Saturday, December 05, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
Trust In Education
VILLAGE BY VILLAGE • VILLAGE TO VILLAGE
Trust in Education (TIE) is a grass roots, secular, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded by neighbors in Lafayette, California in May 2003.TIE first provided funding to build a secular school in the village of Lalander, Afghanistan that opened in March, 2005. There are approximately 150 children attending the school in Lalander. In addition, TIE now employs 29 teachers who collectively teach 849 children (602 girls and 247 boys). TIE’s core mission is to maintain and expand its support of education as much as resources allow, recognizing that each time we support a class or school it must be a multiple year commitment. This year’s fourth grader will be next year’s fifth and so on.
TIE’s educational programs now include the following:
1. Home school classes for girls are taught inside villages. These classes are necessary due to threats made by the Taliban and the imbalance within the country between educating girls and boys.
2. The home school classes are so popular they have capacity problems. At the request of one village, TIE paid the material cost to build a classroom on private property, which was completed in June 2009. The additional classroom has made it possible for TIE to offer computer and adult education classes. We are working with the village to design an educational program for 2010. We are also open to providing the materials needed to build additional classrooms in other villages.
3. TIE learned from two Afghan school headmasters that their students did not receive enough math and science instruction. TIE agreed to pay the cost of providing after school math and science courses at both schools during 2009.
4. TIE has made it possible for the girl’s school in Tangi Saidan to offer classes from grades one through 12, enabling the girls in this village to transition into college.
5. For several years TIE has funded after school art and English classes. These subjects are in high demand and seldom offered in Afghan schools.
6. TIE paid the cost of installing playground equipment and building a soccer field in Lalander. That led to an after school soccer program financed by TIE. We learned that the playground equipment and soccer field made school more fun, thereby increasing enrollment and improving attendance. We have other playground and soccer field requests currently being considered.
7. TIE provides pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, and books in several classes where without its support there would be none.
While education is the solution to almost every problem, it doesn’t solve the immediate needs for food, clothing and shelter. Afghanistan is the 5th poorest country in the world, suffering the effects of 30 years of war. TIE is very involved in addressing these needs. It subscribes wholeheartedly to the philosophy that it is better to “teach a man how to fish”. But, we also provide food and clothing (“fish”), because we can. TIE’s expenses in delivering and distributing these items are minimal. Our goal and theirs is for Afghan families to achieve self sufficiency. Toward that end TIE:
1. Instituted a micro credit loan program that finances entrepreneurs, both men and women. Men will, in all likelihood not be included in this program in the future because the vast majority of loans made to men have not been repaid. This is a phenomenon experienced by microcredit lenders everywhere, unfortunately.
2. Provided 22,481 fruit trees to over 250 farmers.
3. Served as the catalyst and coordinator for the construction of 10 potato cold storage sheds in two villages. Farmers who can keep their potatoes off the market during peak season and sell them when prices are higher (6 months later) will increase their income by an average of 49%.
4. Provided hundreds of farmers with fertilizer, and superior tomato, turnip, radish, and onion seeds, thereby doubling and tripling their yields.
5. Purchased and distributed 300 sheep to 60 farmers
TIE learned early on, that if you want to know what “they” need, ask them.
Our “wish list” process invites villagers to propose projects. The projects are then ranked based upon the nature of the impact, the number of people impacted, the priority the villagers place upon the competing projects, and cost. We fund as many impact projects as our resources allow, always bearing in mind that education is our primary mission.
The “wish list” principles are followed in all of the projects and programs described above. As a consequence, TIE earned the status of partner, which is preferable to being perceived as only a provider. One outcome of the partnership relationship is that wish list proposals no longer include a cost for labor. The villagers provide the labor and TIE purchases the materials.
In addition to what is described elsewhere, the following “wish list” projects are no longer wishes;
1. A $20,000 irrigation project now brings water to 150 acres of land that had been fallow for years.
2. Two irrigation ditches constructed in the spring of 2009 divert water to land that previously could not be farmed. The ditches will also prevent the spring run off in 2010 from flooding farmland owned by over 60 farmers. Their topsoil will no longer be washed away or covered with less fertile soil.
3. Three small bridges were built in Lalander, making it easier and in some cases possible for children to attend school.
