I spent the last two nights at the House of Flowers with the children. It is always a treat to stay there, because to be a part of those boundaries and transitions between day and night is very special. Guests never get to see that part, where the little ones are hunting for their toothbrushes before bed, and you can hear the older ones staying up and chatting with each other across the beds while the smaller children fall asleep fast. I love going into their bedrooms and seeing them so peacefully sleeping.
I stayed in a bedroom that is up on the third floor, on the roof of the House. In the morning I opened my door and I could hear everything happening at the start of the day. I love listening to the voices from downstairs, a nonstop lively bubbly sound. What’s so nice is that all the voices are cheerful, chatty, conversational, laughing. Someone calls someone else to help. Someone laughs. Someone else is singing a little song. The spontaneous singing of a child is a very sweet sound, and I am so glad to hear it because it is a sign of feeling relaxed and happy.
The house staff has the whole morning routine down to a science. And it’s not easy with 2 shifts of school for both boys and girls (all schools run a 3-hour morning and afternon shift b/c of the shortage of schools and teachers), requiring different mealtimes and escorts to and from school. But the staff makes it look easy:
5:30 – older girls get up for prayers and get ready for school. Boys have prayers too, but maybe they go back to bed.
6:00 – older girls and smallest children have breakfast
6:30 – older girls and smallest children walk to school,escorted by Amjed
7:30 – older boys and middle girls get up and start their day, breakfast, getting dressed, etc.
8:00 – teachers arrive and begin working with older boys and middle girls
11:00 – boys get dressed for school and have lunch
11:30 – boys leave for school, escorted by Amjed
12:00 – older girls and smallest children return from school with Amjed
12:30 – older girls and smallest children have lunch
1:30 – 3:30 – older girls and smallest children work with teachers 4:00 – boys and middle girls return from school with Amjed
7:00 – everyone has dinner
8:30 – everyone goes to bed
So you can imagine that the House is quite a buzz of activity. Somehow it all works: everyone always gets fed well and on time, their clothes are clean, they are bathed and groomed, they do their homework and they play. And they sing in the morning! For 35 children, this is not trivial, especially in a place like Afghanistan. The children have to be pretty independent; there is not always an adult telling them what to do. The children remind each other to brush their teeth, or wash their hands, etc. But the adults are always nearby if they are needed, to arbitrate a dispute, or to tell a little one that his shirt is dirty and he should change it or that they need to go clean their nose. These children are certainly not spoiled. But they are fully loved and safe and taken care of.
One fun thing from my two days there was that I taught the older girls yoga early on Friday morning. Right on time at 7:30 there was a knock at my door and Maryam arrived, then Razia, Shukria, Nadia and Firouzeh. They were giggly and eager. I told them a very little bit about yoga, that it’s thousands of years old from India and that ‘yoga’ means to connect the body, mind and heart, and that breathing is very important. So first we practiced breathing deeply and slowly a few times. Then we all took off our scarves and began some asanas. They quickly got into it and discovered its challenges. It was quite beautiful to see them in the graceful poses. We did about 20 minutes or so, and then we ended with shavasana, lying on the floor and completely relaxing. I did a little guided relaxation with them as they lay there, to relax their whole body. I could see them relax, their feet flopped to the side and their breathing deepened. It’s a magical experience, and sure enough when I had them sit up slowly, their eyes were wide with a look that said,’ What was that, where was I?’ I have found that kids love the shavasana part best of all and they always request it.
Amanullah Nasrat, the head of HEWAD, has been here a few days to work out management details. He and Mostafa worked together way back in the days of the Taliban, in 2000 and 2001. HEWAD is his organization that has been our partner, running the House of Flowers so well for these 10 years. He has been an impressively trustworthy, dedicated partner and participant with the House of Flowers, often making heavy personal sacrifices to make sure the House would survive, as well as finding the fantastic staff that have made it work. He and Mostafa have been great partners over the years. I had not seen him for 6 years, so we had a nice time catching up. I told him I was very curious about Shahr-e-Nau, the part of town where Mostafa and I used to circulate. He offered to take me, along with Dr. Inayat, so one afternoon we drove there, just a few minutes away from the House of Flowers. I got to see many of the places where Mostafa and I used to go: the Herat Restaurant, the Assad Bakery which had delicious cookies, the park, the nearby mosque with beatiful blue tile mosaic. The little restaurant where we used to go for ice cream had been replaced by a fancy shop with more mirrored windows, and the streets were more crowded and blocked off. Nasrat and I walked down Flower Street, the famous street for handicrafts and rugs, where all the foreigners used to buy things. As we walked and shopped, I slowly realized that there was not a single foreigner in sight. It used to be that there were always foreigners shopping down there. But it seems it was only me! I wasn’t a bit bothered by it; it was just something interesting. Nasrat said theforeigners are all scared, but I didn’t have a single bad experience or feeling there, and in fact people on the street were more polite than they are in places like Nepal or India where people stare or have less of a sense of respect for privacy.
And so, Kabul continues to work its charms. I feel like I have gone back in time, like I am in a different age, despite the fancy buildings and cell phones. Here there are still carts pulled by horses or donkeys – or by men, their hands wrapped in cloth to protect against the chafing of the wooden handles of carts piled high with bags of rice or cans of oil. Other, luckier, men stand by carts laden with bananas or giant pomegranates. And then there are the men who walk with long strides, their heads wrapped in enormous, spotless white turbans with a length of cloth hanging down loose over the shoulder. Often, the streets become filled with girls in their black uniforms and white scarves; they pour out of school and overflow onto the streets since the sidewalk can’t hold them all. There are men waiting for them outside of the schools – not to do them any harm, but to sell them candy and ice cream and other small treats that kids love. The girls cluster around them to buy a snack for the walk home. The girls love their local school. Razia said it was recently painted pink with brown trim, she has 41 girls in her class, she was on the basketball team (!), and they have a computer lab. And that’s a government school! Certainly there are still schools that are in terrible shape, still meeting in tents donated by UNICEF, or sitting on the ground as our kids used to do, taking a small mat from home to sit on. But her school is really a sign of progress.
As Dr. Inayat (from HEWAD) says, it’s not that nothing has changed here, it’s that there was so much to be done that it will take a very long time to strengthen the new things like the government and education system. He is very hopeful about the future, and it’s so refreshing to hear such talk. I will keep adding pictures to the Dropbox link (from the last posting), so keep checking in on that if you want to see some new ones. Tomorrow we begin our first training of staff at the city orphanage. Next posting, I’ll let you know how it goes. It’s a really big step here, wish us luck!