Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Afghan Chronicles, September 11, 2013 Day 7

September 11, 2013 Day 7 Today is THAT day, you know the one I’m talking about—the day our world changed forever. I now it changed my world forever and the events of 9/11 is why I am here in Kabul this morning drinking tea and watching the sun rise over the city. 12 years ago at this time I was getting ready to go to my job at PS 42 on the Lower East Side. If you told me that 12 years later I would be working in Afghanistan, I probably wouldn’t believe it. But here I am, doing what I love. On that sunny Tuesday in September I saw 2,000 people killed before my eyes in one of the most unbelievable events in my lifetime. We mourn those innocent people as we should, but what about the thousands of Afghans who have been victims of terrorism for years? This is not to say that those people who died on 9/11 don’t deserve attention but when we talk about victims of terrorism, at least in the Western world, we forget about the innocent Afghans who have been subjected to bombings from all sides really, who live in fear everyday of another act of terrorism. I don’t forget them because they are my Afghan children and their families. Terrorism is a destructive force that seems to come from an irrational, narrow-minded and uneducated point of view. I am dedicated to fighting terrorism the only way I know—through education. As I watched the Twin Towers crumble before my eyes from a rooftop in Chinatown, I had a choice to make—to hate or to fight. I chose to fight, initially with a gun or airplane, but later when the emotions subsided, I chose education. For these past 12 years I’ve been educating Afghan students and opening up the world for them, giving them the critical thinking skills to make sense of the world around them and become free thinkers. Not only did 9/11 change America and our sense of safety and freedom, but also Afghanistan and its sense of tradition and adherence to ancient ways. 9/11 ripped the lid off of Afghanistan and exposed it to the world, bringing in all sorts of influences and ideas that may or may not have been so readily embraced by the local population. Yet it showed us one thing, Afghanistan needed to change and the youth of this country desparately needed educational opportunities. Education and rational thought are tools that I feel Afghans need to mold the future that they want. A more educated Afghanistan is the road for a successful future and that’s why I am here doing what I do. 2014 seems to be on everyone’s mind and something I talk about every day. Whatever does happen, Afghanistan will go on, and the hundreds of students I’ve helped educate and inspire will fight ot make their Watan the peaceful, productive country they all dream about.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Afghan Chronicles, September 9th, 2013 Day 5

September in Afghanistan Day 5 A quiet morning in Kabul, like Juma the streets are empty and you can hear singular sounds like a motorcycle going by, the spitting of the Parliament guards outside my window, a mourning dove giving her lone cry, the gentle tinkle of a bicycle bell as it sails around the corner of Park Street. Today is another holiday here in Afghanistan—the anniversary of Masoud’s assassination 12 years ago. Ahmad Masoud was the “Lion of the Panshir,” the head of the Northern Alliance that helped push out the Taliban after 9/11. His death seems like a prelude of what happened just two days later in New York. Where they connected? Who knows. In the west, his assassination overshadowed by the destruction of the World Trade Center, yet here in Afghanistan it is a solemn day of rememberance. There are fears that there will be some sort of attack today, so we will stay close to home. The fear causes anxious anticipation and every sharp noise brings a tremble. Who knows where or when it will happen, or if it will happen—we wait. Will it be near or far? Given that Parliament is right across the street, there is a good chance that it will be near. Still we cannot live all day in fear and must go about our business, with caution. Within this trepidation and anticipation, life does go on. Reports need writing, work needs to be done, emails sent, the 6 little kittens need to be fed. I have grown quite attached to one of the kittens, the one they named Tom. He’s an orange tabby, the kind I pan to get when I next get a cat. After 5 days of spoiling them with canned cat food, he has warmed to me and curls around my leg and lets me pet him to no end. Oh the temptation is there to bring him back to New York with me, but traveling through four countries before that makes it kind of impossible. I’ll just love him while I’m here I guess. The other ones are still a bit skittish but I have managed to give a few a good petting that has elicited purrs. Later today I’m going out to lunch with some former students, so we’ll see if that has to be cancelled. I hope not, being cooped up with just 4 walls to look at gets dull after awhile. I tell my students who come to see me that I now know what it feels to be an Afghan woman who is not allowed to leave her house. I suppose better to stay inside than to be at risk outside, and the risk is great from what they tell me. Going around during the day is OK but not at night. Just means I have more time to catch up on all the things on my to do list. One can see this as aggravation, I se eit as opportunity.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Afghan Chronicles: September 6th, 2013 Day 2

