Mamana Bibi, a sixty-seven year old grandmother of nine, was picking vegetables near her home in Pakistan when a drone missile killed her on 24 October 2012. Mamana’s grandchildren watched as their grandmother’s body was torn to pieces. The drone then fired a second missile as the children, including nine year old Nabila and thirteen year old Zubair, raced to help their grandmother.
Mamana’s son, Rafiq ur-Rehman, was not at home when the missiles fired on 24 October 2012. He returned to his house to see his mother being buried. As he frantically searched for his children, he was told they had been rushed to a hospital 60 miles away.
My grandmother and I used to share a love of bright blue skies. We have many of them in Tappi, the village where I live. I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are grey. And for a short period of time, the mental tension and fear eases. When the skies brighten, the drones return and so too does the fear.
Nabila and Zubair woke up in hospital to the news that their beloved grandmother was dead. All nine children suffered injuries as a result of the strike. Three-year-old Asma still has problems with her hearing today. Nabila had to be treated for shrapnel injuries to her arm, and Zubair was taken to an Islamabad hospital several hundred kilometers away, where he had to have two operations.
Mamana Bibi was the only midwife in the village of Tappi, where her entire family lived.
My grandmother was nobody’s enemy. She was kind and caring. She used to help the mothers in my village deliver their babies. In the evening, she would tell all of the children to gather around and she would tell us stories. Stories of her life, of our family, of our community. She had so many stories that I can’t pick a favorite. I miss all of them.
In 2013, Reprieve brought Nabila, Zubair, and their father, Rafiq, to the US to give evidence at a Congressional briefing. It was the first time Congress had been brought face-to-face with victims of US drone strikes.
They were accompanied by Reprieve lawyer, Jennifer Gibson, who also gave evidence. Reprieve’s Pakistan fellow, Shahzad Akbar, was refused a US visa to attend. Before representing victims of US drone strikes, Shahzad regularly travelled to the US.
Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day. Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed. But only one person was killed that day – Mamana Bibi, a grandmother and midwife who was preparing to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid. Not a militant, but my mother.
In Urdu we have a saying: aik lari main pro kay rakhna. Literally translated, it means the string that holds the pearls together. That is what my mother was. She was the string that held our family together. Since her death, the string has been broken and life has not been the same. We feel alone and we feel lost.
We also feel scared. My family no longer gathers together like it did when my mother was alive. I hardly see my brothers and sisters and my children rarely see their cousins. Their cousins tell them that they are afraid to visit because the drone might then kill them, too.
As a teacher, my job is to educate. But how do I teach something like this? How do I explain what I myself do not understand? How can I in good faith reassure the children that the drone will not come back and kill them, too, if I do not understand why it killed my mother and injured my children?