Today was the last of my training sessions with the Jalalabad team. All in all it was a great week getting to know the players and coaches, and I’m excited to see their progress from my first day working with them to the tournament at the end of May. Their three coaches – Taj, Enam and Mahboob – are all quick studies and good leaders, so I have a feeling I’ll see some good development over the next month.

After practice, I came back to the ICRC compound for lunch. While chatting with my Brazilian colleague, Ana, as we sat outside, there was the sound of what I thought was a door slamming on the other side of the compound. Ana stopped mid-sentence and said, “that was an explosion. It was far away, but it was an explosion.” Ana has done work in several war zones previous to arriving in Jalalabad, so I trust her read on this type of thing. Explosions are unfortunately quite common in Jalalabad, however, so we didn’t think too much about it. Two minutes later, though, we heard a much louder “boom!” and the porch we were sitting on shook very hard for at least 2-3 seconds. Assuming it was a bomb that had just exploded very nearby – and at this point taking that prospect very seriously – we ran inside to find our other colleague, Marian, had just slipped running down the stairs from her room following the explosion and landed hard on her knee. Ana tried to make contact with the delegation office to find out what was happening while I helped Marian get her leg straightened out (it turned out to be a heavy bruise, but she should be fine in a few days).

I felt strangely calm as all this was unfolding, but Ana was very concerned as she tried to raise someone on the radio who knew what was going on. Probably the fact that I’ve never been through any conflict-related violence and thus had  no context for how I should feel made it a bit easier for me, while Ana had plenty of similar scary situations to draw upon and was intent on getting as much information as possible – smart move.

After a few minutes, we were informed that it wasn’t an explosion after all, but an earthquake. The epicenter was only 20 miles away from Jalalabad, which is why it felt so strong and was so loud. Everyone here agreed that we’d never felt an earthquake that intense and short before, nor heard one make a loud booming sound like this one did. Even the Afghans who have live here and been through countless earthquakes and bombings were at first sure it was an explosive attack.

Seismologists in Pakistan are reporting the quake was a 6.2 on the Richter Scale. Several walls have cracks in the plaster, though there doesn’t appear to be any significant structural damage in the compound. Initial hospital reports say about 75 people have been brought in with quake-related injuries – mainly women who were at home and were hit by falling objects – while the current estimate is eight deaths in the immediate surrounding area. At first we were all so relieved to find out that there was no attack. After hearing those casualty figures, though, it made me realize just how vulnerable people here are to such a variety of different dangers. It doesn’t seem fair for a group of extremely impoverished people to have to deal with the constant threat of spontaneous violence while also knowing that mother nature can wreak havoc at any moment. 

Sincere respect to Verbena, my Italian physiotherapist colleague, who ran into the patient ward at the ICRC orthopaedic centre as everyone else was fleeing to make sure a woman with a recently amputated leg – and no way of moving from her hospital bed – was safe.