4. An 18 meter ((58 foot) bridge, providing a river crossing, is currently under construction. When completed it will make commerce and life easier for over 1,000 villagers living in five villages
Equally important to providing educational opportunities for Afghans, is informing Americans about Afghanistan. TIE serves as a link between our world and theirs. To that end TIE engages in the following activities;
1. TIE serves as an intermediary and catalyst in providing American families with an opportunity to directly sponsor a “street child” in Kabul. $20 a month enables “their child” to attend school. Sixty street children have been sponsored to date. More have been added each month since we began in July, 2009.
2. Over 50 speaking engagements have been held and will continue to be held whenever opportunities arise. These included presentations by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and a Thousand Splendid Suns, Greg Mortensen, co-author of Three Cups of Tea, and Sarah Schayes, a former NPR reporter working in Kandahar.
3. Thousands of school children have participated in “Change for Change” drives. Regular reports are made to these children, explaining how “their” change is changing lives. In several schools, TIE has provided annual progress reports for the past five years. TIE hand delivers art work, letters and photos between Afghan and American children. We’ve become the messenger.
4. TIE has collected, shipped and distributed over 30,000 pounds of clothing, blankets, shoes, and school supplies donated by Americans. Our most recent “packing party for Afghanistan” was attended by over 100 volunteers. The “stuff redistribution program” is so popular it’s impossible to handle everything that people are willing to donate.
5. TIE has been called upon by other organizations including Stop Hunger Now, Medshare, Soles for Souls, and the United Nations refugee program, to assist them in distributing food, medical supplies, shoes, and clothing in Afghanistan. The contribution by Stop Hunger Now of fortified rice packages enables TIE to provide over 200,000 meals to Afghans living in refugee camps this winter (2009). Other humanitarian aid organizations are calling exploring the possibility of partnering with TIE.
The list of projects and programs is not exhaustive. It provides an overview of the ways in which TIE has provided assistance. TIE focuses its aid in an area, rather than do one project in several. Over time we gain trust, build lasting relationships, and prove we share their resolve. Ending cyclical poverty requires a concerted, long term, and systematic commitment.
Village to village and village by village was and continues to be our mantra. It’s six years later and we’re more convinced than ever of the value of going back. It’s the only way to bring about permanent change in the quality of life in Afghanistan and in the perception both worlds have about the other. Education is the key to success, there and here.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Why America Must Stay the Course in Afghanistan
Think Higher Feel Deeper
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel recently made a compelling presentation at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York, just south of Buffalo. During his day long presentation series Professor Wiesel spoke about morality and how it relates to personal experience, respect for the other, individual responsibility, the dilemma of indifference, all as ethical tests confronting the world and in particular challenging today’s youth. Asked to sum up his day long visit and offer a synopsis of his presentation to the hundreds of students and youth in attendance Dr. Wiesel said, “Whatever you do in life, think higher and feel deeper.”
As a point of prior disclosure and in explanation for the passion and conviction that I bring to this topic; I lived in Afghanistan from 1972 to 1975. Most of my time in country was spent in Samangan Province where I served as Science Adviser for the provincial school system courtesy of the US Peace Corps. I am a current officer of the Friends of Afghanistan the official National Peace Corps Association affiliate organization for Peace Corps Volunteers who served in this South Central Asian nation from the 1960s up to a few months prior to the Soviet invasion on Christmas Eve 1979. I also advise a coalition of student organizations which continue to support gender equity educational projects in Kabul and in the outlying provinces.
The Third Goal
The Third Goal of Peace Corps obligates volunteers, upon returning to the United States, to help Americans understand the people and cultures of our host countries. I am offering this timely reflection on the culture and people of my host nation Afghanistan, to fulfill my Third Goal obligations and give my fellow Americans a sense of the humanity and sacrifice that the Afghan people have made for more than a generation as they strive to retain their cultural uniqueness while struggling to integrate into the modern world. For me, both as an individual and as a representative of the Peace Corps Volunteers who served there, Dr Wiesel’s statement resonated with the sounds, sights and experiences of our collective time spent living and working with the long suffering, poorly understood and paradoxically almost forgotten people of this ancient land; and it offered me a challenge to “think higher and feel deeper.” about my Peace Corps host country as a moral imperative during this time of high profile and great nationwide need.
