism.
So, aren’t you glad it happened?
I was actually asked this in a national radio interview.
The attack transformed our lives.
I returned to school to become a rehabilitation counselor, specializing in helping wounded veterans with traumatic brain injuries and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). I wanted to give back to the courageous men and women who risked their lives to save ours.
That’s the reason for this blog?
One of the reasons. I want to show others emerging from trauma that there is light after the dark, and that living in a state of gratitude helps during the long recovery.
I had planned to start this blog on the 10th anniversary of the attack. But I was moved when President Barack Obama recently defined this country’s pain. The president said we’re suffering a “quiet crisis.”
On the eve of 9/11, and six months before the anniversary of the attack on us, this blog is my offering of hope.