Some of the Things I’ve Learned in Afghanistan

It is debatable as to whether the roads are worse when it is dry and dusty and you can’t see anything because of the haze, or when it has just rained and they are flooded and you can’t see anything because of the mud.

Not all runways have to be made of asphalt. At Faizabad the runway is made of sheets of corrugated metal, linked metal plates of the kind used by militaries for quickly establishing a hard-surface runway. This one was apparently laid down by the Russians in the late seventies, and is still in use today.

The Afghani people have a great sense of humour and often tell stories against themselves. One told me of the time he was in Australia as a graduate student. His children had heard about red light cameras, but there are no working traffic lights in Kabul so they weren’t sure what the term meant. One day he was out driving with his family when he came to an intersection. He checked and saw there were no cars around, then drove through against the red light. There was a flash and he told the children, “see, that’s how it works”. He roared with laughter as he told me this story. “Two days later I got an envelope in the mail, and a fine of $350. I wasn’t expecting that!”

One morning on our way to the Ministry of Education we came across a very large carpet laid flat on the road. All the vehicles were driving over it, and so did we. I asked the driver, “why was there a carpet in the road?” “Well,” he replied, “some people do not want to wash their carpets, so they lay them in the road and as the cars drive over them so they kick out all the dust. It’s a local technique!”

There are a lot of very ornate new houses being built in the city. They tend to have bright colours, and are often embellished with gothic columns and other features. They stand out from the ‘normal’ houses in the same way that ‘McMansions” stand out in Canadian neighbourhoods. Here in Kabul, rumours of ill-gotten gains mean that this type of design is often referred to as “Narcitechture”.

Educators are educators are educators. The conversations I have had with teachers, education directors, Ministry staff, and so forth have all revolved around basic questions. How can we improve access to schools for children, especially girls, in rural areas? How can we improve the quality of the teaching in our schools? How can we provide the resources needed for an effective education system? These conversations echo those I have had with educators across Canada and in many other countries.

I am no longer sure what to say when I am asked if I like Afghan food. At our meals I look for things like sabzi chalaw (spinach and rice), ashak or manto (two types of stuffed dumplings), pakawra (fried vegetables) or borani badanjan (eggplant with tomato and yoghurt). These are wonderful! Our Afghani interpreters, however, always order things like hamburger and fries, or pizza. So which cuisine is Afghan?

In Afghanistan, whatever the time, wherever you are, there is always time for a cup of tea.

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