Hidden in Paradox
From my personal perspective, his most poignant and challenging comment carried through time and space from Europe in the nineteen thirties and forties to an audience in Chautauqua, NY in 2009 was, “All war is immoral; but intervention can be a moral obligation.” As has so often been the case with formative issues throughout history, the highest truths are frequently hidden within a paradox. In the spirit of paradox the request that I make to my fellow Americans is that we consider Afghanistan with the deep mind and understand that there are always consequences both for actions that we take and for issues that we fail to address. Cause and effect consequences for acts of commission are generally obvious, objective and measurable. What is not always clear is that there are also consequences of omission. My contention is that in the present day we are experiencing the ripple effect for acts of policy omission that our government failed to make in Afghanistan after the fall of the Soviet Union. For Americans the central debate on Afghanistan should focus on whether our intervention there is a moral necessity and what the consequences of omission would be if we were to depart imprudently.
I am no fan of the prior US administration’s under resourced, undermanned, mismanaged, poorly prosecuted no bid, cost plus, for profit Western engagement in Afghanistan. In fact, one could argue, from the start, that the invasion of Afghanistan was not regarded as the top priority for American foreign policy even in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World trade Center and the Pentagon. Afghanistan may have simply served as a convenient segue for the ideologically driven Neo-Conservative rush to judgment that brought us into Iraq with what is generally regarded in hind sight as too few troops, poor intelligence regarding the nature of the Iraqi resistance and with no viable exit strategy available in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.
Having returned to Afghanistan in 2003 and in 2006 to implement and explore opportunities for student sponsored humanitarian aid and school construction projects, I can report, in hopefully balanced fairness that on a number of levels progress has been made. Infrastructure repair has been addressed and the construction of both private and public projects has gone forward especially in Kabul where most charitable organizations are headquartered. I am also pleased to report that the most conspicuous progress has been made in education where, through International aid groups, student to student support through NGOs and a tenacious commitment from local Afghan communities, boys and girls have returned to school in unprecedented numbers and in many areas this is in defiance of Taliban edicts.
Despite these documentable steps forward there has been and continues to be a growing sense of frustration among most Afghan citizens. Disillusionment with the pervasive corruption in the middle of an undesirable occupation by foreign armies reinforces the Afghan peoples’ long held cultural suspicion of Western policies, ideologies and ambitions. The public cynicism of the deteriorating security situation throughout Afghanistan, fueled by the rising Taliban insurgency, frustration and disappointment with the US Military, the International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan Government’s inability to create real security, end corruption and help promote the general welfare for the average citizen, is especially aggravated by the failure of the massive amount of Western investment to trickle down through the glass ceiling of widespread fraud to reach the people in any substantive way. These concerns perceived collectively have fostered an opportunity for other ideologies like the Taliban, the Mujahedin and Warlord groups, to appear to be reasonable alternatives to the current state of affairs even if their periods of authority are still remembered in the context of extremism, violence and oppression.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has accused the Obama administration of dilatory behavior regarding its Afghanistan policy that he characterized as dithering, even as the President is currently reviewing suggestions from his military advisers and assessing the reliability of our Afghan governmental partners after their recent fraud plagued election. Cheney has been joined in his disapproval by a tenuous alliance with critics of the administration on the left who are also calling for a hasty judgment on Afghanistan. Since the Obama Administration is developing policy changes that will ultimately result in the successful conclusion of our active military commitment in South Asia, every truly patriotic American citizen dedicated to a positive outcome for our mission in Afghanistan should be supportive of the current Administration’s thoughtful and reflective deliberation on this exceptionally serious undertaking. Unlike the Cheney promoted rush to judgment that, without a well thought out exit strategy, hurried us into both of the conflicts that President Obama’s team is currently working to resolve, America may now have a real opportunity to form a well planned strategy for disengagement that leaves behind stable and viable states after years and decades of war.
Critics should use caution to ensure that publicly stated disapproval of the efforts of the democratically elected representatives of the American people does no harm to our national interests as our legitimately selected officials face the difficult undertaking of resolving issues of war and peace. Careless political posturing in the guise of free speech is at best in poor taste and at worst can embolden our foes during a time of international hostilities. If Mr. Cheney were to carefully review the content of his own presentations while in office he would find that this is a very reasonable request.
Talibs & Vacuums
Most Americans don’t realize that the Taliban movement was constructed during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan by the ISI, the Pakistani Secret Police, through funding support by Saudi Arabia and our own CIA. The Taliban was designed, developed and trained in Pakistani camps and Madrasas to be an opposition force to counter the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. Today, it would quickly, and some say quite easily, move into the power vacuum that would be created if America and the West precipitously abandoned Afghanistan like it did in the late nineteen eighties.
