“Love letters from Kabul – on a fairer education”

A fairer life for all

Dear friends and fellow human beings,

16th November, 2012 ( Gregorian calendar )

27th, Aqrab, 1391 ( Afghan calendar )

From Abdulhai

It’s not that important to be first in class. I think it doesn’t make us better people.

I mean, just because I get an education doesn’t mean I can solve the problems in my life or in this country, or be kind to others.

Those who flew the planes on September 11th   were educated but I sense that they didn’t understand what to do with their anger. Also, those who ‘remote control’ today’s drones are educated but don’t seem to understand the anger they cause. I prefer ‘humbler’ folk, like mothers, shepherds and laborers.

I think too much? Well, I’m just ‘moody’ at times. I’m in Grade 9, and I failed some subjects last term.  I don’t enjoy the way we have to memorize our answers. Our schools have many problems….the teachers are not well trained, there’s cheating, and bribery, and yet everyone pretends that we’re learning or teaching something….( watch this video of Abdulhai going to school on a cold Kabul morning )

Most of my school subjects would have been ‘useless’ for my father and my grandfather who were farmers. I haven’t decided what I want to be, maybe a photographer or a businessman or something.

I miss my mother and family in Bamiyan quite a lot while studying in Kabul. I agree with Hakim that the missing of people we love is itself an education.

You Tube video of ‘Abdulhai on education in Afghanistan’

From Samia

I want to be able to read and write, and dream of being a teacher someday.

Samia hopes to read and write

Some people give us the look when my siblings and I say we’ve stopped schooling and that we’re illiterate.

I like coming to the back-to-school program run by the Afghan Peace Volunteers, mainly because I like the teachers and the teachers care for us. I mean, the way life is in Afghanistan, people don’t really seem to care…

I don’t know if I’ll be able to re-start school again next year….my mother may need me to help at home.

Hakim, did you like the leek pancakes we made for you and the volunteers during Eid?

From Hakim

I thought I was educated.

Though my 72 year old mum and 73 year old dad had family circumstances that prevented them from completing their studies, they are deep, and thinking, and caring individuals. Their lives show me that they are educated.

So was Najib, a 12 year old Pashtun orphan boy. He didn’t do the Math which I plain forgot right after the Cambridge ‘A’ level exams, from irrelevance and disuse. Najib didn’t even know how to write his own name in his own language. But he was educated because he fended for his and his grandmother’s life by collecting and selling trash in the rough Quetta streets of Pakistan, and he offered his hand of friendship to other street kids. He also befriended me.

Najib belongs to the ethnic group of Pashtuns. Pashtuns are portrayed by mainstream narratives as fierce fighters and potential ‘terrorists’ who form the ranks of the Taliban, and the ‘educated’ world believes these narratives.  

But Najib would swing by just to say ‘salam’ ( peace ) after a hard day’s work. Najib, like other Pashtun friends of mine, had the human genes of a friend. He did not have the human genes of a ‘terrorist’ ; there are no such genes.

After a while, I wanted to know if he had been okay, if he was barefoot that day, or how much ‘profitable trash’ he had accumulated in his sack. One day, I invited him and his elderly grandma to share some juicy, sweet Pakistani mangoes. After I had scrubbed off ‘Layer One’ of his soiled hands before having the mangoes, I asked Najib to smile for a photo with me. His grandma got angry and taught me philosophy with her one-liner, “Why are you asking Najib to smile? He has no reason to smile at all.” Its accusation and challenge set the tone for my work in the years ahead.

Najib with his grandmother

Then, one late-afternoon visit with me, Najib said, “Zindagi yaha mushkil hai – Life here is difficult.” He and his grandmother had decided to take the refugee road again towards Iran.

I knew he was uttering an unwilling goodbye. He cried for a resilient five minutes. The ‘educated’ me sat beside him, and didn’t know what to do.

Mom, I remember your wish at the kitchen table of our 3-room government housing flat that if I could, I should make it possible for others to pursue their education. I’m sorry I couldn’t offer Najib options to acquire a skill or go to school. I disappointed you in your wish, and I disappointed Najib.

That was the beginning of many Central Asian nights of tears when I would lie down to sleep as a ‘privileged’ person, always in rented rooms, never in a refugee tent. My education had begun.


Abdulhai, Samia and Hakim

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