Famous playwright and poet, William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Today I returned to the ANA literacy classroom for another interactive exchange of information. This time I was bearing gifts that included notebooks, pens, and pencils for the students. This immediately got the ANA soldiers attention when I entered the classroom.
The class just finished conducting a religious ceremony celebrating their Prophet’s birthday and commemorating his death, which happened on the same day but 62 years later. Omid, my interpreter, said it would be appropriate to say “Maloot Sharif” to the class during my introduction out of respect for their Prophet who is responsible for giving Muslims their Holy Quran. So in my best Dari pronunciation, I practiced my Dari and started my interaction with the class. Today’s classroom was filled with more than 100 students/ANA soldiers. Almost every chair was filled and they were lined against the walls. All eyes were upon me as they listened to my questions. Ten minutes before going to the classroom, I jotted down some questions concerning education. Although I am pretty self-confident and comfortable speaking to them, I am not ready to engage in a theological discussion with them as I did yesterday with the ANA Mullah and Religious Officer. Instead I am trying to stay with non-threatening themes so I do not upset them or endanger myself. I don’t think this is the right forum to have a religious debate, nor do I care to. Instead, I want to focus on topics that I can learn about their viewpoints and perhaps I can resolve some of their burning curiosities too.
I approached the first soldier and inquired on whether he had had a chance to graduate from school. Due to the many years of war, he said his village was destroyed and he was unable to finish school. For an instant, I was silent trying to imagine what this soldier lived through in having his village destroyed. It’s so hard to comprehend these tragedies and sometimes I am at a loss for words. We can read about it in books, but to experience it first-hand is incomprehensible. Despite not being educated, he still seemed to understand the importance of a formal education. Through the interpreter, he said: “If we have knowledge, we are going to have eyes, we can see everything. If we don’t, then we are going to be like blind.” He also surprised me when he agreed that everyone was entitled to an education including females. I really thought there would be some participants who disagreed with the idea of females attending school. But this was not the case today. Prior to class, I had jotted this question down and was prepared to make the argument of why females should be allowed to attend. I was going to detail the importance of having midwives to help with one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates at birth along with having female doctors, teachers, etc. But I couldn’t help thinking about this man’s village being destroyed and it was distracting me from my thoughts. I also recalled a proverb or a variant of it, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” This was so true with this soldier. His eyes were pale and dull looking and lacked any luster or sparkle, almost to the point of hopelessness. It’s the same look I have seen many times on the faces of the Afghan villagers. Is this what happens after enduring 30 years of war?
I directed my next line of questioning to another soldier concerning their thoughts about the Taliban burning down the schools and preventing people from being educated. In response, he said: “The real Taliban aren’t the ones who are doing this. Instead, it’s the people who train in Iran and Pakistan” who are burning down the schools. He also added: “A real person, a real Muslim, a real Afghan, would not do that.” In this class, this seems to be a recurring theme where the students say the neighboring countries are training Taliban and insurgents who are responsible for the destruction of Afghanistan. To be cont’d …….