Regrettably, after the defeat of the Russian Army, policy advisers in Washington decided that the cost benefit analysis for continuing to support Afghanistan would not yield an appropriate return for the investment of American and Western effort. Our political leaders following advice from economic, political, military and other international and regional experts decided that the risk-reward ratio needed to protect the people of Afghanistan did not judiciously warrant the continued allocation of assets from the contributing coalition of stake holders: the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia directly and other Western nations indirectly. The die of departure had been cast; and the stage was now set for the next phase in the history of South Central Asia and the world.
Price of Abandonment
We ultimately abandoned Afghanistan, dramatically reducing the massive foreign aid that was being sent to the “Freedom Fighter” groups through Pakistan during virtually the entire nineteen eighties. These flawed decisions of disengagement were made in the heady days following our Cold War victory over Soviet Communism which promised a halcyon period of peace and prosperity for the West. Success in our Cold War effort, which was ironically obtained through the catalytic sacrifice of the Afghan people, clearly shows that great powers can be formative agents of international change but even from a position of immense influence expected outcomes, can never be determined with complete assurance.
As a result, we have been drawn through recent history in a series of cause and effect events, via the ensuing fall of the Soviet Empire, the rise of international terrorist organizations like Al’ Qaida by way of September 11, 2001, directly to decisions that we are destined to make today in our time. An unchecked and empowered Taliban presence in the region, acting as an independent force, separated from the control of its ISI creators, may well result in a nightmare scenario for the US and South Central Asia, to which we are now inextricably linked.
What to Expect
The following is what one could realistically predict to see happen in Afghanistan and in the region if American and Western troops were precipitously withdrawn without a well planned exit strategy:
- Governmental violence toward women would increase. Afghan Women would, once again, suffer gender discrimination on a scale that we can hardly grasp in the West. Educational and occupational opportunities for women would be severely restricted. And something as simple as walking unescorted in public would result in public beatings by the "Morality Police."
- The Hazara minority, both women and men, would suffer ethnic cleansing and renewed pogroms in the Hazarajat highlands of central Afghanistan their ancestral homelands. The size and scope of previous pogroms against the Hazara people fit the description of genocide.
- Shiites, Sufis and other minorities would suffer discrimination, oppression and even be subject to a Fatwa of death because their beliefs could be considered heretical by the Taliban courts.
- Centuries old treasures would be destroyed as anti-Islamic idols as was done with cultural relics in the Kabul Museum and with the Giant Buddhas of Bamyian Province.
- Afghanistan would again be plunged into Civil War with the threat of regional spillover into Pakistan and other South Asian nations most notably the Uzbek, Tajik and Turkoman nations of the former Soviet Union at greatest risk.
- A legitimate threat from Taliban paramilitary forces in Afghanistan aided by the remnant of the Al’ Qaida network, would threaten the Pakistani Government and the security of its nuclear arsenal, resulting in the very real threat of a non-national terrorist group acquiring nuclear weapons.
The list above is what one could reasonably predict under Taliban rule. It is a simple restatement of what the Taliban did while in power coupled with an assessment of their current aspirations in Pakistan. One could judiciously predict that the best indicator of Taliban intention in a new position of power would be their past behavior while they were in control of the Afghan Government. While I fully support the controlled and orderly withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq that is currently underway, and in due course, the development of a reasonable exit strategy for Afghanistan, linking both policies in exit would be as foolish as joining them was at the start. I want to reemphasize that it was a rush to judgment that fostered the current, less than optimal conditions, in both Theaters of War and caution should be the standard that we employ for any strategic disengagement.
The problems in Afghanistan are much more layered, nuanced and complex. But finding a solution to these problems is essential if we are serious about establishing an enduring era of peace and stability in South Asia with whatever global implication that implies. Solving these problems will require a new, bold and perhaps unconventional pledge by the West. We may have to commit to a generation of cost effective nation building to stabilize this region and ultimately address American interests by helping to build a safe and secure Afghanistan that in its stability poses no threat to its citizens, its neighbors or the world.