September in Afghanistan Day 2 I’ll take these opportunities when I’m still adjusting to the time difference and I wake up at 5 am to write. The sun is almost over the mountain that I can see from my bedroom window. The streets are quiet given the hour and will be quiet all day as it is Juma, Friday and a day of rest here in Afghanistan. Once I finish this entry I will go on to do some more writing, but not the type I truly enjoy—report writing. I put it off until the last moment. One part of my job I really don’t enjoy. A few days before I left the US, I had a phone conversation with a former student of mine who came to the US for a 6-week entrepreneurship workshop and decided to stay. He got his credits form American University here in Kabul transferred to a university in the US. Last night I was chatitng with another former student who went for a workshop in Holland and instead claimed political asylum there. Anyone who gets a chance to leave Afghanistan is leaving. While it saddens me, I do not blame them. I try not to let these incidents waver my optimism that things will be better and the young people will make this country better, but sometimes I wonder. Will it get better? Is this a sinking ship? Will everything revert back to the way it was pre-9/11? Who knows. Everyone is panicking and dreading the worst but somehow I know it will all come out OK. It has to—the depressing story line we hear from this place must change. They always say hope dies last and I firmly believe that. So with that in mind, despite all the security concerns and bleak outlooks for Afghanistan, I remain optimistic about the future here. Probably more of my former students will get out and never come back, that is their choice, their path. Still many more will stay and make this place better. The Chinese say “May you live in interesting times.” These are definitely interesting times and I wonder how it will all turn out post-2014. Guess w’ll have to just wait and see.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Afghanistan Chronicles: September 5th 2013, Day 1

September in Afghanistan. Day 1 It has been a little over 6 months since I’ve been here and it’s good to be back. Despite the crumbling security situation and instability everywhere in the country that people are reporting, I needed to come. Coming in for a landing and seeing all the mountains warms my heart, makes me feel in a way that I am coming back to some place that is familiar and welcoming, not unsafe and dangerous. Coming out of the airport after getting my baggage, the warm Kabul air embraces me like an old friend. The shuttle bus driver tries to get me on his bus to drive me the small distance to where the throngs of people await family members, friends and colleagues but I prefer to walk past the old airport terminal and across the parking lots, as I usually do. I’m excited to be back and want to take these few minutes to walk alone taking in the mountains, the other passengers pushing their carts, the music coming out of some cars. I have no fear of this place for it has become like home with colleagues and students who await me like family once I get through the security gate. Wadood, our driver, is there to great me with a big hug and a handshake. He’s looking very dapper in his new green parantumbar with a black pinstripe vest. I complement him in my broken Dari on his outfit and he thanks me. This man has seen so much in his life, from the Russians, the Taliban, and now the Americans, and still has his sense of humor intact. We make jokes in the car and laugh our way through the traffic jams that slow our way back to the office. He tells me of the 6 new kittens in the office. Apparently one of the cats that hangs around the office had kittens and now they have become part of the office, with everyone pitching in money to feed them. On our way, we stop at the Finest supermarket and I pick up some breakfast supplies and some Whiskas cat food for the kittens. Of course a trip to Finest with Wadood wouldn’t be complete without a Red Bull or two for him. He has two wives and always jokes with me that he needs two Red Bulls so he can please both of them when he goes home on Thursday. I come laden with chocolate I bought in Duty-Free for his children and family. He appreciates the gesture. Eventhough I have traveled a long way here, stopping in Delhi for a night, I am not tired. It is good to see everyone at the office and sit on the takhta under the arbor of grapes, drinking tea and catching up on the latest news. As we sip our tea, the kittens run around the big divan in the yard, awaiting something to eat. I go up and get the can of cat food and put it out on a plate for them. Within minutes they are swarming the plate, devouring as much as they can as if it is a race to eat the most. First there are three, then four. The fifth one, the largest of all, comes running from the back at lightning speed and plops himself almost right smack in the middle of the food, gobbling as much as he can. The sixth one races after him and soon they are all happily having a splendid dinner, equally getting their fill. There are three orange cats and three white and greys. How I would love to take one of the orange ones home but somehow dragging a kitten through India, Switzerland, France and Germany doesn’t sound appealing at all. They are adorable though and while tempting, impossible. Today I am up early with the meuzzin’s call to prayer, one of my favorite sounds here in Kabul. I have to interview potential candidates for my winter YSEL camp beginning at 9 so need to be ready to listen attentively to students all day. They’ve scheduled 26 for me, which is a lot, but somehow we’ll manage. I just hope I don’t start falling asleep! I hope to be up early everyday and able to chronicle my days here in Afghanistan for the next three weeks. There may not be tons to report but I will try to give my readers something to enjoy.