“Miss Afreen, we’ll pick you up in 8 minutes. We are currently at the PRT – picking up Miss Elizabeth,” Hamid told me over the phone. It was 5:30 AM, and I was about to head off on a 3-day tour of Bamyan’s more remote districts.
“Yup, I’m ready,” I replied. I’d been waiting for this trip for a long time. My work in Bamyan City was beginning to wane. I’d interviewed and surveyed people from every sector on women’s initiatives and development projects in and around the main city: business associations, local NGOs, international NGOs, government ministries, the governor, villagers, students, teachers, and on. Bamyan was beautiful, but ultimately very lonely. And as my work began to ebb – as there were fewer and fewer people to interview – the isolation started to weigh in on me. After this tour was over, I’d head back to Kabul to work out of the main office for my remaining few weeks, and spend my weekends visiting other parts of the country.
I received another phone call – signaling that Shuhada had arrived at my hotel’s gate. I strapped on my backpack, and headed out to the van – bleary-eyed and somewhat grumpy because of the early hour.
“Good morning,” Elizabeth, a civilian working for the New Zealand NATO forces in Bamyan, greeted me as I got into the back of our van.
“Very good to meet you,” I said, offering her my hand.
The New Zealand PRT (the Kiwis), are funding teacher-training projects (TTP) throughout Bamyan. A significant roadblock to progress in Afghanistan is a lack of professional teachers – ie. teachers that are educated past a basic level. In a number of schools I’d visited, I saw children teaching children – ostensibly with a gap of only a few years (or a single year) between them. The goal of the TTP was to provide teachers with a high school education, over the course of 3 years. If successful, the Kiwis hoped to extend the program to year 14, providing teachers with the equivalent of a degree in education.
Shuhada is one of several NGOs that the Kiwis are funding to implement these courses – and so Elizabeth was visiting Bamyan’s districts to speak with villagers about the program. I was glad to have her. A meeting I’d previously arranged with the Kiwis fell through – and I needed to hear their perspective before leaving Bamyan.
In a caravan of 2, we started off on our 2.5-hour trek to a district called Yakawlang. Shuhada’s pickup truck raced our van up and down mountains, kicking up heaps of dust wherever we went. We passed gravesites with women crouched over rough stones marking the burial sites of their loved ones, homes made out of mud with satellite dishes carefully balanced atop their roofs, little boys running alongside dozens of sheep, and women in pale blue burkhas riding on donkeys.
en route to Yakawlang
We made it to Yakawlang around 9, a valley enveloped in craggy red peaks. The main road was lined with dozens of shops made out of mud, with worn wooden doors. The houses and walls that protected them were also made out of a dried mud paste – which you could pick at and break off with your fingers. We drove through a river, and crawled up a steep hill to Shuhada’s office/guesthouse. I got out, stretched my legs, and surveyed the terrain. I was caked in dust and sweat from the car ride, and probably smelled unpleasant. Even so, I couldn’t wait to get started.