Reunions, and Teachers Day

I’ve been here in Kabul for 2 days now, having arrived on Thursday night, and now it’s Saturday evening. This is my first access to internet since then, and so I have to start this by thanking all of you who wrote a response to my first posting. Your strong encouragement and support were tangible and very meaningful to me. Thank you so much. I will warn you, this is a long posting, because the past 2 days have felt like 2 months and there’s so much to tell.

So, here I am in Afghanistan! I wish I could adequately communicate what it has felt like to be here even in just these 2 days. Arriving at the airport and seeing those hills was as I expected it to be, breathtaking and tingling, even moreso in the fading light of dusk. Passport control was smooth and orderly, and before I knew it I was out, walking the long trek to the waiting area at a restaurant outside, b/c due to security, no one can come in the airport. It was nearly dark when I got there, and suddenly, Fahim’s smile was emerging in the darkness and soon the others circled around: Razia, Nadia, Waheed, Ramin and Shahin Shah. There they were. I cannot tell you what that moment was like, to see those faces that were now nearly level with mine, to hug them after so long, and to feel a rush of emotion that seemed to encompass the profundity of the flow of life. An onslaught of memories in a moment, realizations of the present and the past at the same time.  That moment will always be with me. We sat inside and had juice together and I stared at them, listened to them, saw how calm and mature they were, their smiles shy and yet glowing.

I was driven to the compound where I am staying; it’s at PARSA, on the Red Crescent property. (Due to security risks, I cannot stay at the House of Flowers, much as I would prefer to.) I am in a small cottage-like building. The area is outside of the city a bit, but it’s very safe, largely b/c the house next door is the stray dog rescue facility and there are about 100 dogs there. Imposing. I keep my distance.

I slept solidly that night, with a sense of relaxation. The next morning I threw open the curtains to see where I was, and again the scenery took my breath away. Brilliant blue sky behind dusty hills with folds that look as if they’ve been draped with a sand-colored shawl and decorated with mud homes. It’s so austere that it’s soothing.

After a 20 minute drive through the city (I’ll tell you more about Kabul in another post.), Dr.Inayat and Fahim met me at the door, and I left my sandals by the door and walked in. Immediately that special feel of the House of Flowers was upon me, a sense of peace, safety and fun. When I walked into the classroom where the children were on the floor playing, all stood to greet me as they always do in Afghanistan: “Asalaam alekoum!”  As I began saying hello, Razia pointed to an older girl, apparently new, and said, “This is Maryam.” I shook hands with her, and then suddenly I realized this was the Maryam, our Maryam! I jumped with a start, unable to believe that this tall girl was little roly poly Maryam, and everyone laughed at my reaction. Unbelievable.

And so the day with the children began. They sat me comfortably on a cushion and brought tea, and we all began talking. Or at least I did the best I could, apologizing for my rough and forgotten Dari. There were so many children who were new for me that I was worried about learning all their names or getting to know them, so I told them that later, I would spend time with each one individually to talk.

They caught me up on things. I learned about the continuation of their committee system, such as the Health Cmte, Discipline Cmte, Monitoring and Evaluation Cmte, the Resolution Cmte (problem-solving). It’s a great way to get everyone active in the running of the House. In addition, there are Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner groups that rotate monthly and are responsible for helping with meal prep and clean-up. The Bank of the House of Flowers is still running, and they also make and sell beautiful simple wooden bead necklaces in their small shop. They told me who was in what grade, and who had skipped grades.

The rest of the day was spent hanging out. I had my one-on-one time with 21 of the children, 12 more to go! We opened gifts, they played outside, Razia gave me a beautiful henna design on my hand, and then it was time for me to leave. The day had been full of fun and reunions, and as I had a chance to be with them, I saw that their cooperative, loving spirit was still very much present. I was struck by how many older, bigger children there were. Many are teenagers, 14, 15, even 18 years old, whereas when I left the oldest had been 12. So the age range is much wider now, since there is little Ramin who is 4 or 5, up to Razia at 18. But they all get along so well, and the teens are phenomenal leaders. It was a shock to hear from Razia that she will graduate from high school in just 2 months, and is preparing to go to college at Kabul University! She is stunning in her maturity and care for others. She is everyone’s big sister.

The next day, Saturday, was very special. Thursday had been Teachers Day, but they postponed their celebration so I could be there, which was so thoughtful of them. Over the years, they organized very nice celebrations for things like Women’s Day, etc for all of us, o I knew this would be wonderful. And by the end of the day, after witnessing the children’s warmth, generosity, independence and creativity, I was more convinced than ever of the power of the Montessori-based approach we started with and which the staff has continued so well.

When I got there on Saturday morning, I saw Fatima, our very dedicated teacher for the past 10 years, and Qudsieh, a ‘new’ teacher (only 6 years!). It was another joyful reunion. But we were quickly shuffled off upstairs because the children were setting up the downstairs classroom for the day’s celebration. As I caught up with the teachers, the older children were running back and forth, whispering and plotting. In the meantime,  I enjoyed watching two little boys (Abdul Rahman and Shafiq) who were in the corner playing pretend with some stuffed animals, carrying on imaginary conversations all by themselves, and it was beautiful to see that no one interrupted them or bothered them. They were completely in their own world.

Finally it was time, and the group came to escort us to the seats of honor where we could see the table decorated with flowers, long colorful paper chains draped from the ceiling, and balloons hanging everywhere, with Happy Teacher’s Day! written on them. The girls were dressed in their finest clothes, bright colors and fancy scarves, and even Shakaib, the two year old boy, was there, sitting just as politely was everyone else as he was passed lovingly from one doting child to another, each one kissing him on the cheek and giving him little hugs.

A flow of presenters began, first with a prayer and a bit from the Koran, then one by one there were poems, songs, duets, essays, all written to the glory of the teacher : a teacher is Light, teacher is like our mother, teacher leads us in life, the teacher is the source of our knowledge. They also acted out two short dramas, self-composed of course, which were entertaining and impressive. One was about a girl whose father wouldn’t let her go to school, until one day he fell sick and had to go to the doctor. The doctor wrote a prescription, but then discovered that no one in the family could read. He got angry, and then finally the father saw the light and agreed to send his daughter to school. (wild applause!)

At the end they formally presented Fatima, Qudsieh and me with gifts, clapping and congratulating us with each gift. To realize that the students had planned and run the whole affair made it all the more special. Fahim then announced that in honor of the day we would have a tea treat: cookies and Nik Mohammad’s special milk and cardamom tea. Such a fancy celebration! So much excitement and joy! They brought out the radio and played Afghan music and some of the children danced while everyone else clapped and roared with laughter. The day was so intensely joyous that it felt as if the rest of the world didn’t even exist. We were in our own little bubble. All the important things in life were happening right here.

Tomorrow I will tell you about the intense interest in trainings about how the House of Flowers works and Montessori,  I’ll give you more details about life in Kabul, and i’m working on posting pictures too…

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