Americans may have forgotten that the people of Afghanistan fought the hot point for our Cold War victory over the Soviet Union. We should all soberly bear in mind that Afghan citizens accepted casualties in massive numbers in pursuit of this goal and when on February 15, 1989 Boris Gromov, the final departing Soviet officer walked across the Pul e Ayraton Bridge in Northern Afghanistan, the consequences of the final chapter of the Great Game, played out in the twentieth century, were ready to be fulfilled and the geopolitical dynamics had been set in place that would ultimately free the Captive Nations of Eastern Europe, bring down the Berlin Wall and as a result of the blood sacrifice of the people of Afghanistan, win the Cold War for America. Twelve years and one day after the invasion of Afghanistan the Soviet Union dissolved.
America owes the Afghan people a moral debt. Open for discussion and deliberation is how one accurately assesses the worth of this kind of ethical obligation. What can be said, with the certainty of historical hindsight, is that abandoning the people of Afghanistan to a hypocritical, harsh, repressive and extremist Taliban theocratic-political agenda that justifies its hatred and violent behavior toward women and minorities as well as toward Americans, behind a thin veneer of literalist religious rhetoric, improper interpretation of scripture and faux public piety, will never serve the interests of Afghanistan. Nor, if history offers any kind of instruction, would a Taliban victory in Afghanistan be in the best interests of the United States of America.
President, Friends of Afghanistan
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
Posted: 24 Oct 2009 11:07 PM PDT
In the cozy Long Island beach town where I live, everyone goes to an old-fashioned soft ice cream stand called Marvel. Not Carvel. It was still open for the season on a chilly evening in October when I arrived with a brand new customer, a confident, petite young woman who wore a red trench coat over blue jeans and a black head scarf.
"She's never been here before," I told Anthony, the kindly, gray-haired owner. By "here," I meant America.
As far as Anthony was concerned, "here" meant Marvel.
"Never?" he asked, looking hurt. For Anthony – and many of us – Marvel is to Long Beach, Long Island, what Rick's was to Casablanca.
"I am from Afghanistan," Seeta explained.
"Oh," the owner replied, a big smile exploding across his face. "Well, that explains everything."
Seeta smiled back. Anthony handed her a strawberry and pistachio swirl with "house sprinkles."
And I contemplated the beautiful simplicity of this exchange.
Back home, in addition to writing for the Afghan Women's Writing Project (AWWP), Seeta regularly risks her life to report and write in Dari and English – which she taught herself – for a local newspaper. Simplicity is not a word one would use in describing her work in that tightly-controlled Taliban province. As a journalist, her job is to ask questions. There are also many she is challenged to answer – and they are as misguided as they are complicated. Questions about why she works, not what she writes. Incessantly, she is asked why a woman would want to work. She is asked why a woman should be permitted to interview men.
Since the late summer, through AWWP, I have been mentoring Seeta by reading her stories and offering reporting and writing suggestions. I have, I believe, learned more from her than she from me. In September, when the course I teach in feature writing at Hofstra University began, I invited her to join as guest from afar and to correspond with my students by email. We all thought this would be merely an online experience – and were nevertheless thrilled and intrigued. Then Seeta wrote that she had been awarded a fellowship to spend three weeks in the United States as a participant in the U.S. State Department's Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists. She was also the only participant from Afghanistan and the youngest one as well.
When the program concluded, Seeta was able to spend a few days at my home, travel to the Bronx for a meeting with Galen D. Kirkland, Commissioner of the New York State Division of Human Rights and, best of all, to meet my students – in person.
That meeting was beautifully documented by Joye Brown, a columnist for Newsday. And Seeta, in the months and years to come will, I am certain, tell her own version of her experiences here.
What I'd like to mention, though, is how nervous I was about how Seeta would be received on Long Island, a place that has its own tribal divisions, many of them based on ethnicity, race and religion, Here, too – although the risks are nothing in comparison to Afghanistan – boundaries can be difficult to decipher. Rush Limbaugh may be on the radio in one house, Bill Maher on the television next door. Recently, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report that described Suffolk County, the eastern of Long Island's two counties, as a place with a pronounced – and sometimes officially sanctioned – atmosphere of hate, suspicion and prejudice specifically aimed at Latino residents..
What, I wondered, would put someone at more risk in this suburb, a Spanish accent or a head scarf? During Ramadan a Muslim woman, in a scarf like Seeta's, was taunted on a Long Island street in what was clearly identified as a hate crime.
