“There’s a place in Bamyan – where five rivers melt into one.”

The lunchroom had cleared out – and Mr. Abdul moved from his table to sit across from Sarah and me. A car in the parking lot outside was playing qawwali (see video below), and the rhythmic beat of the tablah drifted in and out of the room.

“We’ll take you to see what’s left of Ghulghula – a city that’s 1000 years old.” Then his face soured, “It was destroyed by Genghis. Genghis,” he muttered angrily.

“But Band-e-Amir, the remains of the Buddhas… they are all beautiful. Very, very beautiful,” his fingers carved out the shape of each of these places in the air.

I searched for the words in Urdu to express my excitement – but couldn’t come up with them, “Meh bhoth… meh bhoth excited hey!” I said foolishly, with an odd pump of my fist in the air. The gesture was completely out of sync with the poetic moment.

Mr. Abdul laughed and imitated me.

“Are my survey questions okay?” I asked.

“Everything except the questions about the government,” Mr. Abdul replied, “Shuhada is not political – and we don’t want our program participants to be questioned about the government.”

I’d developed an informal set of questions on gender inequality and reform in Afghanistan – which I plan to ask Shuhada’s program participants in Hazarajat, both through interviews and anonymous surveys. I want to know what they believe their biggest challenges are. And whether these grassroots initiatives – human rights trainings, planting fruit trees, providing livestock, learning carpet-weaving etc. – are actually effective in addressing these challenges. I really want to know if they believe these programs contribute to community security.  And if they think the international community has a constructive role to play in promoting gender equality.

Sarah and Mr. Abdul then told me that I couldn’t tell anyone any of the specifics of how and when I’m leaving for Hazarajat – for my own security. I nodded.

I walked across the gravel yard to my office, back to my desk, slouched in my chair, and sighed. I started back up with editing. Editing their website, editing their reports, editing their letters, editing their grants. Editing, editing, editing. My eyes grew numb, and my mind kept drifting.

I’m so much better working on my feet.

I can’t wait for Bamyan.



About Afreen

I'm a Masters student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I'm spending the summer in Afghanistan working for a women's rights organization, and documenting their initiatives in central Afghanistan.
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