I was at an uncle’s house in Peshawar a couple of months ago when the windows began to rattle. One of my youngest cousins walked towards them, peering out nervously. “It’s an earthquake,” she said almost hopefully. I looked at her father who shook his head slowly, but only when his daughter had turned back to the window. It was as if he wanted her to believe that the quivering earth was the result of a mere natural disaster. And then the windows began to clatter again. The 14-year-old slunk onto the couch beside her father. Her sisters and mother filed in around the TV, scarves draped over their heads, lips moving in prayer. It didn’t take long for live coverage to begin. The site of the attack was the city airport, just a couple miles from where we were. Even more disconcerting, the rockets began to fire where, just a few minutes prior, my aunt had driven on her way home. Once we’d been watching long enough that the news reports had become repetitive—the same bloodied shirts and broken asphalt dominating the screen—my uncle began to call all of our relatives. He started with those closest to where the rockets fell and worked his way out. For the first time, I did the same, calling people on my father’s side of the family.
I’ve followed news of such attacks for years, and have done so even more closely now that I'm working as a reporter in Pakistan—a place where this past Saturday, Election Day, nearly 30 people were killed in violence as the country took to the polls. Despite the constant barrage of chilling headlines, I never bothered to reach out to my relatives to check up on them. But then again, before the attack on the airport, I never truly understood what it's like to feel so unsafe standing in the middle of your living room. The same feeling of terror struck me again just a couple of weeks ago when I discovered, via Twitter, an unfolding scene of chaos at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.