But like most places, including Afghanistan, the deities are sometimes with us and good does triumph. Days after that Muslim woman was accosted, a rabbi, a Catholic priest and an iman – I know this sounds like a bad joke but I promise it is anything but that – all met at a mosque to discuss the concept of fasting in their different religions.
The reaction on my Long Island to Seeta was also heartening. A woman who was only a casual acquaintance of mine – until now – helped Seeta make an international call to her own mother in the Afghan provinces. A quintessential "white guy hockey coach" welcomed her to her first ice rink with open arms and enthusiasm. And the day before she was due to depart, an Orthodox Jewish woman physician gave Seeta a check-up on very short notice and without a bill, with the doctor's most senior nurse offering sensitive encouragement.
At Marvel, Seeta – who does not have a large appetite – finished her ice cream and declared it "very good." Anthony, the owner, warmly wished her a safe trip home and said he hoped she would return. I do too. Her next step will be to look for a scholarship to an American undergraduate program in journalism – and then return to Afghanistan to use her skills to write more about her country. By then I hope we can figure out how to get ice cream that is made in Long Island on a plane to Kabul – and that with the help of reporters like Seeta we can figure out so many other things as well.
Posted: 24 Oct 2009 10:59 PM PDT
The last time I went to Dashte Abdaan was two years ago. After my sister's engagement party, we went to Dashte Abdaan straight from the wedding hall. It is a desert located between Kunduz and Imam Sahib. It is fruitless; no one uses it for farming.
It was evening. The sun was sitting down when we got there. The end of the sky had the mixture of orange and reddish colors. The tulip flowers were everywhere like the whole desert wore a red cloth. I stood on a bed of tulips. The wind was blowing very slowly and softly. I loved standing there and just breathing. I loved looking at the sunset as the sun was saying goodbye to everyone. The smell of the tulips was pleasant. I could see the cars that were going back to the city. The desert was getting empty of people, but I really didn't want to leave. It was the first time that I felt this way. I could see hundreds of kites flying in the sky; they had different signs, colors, and faces and more on them. Some of the kites were fighting with each other until one cuts the opponent's kite free. The kids were running to get the azadi ("freed" kites.) They all had smiles in their faces. It is a place that people can come with their families and freely have fun because the desert is big and even though some factories have been built there in recent years, there is always a space which has fewer people or even no one else, and there is a lot to do. Some people even spend the night there. During spring, most guests who come to Kunduz go to the desert. One of the best ideas is to hold a wedding there.
Kunduz, along with some other northern provinces, is famous for holding the buzkashi event. It is one of the traditional, national sports of Afghanistan. It is played by others like Turkmens and Uzbeks, but their version is a little bit different. Buzkashi is played on special occasions only, like Eid, New Year, and some weddings. Once during Eid, I remember watching a buzkashi match from the roof of one of my friend's house, which was very close to the buzkashi ring. The area was like a stadium. Two sides of the ring were surrounded by hills. On the both sides, people stood or sat, and there was a special place for the high position people, though I didn't like this idea.
All the horse riders wore "chapan" (coats of intricate design) and thick hats. The horse riders are called "chapandaz." It is a very difficult sport and some riders begin learning and practicing when they are children. Someone brought the body of a goat with its head cut off. The announcer read out the names of the horses, the riders and the owners. People were cheering the horses and riders. They often called the horse by its color, like "ghqra" (black) or "ghezel" (red) and so on. The announcer said the prizes for the winners would be a chapan and some money.
The game is played like this: the horse riders all want to get the goat, which weighs about 65 pounds or more. They lean down to the ground while they are riding their horses, and then they have to grab the goat and throw it into a circle or over a line. Sometimes they use a calf instead of a goat because it weighs more, but the traditional way of playing is to use a goat. In fact, the name of the game, literally translated, means "goat killing" or "goat grabbing."
The buzkashi horses are treated and fed differently from other horses, and given lots of exercise. They are very valued and some people will even trade their best cars to get such a horse.
