After the emotional intensity of the meeting with the Colonel, an invitation to meet the Canadian Ambassador presented no qualms! It turned out that Mr Philip MacKinnon, the Acting Head of Mission at the Embassy of Canada in Afghanistan, is originally from PEI! Indeed, he also has a strong education connection as his father was the Principal of the Prince of Wales College prior to the formation of UPEI. Naturally we discussed the changes in Charlottetown and the province since his family moved away in the late 1960s.
Mr MacKinnon was pleased to see UPEI involved in what he saw as a key Canadian initiative in Afghanistan. He repeated the mantra I have heard everywhere I have travelled – the importance of education to the future of Afghanistan, and the three priority needs: to increase the overall literacy rates, to get more girls enrolled in school, and to develop higher quality teachers. I assured him that although our project only directly focuses on the third of these, the others would be indirect outcomes.
The Ambassador had heard about my blog, and asked me if I could use it to pass on his best wishes to his friends and family back home. I am pleased to do so!
From the Embassy we returned to our office and had a final team meeting. We then went out for dinner. This was a special experience as it was hosted by our lead partner in the Teacher Education Directorate, Mrs Wardak, at her home. I’m not sure what we were expecting but those expectations were exceeded before we even entered the door.
As we approached the gates we were stopped by an Army checkpoint. This was unusual, as most checkpoints in the city are manned by the police. We were cleared through, and went in to the house. Here we found we were not the only guests. About twenty people milled around, including guests from USAID and other agencies involved in teacher education. A number of senior staff from TED were there, and also some senior ANA officers who were related to the host family. Now I understood the Army checkpoint!
The power was out, so we sat around and chatted in a large living room illuminated with candles and calor gas lamps. After a while we went to another room, where a local band had set up its equipment. A small generator hummed in the background. The band regaled us with traditional Afghan music, using a variety of instruments. Some, like the hand drum and a long necked sitar, were familiar to me. Others, like a 20 string mandolin type instrument, were not. The music was unlike any other I have heard, and we sat for some time just enjoying the sounds.
After about half an hour we were called back in to the main room, where a table had been laid for dinner. Younger family members kept replenishing the dishes, which truly made the table groan under their weight. We sat and talked and ate, and ate, and eventually staggered back for the second half of the musical performance. This time the music was faster, more upbeat, and soon a number of the men were dancing. I watched but did not participate, the footwork looked far too complicated for me!
We sat on cushions around the room, drinking juice, watching the dancers, listening to the music. It was a still evening, warm and clear. In the garden we could stand and look up at the stars. It was a lovely way to spend our last night in Kabul.