Thursday, February 07, 2013

Musings on a cold Juma morning in Kabul

A bright sunny morning in Kabul. It’s one of those winter days I love; clear, chilly, glistening snow everywhere, making the place so magical. The conference room I’m sititng in is cold, I could put some logs in the bukhari, the wood burning stove, but the sun beaming through the two large windows is enough warmth, plus I have my patou, a large brown wool wrap that keeps me sufficiently warm. It has been ages since I’ve written here, but today seems like a good time to sit down and write my thoughts instead of worry about work. It is Juma, Friday, and all of Kabul is quiet. The one day off in the week when people can sleep in, rest, and enjoy time with their families. The office is quiet, not students clamoring for my attention, no colleagues, just me and my thoughts. I’ve been running workshops for our alumni this past week and tomorrow I begin another week of workshops for another group. I focus on three: English teacher training, Essay Writing and Research, and Project Design. Important topics for these budding leaders. I am totally loving it and so are they. Since they have off from school until March, might as well keep them busy. As I sit here looking out on my sunny day, my base, Brooklyn, is getting ready for a snow storm. It will be almost spring when I get back there—mid-March. I’ve been away so long. I enjoy my work but I do miss home, and I miss my cat Lulu, as I know she misses me. I’ve been made full-time with my job and who knows how much time I will be away from New York this year—quite a lot I believe. I’ll have to figure out something with my apartment and cat and garden when I get back. Hire a live-in super or something. Afghanistan is still in the throes of insecurity and fear of a post-2014 world, but I see many signs of hope and normal life around Kabul. The first day I was here there was a bomb blast at the Kabul equivalent of the DMV. We have a running joke in the office, whenever I come to Kabul, they meet me with a big salute, because there always seems to be a bomb blast. Not very funny but that’s the humor of the people who live through this every day, and have lived through much more. The pace of Afghanistan is so different form everywhere else, almost outer world that when you get here you get sucked into it and your over-worked, driven American work ethic just floats away and suddenly deadlines and emails demanding immediate responses seem to not exist. Life here is so invasive that it’s difficult to get anything done in a reasonable amount of time. For example I had a proposal to look over and respond to the other day, but then one of my students’ father came to the office and invited me to dinner. Culturally, it is too rude to not receive the person, plus he is one of my favorite people here, so proposal got to sit on my desk for another day. It is a big plus and also a hindrance to advancing, but cultural values are important and need to be taken into account. This country will change, it will develop but at its own pace. The young people I work with will make that change, inshallah. I already see it little by little and as long as they have the courage and drive to do their part, this is going to be a fabulous place to be. Ok need to go get ready for my day out. I’m not sitting in the office on such a glorious day. One of my former students has invited me to his social entrepreneurship class and to lunch with his family. Afterwhich I have more people to meet and places to go. Looking forward to getting out of my “prison” and enjoy a day off for a change.

December 15th--Another camp begins

5:15 a.m. Jet lag wakes me early and I embrace the few hours of quiet here in my bedroom. I am in a familiar room; one of the teacher’s rooms at the hostel of CT Public Schools in Jalandhar, Punjab, India. It is my fourth time spending one month in this room, and not much has changed. The big blue daisies on the sheet, the shiny gold foil pictures of the Golden Temple in Amritsar on the walls, the old, red refrigerator, the almiras with graffiti from students of years past. My clothes and personal items are placed in the usual places. The CT school students who live in this hostel are the same but maybe a little taller or fatter, more facial hair or wearing a different coloured uniform. In many ways, my life has become like an international version of “Groundhog Day”, the classic Bill Murray movie, given my travel to the same three ocuntries; India, Afghanistan and Ethiopia, but it never gets boring there is always something new to discover and enjoy. Mainly with a new group of students each time, there is no dull routine but an excitement at teaching and watching the changes in them from day one to the end of camp. This camp is going to be special, what with Christmas and New Years. Of course I will be missing the excitement of the holidays in New York and the chance to celebrate with my friends and family there, but there is something truly special about celebrating the holidays in a different place, with students for whom Christmas and New Years are foreign. It will be like discovering the holidays all over again. I arrived three days ago, with two of my colleagues, burdened by 8 large suitcases of camp supplies, books, and lots of gifts, stockings, and decorations to make this holiday being spent in India a specal one. I’m excited and I think all my staff will be feeling the same. I’m trying to get ym assistant to don the Santa suit I bought at a 99 cent store in Brooklyn, but he is refusing. I still have some time to cajole and convince him. Besides being the holidays, this camp will be special for our students are lower level students and we have tweaked our curriculum to better suit their needs. I don’t know yet how it will all work out, but it will work out. It has been a long while since I’ve blogged, mostly I seem to have gotten out of my rhythm of it, but I will try to get back into that rhythm and post maybe not on a daily basis but a few times a week. There are new discoveries to make as we teach a new group of students and help change the lives of a future generation of Afghanistan. I see the change and impact when I talk to my counselors, former campers, and they tell me how much their lives have changed because of the Youth Solidarity and English Language (YSEL) program. When I hear their stories, the routine of my international life doesn’t seem so routine, and I am thankful for having this opportunity to live my life this way.