Posted: 24 Oct 2009 10:53 PM PDT
Posted: 24 Oct 2009 10:51 PM PDT
The arrival of winter reminds me of those rainy days when I was going to school
Sleepless from the cold nights and the tup-tup sound of raindrops leaking from the roof
Cold air through the broken windows waking me up from my warm bed
Each morning my mother making me hot tea and naan (bread) with her kind, soft hands
Walking in my burqa through the long, narrow streets of our neighborhood
Holding my blowing burqa tightly to cover my school uniform from unwanted views
Folding it around myself to warm up my cold hands and red running nose
Bundling up my white pants and burqa to jump over puddles across a broken bridge
Cheering in my heart like an Olympic champion for succeeding in crossing the broken bridge
My burqa flying in the wind like small birds learning to fly in the sky
Slipping and getting my school uniform and shoes muddy before reaching the bus station
Pleased to arrive at school, like a lost bird returning to the nest after a long voyage
Being punished by the school's monitors for being late and wearing a messy uniform
Those freezing classrooms with hollow windows and doors giving me flu and fever
Finding raindrops on each page of my books, like the shabnam (dew drops) Spring brings to leaves and flowers
The cracked benches like rocks freezing in the mountain
Snuggling with my friends and classmates to warm each other against the cold
Praying for sunshine to melt our frozen muscles
The arrival of winter giving us a lesson on how to be strong against hardship
The end of winter giving us a blossom of hope for Spring
Friday, October 23, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
Afghanistan, a Dream
Posted: 18 Oct 2009 02:38 PM PDT
I was standing in front of the window in the small, dark living room, folding my arms against my chest, looking out at the drops of rain falling like the tears of a mother for her dead child, like a gift from the hell, like a curse from the devil. The dark, gloomy sky had a rhythm of pain, a rhythm of loneliness. The land was like a woman in black, shouting from the unbearable pain.
It was October 21, 2008. Taliban insurgents had pulled thirty Afghan men off a bus in southern Afghanistan and beheaded them after accusing them of being soldiers traveling in civilian clothes. The thirty were actually men going to west to Iran to find work. This was not only the end of thirty lives and their dreams, but the end for families and friends they had left behind waiting for them.
I wanted to step back and leave the suffering, but the portrait inside my heart was no different from that of the view. I finally pulled myself away and closed my eyes, trying to see deep inside and imagine a dream picture of Afghanistan. I saw a land, warm from the sunshine, little girls and boys flying white kites in an open green field, dozens of women wearing green, blue and red scarves and sitting under the shadows of a pine tree, giggling while their noses shined from the reflection of sunshine, a group of men chuckling together. I saw a young man in white holding a little girl's hand with a pencil, teaching her how to write. I looked to the right side and there was a masjid (mosque) in the color of light emerald. I looked closer and found a woman wearing green head scarf reading to a younger girl from the pages of holy Quran.
I saw the same land in the winter with snow falling down from the sky like pearls, covering the land like a piece of white silk. It was pure like a gift from Heaven, like a blessing from Allah. I heard something, looked up, and it was the Snow Partridge sitting on the dry branches of olive tree covered with pure white snow, singing sola, sola and sola (peace, peace and peace.)
My Sisters Golden Hair
Posted: 18 Oct 2009 02:37 PM PDT
(Eds Note: This story has been written from a brother's point of view, but is based on real events.)
We had a kind and lovely family. We were not so rich in money, but rich in love and kindness, in happiness and sympathy, more like friends than family members. My father was an engineer, I was one of three brothers and we had two sisters.
We were living in Mazar in a small house with one room, a bathroom, a kitchen and a yard. My father worked in a construction company. He was working hard and his target was to bring us up with education.
I was in fourth class when there was a change in the government. Everyone was afraid—what would happen? Then they announced on the radio that girls could not go to school; only boys could go.
My youngest sister Malia was eight and in second class and my other sister Noria was nine and in third class. We were sad because they couldn't go to school. But after a week, I told my father I was going to school even though I was sorry my sisters could not. My father said he was thinking about my sisters—what should they do? I told him I was sad too. "But still, tomorrow I am going to school; I can't wait, I can't wait."
My father was thinking; he didn't reply. It was 2:00 p.m. and I was tired. I went to the room and lay on the mattress and after a few minutes I fell asleep. I don't remember exactly how long I slept, but my Mom woke me up. She was worried and told me, "Ahmed, your father went to the barber."
The barbers shop was at the beginning of our street and the barber was my fathers friend, so I told my mother, "It doesnt matter, he always goes there."
"Yes, yes, I know, but this time your father took Noria and Malia to the barber!"
I was surprised. Lots of questions were in my mind. When my father returned, he told Mom: "Life is so dangerous, so hard. Taliban were in the barbers shop, warning him he couldnt cut people's hair and beards. If he does, they will put him in jail."
