Last Days

It has been a full moon over Afghanistan for the past two nights, glowing yet hazy with the everpresent dust. Also during the last two days, the leaves of the few trees in the area have changed to a bright yellow. They are like flames against the soft brownness of the landscape. These two changes seem to be purposefully marking the end of my time in Afghanistan. I am leaving today. Yesterday as we drove through town on our way to the House of Flowers, I felt a wave of poignancy at every beautifully tiled mosque, at the three pretty brown horses briskly pulling carts, and at

the young girls walking to school in small black and white bunches. Every shop drew my eye whether it was selling motor oil or old-style teapots; I wanted to take pictures of everything. I tried to peer down every alley that branched off the main road, the tiny roads that I find so attractive. with rough mud walls enclosing people’s homes. I felt like I was gazing hungrily, trying to inhale the spirit of Afghanistan, the true Afghanistan underneath the angst and anger. After my month here I still haven’t understood exactly what it is that entrances me so about this place. All I know is that I had to take several deep breaths to keep the tears in their place. I couldn’t even let myself think about leaving the House and everyone in it. I wanted to just treasure this day with them.
Since I last wrote the days have been holidays and unusual schedules. Over the three official first days of Eid I stayed at home one day, and then went to the House the next two days to hang out with Razia, Nadia and Shukria as well as the two babies and the reduced staff. (The other children had left to visit their relatives over the holidays.) Those days at the House with our small bunch were filled with eating snacks, lounging around, putting henna designs on our hands, and watching TV.

Razia doing a henna design on Nadia’s hand.

TV was a big part of the days. One day after lunch, (Nadia had made cauliflower and french-fries) we all sat together in the cozy corner room with a small TV where the men sleep. After we gave lots of compliments to Nadia for her cooking, we watched a replay of the late night show from the night before. The show was hosted by a very angular skinny man with a beard, and he had three guests on : a glamorous Afghan woman singer visiting from Germany, a chubby comedian, and a handsome tae kwon do star. The show was very slick, with comedians and a fancy stage set and a small band, and a background scene of the nighttime city lights of Kabul like it was Paris or New York or something.
The last TV shows I saw six years ago were dredged up from the ‘70’s, with rainbow disco lights and men with long sideburns wearing big-lapeled white polyester suits. In contrast, these shows that we watched this week are modern and sophisticated. They have 31 channels, and many of them are actually owned by the various warlords whose names you’ve probably heard of: Dustam, Hekmatyar, etc. Where it gets really weird is that you can watch a slick show like that and then step outside your house and buy bananas off a cart that is being pulled by a donkey. This country is fast becoming a country of contrasts, with so many competing influences. I think even just recently it used to be a lot more homogenous. I wonder what this will mean, if the country becomes fractured along different lines that it already is.
On Monday, the teachers came in for half a day, and since the children had not yet begun to return it was the perfect opportunity to do some intensive work with the teachers before I left. I had written about 20 pages of curriculum plans, ideas and Montessori material usage, so we went through all of that. In particular, I emphasized the Fundamental Human Needs. I felt this was critical b/c Afghanistan has such fundamentalist tendencies that I wanted to offer a new and painless (read: non-threatening) way to suspend their judgment of other cultures and religions . By understanding that all human beings everywhere are all meeting the same basic needs, just in different ways, it is easier to let go of the tendency to claim “we are right.” The teachers were receptive and very very intrigued by this approach, especially Qudsieh, and I think they can really take it and run with it, at great benefit for the students.

I was then extremely excited when suddenly someone appeared with all of my Montessori charts from my training! After 6 years, I had assumed they had been completely destroyed or lost. So their appearance from the basement was a priceless opportunity to show the teachers the charts, now with their enhanced understanding. I couldn’t explain all of these teaching materials in the limited time we had, but I hope they absorbed enough to get some ideas. My time with them this month has been so rich and rewarding, and I am really looking forward to hearing about their progress both in their own classes as well as in their work of sharing Montessori with the city orphanage. My only regret is that I can’t figure out a way to be able to fully dedicate my time to this work here, which is what I really want to do.

Tuesday, today, was when the whole staff came back to work. Everyone was fresh and rested after the holidays. The children trickled in slowly, since school was still on holiday (not officially, but the teachers hadn’t returned) so there were 5 of the boys with us. It was wonderful to hear the voices of the children and to all be together again as a staff. In fact, during lunch a woman named Zalekha, a cook and cleaning woman with us for years, just stopped by to visit. It was great to see her, and again I was so touched to see that she wanted to come back and visit her friends here. She was always extremely shy and quiet, very humble, illiterate, suffering from asthma, and even today all during lunch she barely spoke at all, yet here she was, just glad to be there among us, and we were glad to see her.
We all devoured the eggplant in sourcream sauce and french fries which the cook Rudaba had made, and then we all each had a pomegranate. The whole process of opening the fruit and extracting the tasty pomegranate morsels was a production in itself, as everyone had their own special method. We were all laughing and teasing each other. (Fahim gives some pomegranate to Fatima. Fatima eats some: “Mm, it’s sweet.” Fahim: “I’m sweet!”) and the boys were laughing at us, I’m sure.

Fahim with freshly extracted pomegranate.

After lunch we had a brief staff meeting in which I said my formal thank yous and goodbyes to them for all the extra work they did during my visit, and for all the ways they helped me on this trip. I told them how proud I am of them and their work, and emphasized to them that the House of Flowers is like a mini-Afghanistan, with people from all over Afghanistan together in one place. Through their example of working together, eating together, solving problems together, and being happy together, they are showing these children what is possible – that it is possible to live together peacefully and joyfully. I reminded them that they are a part of an entirely unique undertaking as the only Montessori-based school in the country, and that they have seen how it benefits children. Thus their responsibility also lies beyond their work in the House of Flowers, to share what they have seen, experienced and learned about children with their friends, their neighbors, their families. And so their work is not just for these 33 children, but for all of Afghanistan. The future of the country is uncertain, as always, but as long as these people are there doing this work, I will have hope.Even though I am leaving, our connection here is strong, and the staff will keep us well-informed about things. I will have further updates over coming weeks and will post to this blog. In addition, we’re working on keeping the facebook page updated (yes, I have caved in, but ONLY for the sake of the House of Flowers!! 🙂  ) and we will also be putting up a newly revamped website hopefully within a couple of weeks. We want the website to contain more than just the House of Flowers information -we want it to be a forum of hope where all of us can engage, contribute and interact, just as we would do if you came to visit the House of Flowers and joined us for tea. So stay tuned and keep in touch! Thank you to all of you for all of your energy and enthusiasm over this month here. It has been a true pleasure being able to share my time here with you.

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