Greetings from dusty Kabul! The sun is almost setting, and because of the dust, the sunsets are always pretty, a soft pink rising over the hazy brown hills.
This is another long posting – however, at the end is a link to some pictures! But before then, I would like to share with you a bit about life in Kabul. And notice I am saying Kabul, not Afghanistan, b/c I can’t speak for the rest of the country. But I would like to try to give you a feel for being here, and to give your mind something else to imagine besides just the negatives that you see or hear on the news. I was told that the news outlets are actually uninterested in broadcasting stories of positivity, of hope, of progress, so please know that to a large degree, what you are being told about Afghanistan is being manipulated. Why that may be is another conversation, but I think we probably know.
But to counter that:
- In the time I have been here (almost a week), I have seen only about 10 women wearing burkas. And that is not b/c women aren’t out. I have seen plenty of women out and about, even by themselves. This is dramatically less than before.
- Private schools are everywhere; there is a tangible intensity to catch up in education. It seems everyone is taking a course in something: English, computers, psychosocial training, gem-cutting, etc. They’re working on improving the quality.
- I saw a nicely dressed young woman walking with her husband in town;. He was carrying their small son and they were laughing together.
- A billboard is dedicated to: “To the rebuilding spirit of Afghans!”
- Grapes are in season, the most delicious grapes in the world. I saw them being sold in bags that I would have to use both arms to hold. 7 kg (15 pounds) of grapes in a bag, which costs $2!
- I also saw a station wagon filled to the ceiling and on the roof with bags of bright yellow apples. Fruit season is upon us! The pomegranates are as big as softballs.Tomorrow Fahim is getting melon, b/c he remembered how much we enjoy it.
- There have been no bombs or street demonstrations.
- Rows and rows of apartment buildings are newly built all over the place, so that finally there seems to be more housing for people.
- I went shopping at a store called Finest and bought some instant coffee, crackers, a candy bar and some cherry juice.
- People are busy, out on the streets working: selling fruit from carts, fixing cars, making bread, directing traffic, walking to school with their friends, driving a taxi. Life is vibrant and energetic.
- There is 24 hour electricity!
- The major roads are 4 lanes wide, and smooth asphalt. Side roads are being worked on. Traffic moves fairly smoothly, much better than before. The traffic police still direct the traffic using little red and white ping-pong-type paddles that say STOP on them. This morning, a policeman waved at the driver of my car and motioned as if to have some tea with him, and then he called out a cheery, “Good morning, madam!” to me.
So you can see that life goes on. Not to say that it’s Switzerland, but it’s more normal than most people realize.
Over the past few days, I have been spending as much time as possible at the House, working more closely with the teachers. Yesterday before I left, Fatima was working with some students on the Long Bead Frame [a Montessori material] and they were adding their double digit numbers, writing their answers with color-coding, and it was just fantastic to see the materials being used well. Fatima has gained so much experience; she was really doing a terrific job of guiding. I have also observed the older kids’ classes. They are quite impressive in their knowledge, and also in their composure and studiousness. It’s a very appealing environment of focus and effort. They presented some mini-researches they had done, on topics ranging from frogs, to the intestines, to electromagnets (Shahin Shah is quite the tinkerer and builds things out of scrap pieces of electronic stuff.) The teachers are interested in more resources for the older children, so if any of you know of any ideas of good simple websiteswith classroom activities especially in science and math, please let me know. Also, I have learned that the post office is functional! Someone actually sent a telecope and it arrived intact! (I hope the moon is full this weekend when I will try to show them how to use it to look at the moon.)
So if anyone has anything they would like to send via registered mail, here is the address:
HEWAD/House of Flowers
House No. 118 1st Street (left side)
I conducted a brief session with the whole staff, guards and everyone, reviewing the planes of development and the model that Maria Montessori developed (or introducing it to the new staff) so that everyone was on the same page philosophically and the House would have a coherent approach. It was a fantastic session, b/c everyone was able to immediately relate, and told instances where they had observed the children exhibiting the particular behavior that we were discussing, such as little Ramin’s repetitive stacking of objects, or 4 year old Maryam’s attention to small details, or 2 year old Shekib’s desire to sweep and help clean, or 15 year old Waheed’s effort to work and make his own money. It really helped the staff coalesce around why we do what we do, and why it has resulted in balanced children. I was very happy with the session and the staff’s reaction and engagement. They really get it.
It has been fascinating to hear from them the stories of transformation, and not just of the children. Fatima and Fahim and Qudsieh told me that Amjed, the new guard, caused some problems when he first came to work there. First, he had never worked with women before, so he would not even greet Fatima and Qudsieh and the other women. Second, he would fight with the older boys, and wouldn’t have anything to do with the small children. But the staff were patient with him. The women began to tease him, saying things like, “Oh, I wonder why Amjed says salaam to Fahim and not to me?” and Fahim worked with him on how to deal with the children peacefully and gently. On hearing this about Amjed’s history,I was really shocked, b/c what I had seen of Amjed was someone who would come and hang out with the children in their free time, playing with them, talking to them, and they obviously trust and like him. So apparently the House of Flowers is transformative not just for the children, but for adults too.
In contrast, I was asked to visit another city orphanage by the director of orphanages, the one who wants to expand the model of the House of Flowers. It is a giant orphanage for boys, yet somehow it felt small and closed and dark. I observed a couple of classes of the older boys where they have an on-site school, and it was terrible. Twelfth grade boys were sitting at benches appearing impassive, yet with a scarcely contained sense of tension, while the teacher sat or stood off to the side and read to them from the textbook. I saw three classes, and this was happening in each one. The director didn’t show up despite our appointment so I didn’t have a chance to talk to him about it, but he certainly knows, and that’s why he wants to change it. The good thing about the trip there was that on the way we stopped on the side of the road and I bought one of those giant, 15 pound bags of grapes. I took them back to the House and we had them for a snack. That whole bag was just enough for all 32 kids and the staff. The grapes were tiny, the size of marbles, but almost painfully sweet, tender and crisp. There is nothing like them in the world.
Razia brought home a form to register to take her college entrance exam! I can’t believe she’s going to college. She showed it to Fahim, and as he looked at it and explained how to fill out some parts, he nodded and said, “We’ll work on it tonite, after dinner when things have settled down.” It sounded just like something a father would say.
I have been trying to upload pictures to this blog for you, but it’s not working. So instead, if you go to this Dropbox link, you should be able to see a few. There is one picture in particular I hope you notice. It is a boy in a green T-shirt sitting by a very small boy. You can’t miss it. It is a picture of Shekib, age 1 1/2, and Waheed, who is 15 but in 12th grade b/c of skipping two grades. Waheed also takes computer courses and has a part-time job where they have already promised him a job once he graduates. I remember doing math with him using dried beans to count and add. When he joined the House he was about 7 or 8, and very rough, aggressive. Now you can see what kind of a person he has grown up to be.https://www.dropbox.com/sh/bvmw5cc616wr2ku/yAcEzZXcCl
Over the next couple of days at the House. I will be working on more advanced Montessori topics with the teachers. On Friday (the day off) I will be with the children and we will have time to look at pictures on the computer, talk, maybe watch a movie, and play, etc. And we’re organizing a trip to the Kabul Museum on Saturday for the older children. Later we’ll organize a trip to the zoo for the younger ones. There’s so much to do, I wish I had more time.