My two sisters were silent. They wore veils. My father asked my mom to bring him the scissors. She did and Dad called Noria first, "Come, my golden-hair angel." Noria and Malia both had long hair and my dad loved their hair, especially Noria's hair.
Now, Noria sat in front of my father. My father had the scissors. His hands were shaking. He combed her hair and then he started cutting it. He cut her hair like a boy's, like mine, very short and straight.
I was shocked. I thought, "Dad is mad, or something is wrong with his mind," but I didnt say anything. Mom and I just stood watching. Then Dad called Malia and cut her hair too. They both looked very ugly, very poor.
Then my dad told Mom, "Bring all of Ahmed's old clothes." Mom looked like she was going to cry for her daughters' hair. She opened an old box, but it only held some of my sister's old clothes, not mine. Our next-door neighbor had a son my age, so Mom borrowed his old clothes for my sisters. Then my father told me, "Come stand next to your sisters." I stood and Mom and Dad were looking at us.
The next day my dad didnt go to his work. He took me and my sisters to school. My sisters looked like simple school boys. My father told me to try to watch out for them.
We were happy like this, going to school every day, for six months, but after a while I began to get very afraid. One day my sister Noria didn't go to school. She stayed home because Mom was very sick. Malia went to school with me, but unluckily the teacher was absent that day, and boys were fighting in the class. One boy threw an eraser at the window and broke the glass, and it fell and hurt my Malias leg. Blood came from her leg. She cried and said that she wanted me, her brother, to come from another class but no one cared. The principal took Malia to the clinic and while checking her, the doctor told the principal she was a girl. "How is that possible?" asked the principal and he ordered the doctor to stop treating my sister.
After school that day, I waited for Malia but when she didn't come from her class, I felt worried. I went home and told my mother. She cried. We thought someone kidnapped Malia.
After Dad came from work, the principal arrived holding Malia by the arm, and accompanied by four Talib police. Her face was white and she was crying silently. Her clothes were bloody. The principal didn't say anything. My father told them, "Welcome." The Talib commander hit my father, and then all the men started to hit my father in front of our eyes. They hit him with big wooden sticks and cables and wires. One Talib hit Dad's nose and broke it, and blood was coming from his nose and mouth. I tried to rescue my father but I couldn't; I was very small. Before they left, the Talib warned my dad: "If you do anything bad again, we will put you in jail or kill you."
Dad was in the hospital for two months. During that time I went to school alone and worked with a tailor. Noria and Malia stayed home. When Dad got out of the hospital, he told us he wanted to quit his job and begin working as a teacher.
Yes, he wanted to teach us at home, and he invited all the neighbors to come and study. Half of the room we were living in became a classroom. Dad painted part of a wall black and it was our blackboard. Girls came to our house from morning until evening. Dad taught all school subjects. He never seemed to get tired.
One day the family of one of my dad's student's was moving from our street. She came to say goodbye to my father and promised she would try to visit in the future. Dad was talking to her until prayer time. A Talib carrying a cable was in the street to call people to come to prayer, and he saw the student come out of our house. She said to my father, "Goodbye, teacher," and the Talib heard it. He pushed at the door. Dad thought it was his student returning so he opened the door and there stood the Talib. He didn't hit my father with the cable. He just told him, "Come with me."
I saw my father with them in the car and then the car drove away. Mom was at home, and we all were crying. Neighbors came and told us, "He will be back, be patient." We waited until evening. It was dark. Mom went to my uncle's house to tell him what had happened. My uncle began investigating with his sons to try to find my father. The next day, he went to all the Talib police stations but no one had information about Dad. We checked all the jails and prisons, but he was not there. I kept asking myself: "What did they do with Dad? Did they kill him? If so, where is his body? If not, then where is he?"
What was his sin? It was that he was teaching girls. He quit his job because he didn't want his daughters to be illiterate. His second sin was that it was prayer time, and he prayed at home. He prayed for Allah, not for the Taliban.
Days and nights passed with no word from Dad. We had money problems and other worries, but still at nights, I taught Malia and Noria. I wrote on the blackboard of our wall. I thought of myself as my father.
After the Taliban regime, we were hopeful that Dad would be back, but he never returned. Malia graduated from school last year and attended faculty of journalism in Mazar. Noria is still in the 12th class. She wants to be an engineer. Her golden brown hair has grown back, and it reminds me of how much my father loved it.