“The Afghan government has done nothing for us! They haven’t even planted one tree! If it were up to Karzai, we would have nothing!” an irate woman in a billowy white headscarf yelled – throwing her hands up into the air.
“Afghanistan is like a beggar! We keep begging the world to help us! We can’t help ourselves!” another shouted from the left side of the room.
I was clearly amongst a boisterous, uninhibited bunch. I’d travelled to Karte-e-Sulh, a community on the outskirts of Bamyan City, to speak with women involved in literacy projects and community development committees. The meeting was in a tiny room at the local women’s center. Thirty, fierce-looking women sat across from me on worn red carpeting, their pale blue literacy workbooks laid out in front of them.
“So what do you think about the international community’s presence in Afghanistan?” I asked the room.
“We like it!” a woman in sparkly, black shalvar-khemiz exclaimed, “They are the only ones that have done anything for us!”
I’m never sure if I should trust that response – and I’ve gotten it often in my interviews in Bamyan. I am – of course – a foreigner, asking Afghans about foreigners. I’d prefer to ask these questions – at least in larger group settings – via anonymous surveys, to ensure more honest answers. Afghanistan, however, has an illiteracy rate of about 70%, and a female illiteracy rate of approximately 80 – 90% (CIA world factbook and USAID). So, I have to operate under the assumption that poorer, adult women in Bamyan are illiterate. Or – as with the women of Karte-e-Sulh who have just begun to learn how to read – that they haven’t achieved a level of literacy sufficient to fill out these surveys. In the anonymous surveys I have been able to conduct (with high schoolers, teachers, and school administration), I’ve received varied responses on the international community. Including the following pictoral depiction of our presence in Afghanistan:
According to the detailed description kindly provided by the student – the big, bald, bearded, evil-looking man with the huge, hairy ears represents the international community. The bags are full of potatoes – basically the only crop they plant in Bamyan City. The truck with the bags represents the international community smuggling Bamyan’s potatoes out of the country. So essentially – we’re here to steal potatoes.