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 last year.
AFP photographer Massoud Hossaini, 30, won the prestigious 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 in an interview with AFP at her modest home on Tuesday, as she cuddled her sisters, who were both wounded in the blast.
That her picture has been featured on newspaper front pages around the world means little to her, she says, 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 says 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.
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 says 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 herself has scars on her legs and arms and walks with a limp. She no longer attends school because her legs hurt, she says, adding: “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 says 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” nurses her pain and her fears, now dressed in a plain, baggy, shalwar khameez hiding the scars from the day her life was torn apart.