Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Considering Possibilities

Recently, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine about my expectations for my teaching fellowship in Afghanistan. He asked, "are you ready to die there?"
I was taken aback by this question because I hadn't considered the possibility. Yes, I am going to a war zone. Yes, I am going in the capacity of an educator, without the protection of arms or bunkers or body armor. Yes, I am aware that the Taliban likes to kill and/or kidnap people who find it necessary to educate women. But still, I hadn't really considered the possibility that I may die there. After all, people live there! They are making a life everyday in the very city that I am about to move to. I imagine that I will make a life for myself there too, granted it will be of a short duration, but I imagine myself as part of my community, teaching teachers and students, learning about the culture, speaking the language, and making friends.
I think my friend was just as surprised when I answered, "Yes."
Although it may seem selfish to some that I am willing to die while teaching abroad, I still am. My family and close friends understand that teaching, and teaching those that need an education most, is my passion. I would rather die doing something that I was meant to do, something that makes me feel alive and useful, than die stagnant and unhappy. For me, living is doing things for others that matter; it is making a difference by contributing something positive to the world; it is making each day important and remembering that the world is bigger than ourselves. I don't know who said it, but these words always ring true in my head, "All of us are going to die, but many of us never get the chance to really LIVE." I teach, I do crossfit, I paddle, I volunteer my time so that I can live.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

From the Classroom

We are from…

 (From the perspective of students in my Spring 2010 ESL 134, writing 5 class. Written By: Justine, Vitaliy, Alejandro, Karlo, Carla, Yong Bo, Ziqing, Kai, Yean Su, Shi Yang, Mytrinh, Runlan, Luiz, Milton, Il Kweon, Daniel, Ji Yeon, Cuong, Amber, Itsuki, Pu Xiao, Maria, Joaquin, Edgar, Koyuki, Daycy)


An imaginary and uncertain world,

Where the streets have ups and downs,

Where illusion can be the hope,

To overcome the next day.


The end of the world,

The land of kiwis and beautiful nature,

A little island in a big ocean,

beautiful sunsets and endless beaches.


The boundlessness of the Qingzang plateau,

The deepness of the East China Sea,

The surging of the Yangzi River,

The constancy of Taishan Mountain.


A country on the other side of the world,

as flat as a pancake,

A small country that feels so big,

Where there are more bikes than people.


A place shaped like an "s,"

Green immense fields,

Ranks of straight bamboo,

Ancient pagodas,

Fragrant frankincense.


The biggest city in the world,

With the most extensive population,

At night it looks like a mirror reflecting the stars in the sky.


A new land,

Where wine can be turned to gold,

And the elders can see,

Just like they aren't old.


A place that is touched by the Atlantic Ocean,

Where the sun sets between the "Two Brothers" mountains,

And people clap saying goodbye to the day.


A place where things can appear out of nowhere,

I am not lying, I used to live there!


Sitting on the bank, shiny sky over the river.

Looking for the stars.

Watching the current.

Feeling the Earth.


We are from…


A world of yellow,

The yellow of paddy fields,

Where the farmers worked hard together,

a long time ago when my country hadn't developed yet.


A simple and mellow life,

A valley full of sadness,

A valley of two nationalities,

Sad and happy faces.


Beautiful nights like butterflies,

Where love is pure and sincere like silk.


We are from…


Interminable weekend parties,

Where the dance floor was the universe itself,

Wearing black pants, a black t-shirt, and black shoes,

Always believing I was the king of the night.


Friday nights in front of her house,

With  flowers, asking her

How to make her happy

A place where hearts can be destroyed

So easy like a flower.


Red and extreme hot food,

Sweet and spicy,

Full of memory,

How can I forget those spicy foods from my hometown?


We are from…


Every morning waking to the sound of cold wind,

Hands were cold when I touched the water,

I felt my feet freezing walking in the snowy grass everyday.


We are from…


Sounds breaking feelings,

Parties all night,

Sad noises and tears falling.

Quiet indifference,

stars of neon lights.


We are from…


Chatter like a sparrow,

Bronzed by the sunshine,

Hide and seek wherever you are,

Until darkness fell.


We are from…


Complex things and happy memories

buildings and cars like a monster,

monsters that are dark,

monsters that roar,

monsters that paint the sky gray.


Going to the night club with my friends and classmates,

singing and dancing,

meeting new people,

going home at 4am.


We are from…


A place where peace was not common those days,

R-15's were the loudest crying sound,

But I didn't mind,

Because I have peace on the inside.


We are from…


Happiness and sadness,

Past and present,

Dreams of a bright future.

On the horizon, there is hope.


We are from…


Not wanting to show our sad, drawn faces,

Longing, to see our homes again.


But for now…

we are from here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rethink Afghanistan

Rethink Afghanistan


"Mountains can never reach each other, despite their bigness. But humans can."

–Afghan proverb


"Education is a long-term solution to fanaticism."

–Colonel Christopher Kolenda, U.S. Army


Less than two days after I had been offered a teaching fellowship in Afghanistan, I walked by a huge banner on the Santa Barbara City College campus that read: "RETHINK AFGHANISTN!"


It was nearing the end of the 72-hour grace period in which I would need to accept or decline the fellowship I had been offered by Georgetown University (administered by the U.S. Department of State). I had been weighing all of the positives and negatives since receiving the offer. Here is a peek into my thought process: positive—living in, and beginning to understand, a place that very few non-military Americans would ever experience; negative: suicide bombers; positive: learning Dari (a language closely related to Farsi which is an official language of Afghanistan); negative: being kidnapped by the Taliban; positive: participating in nation building by teaching; negative: living in a hooch (bomb shelter); positive: lamb kabobs.


As you may have guessed, when I walked by the sign "RETHINK AFGHANISTAN," I yelled back, "I haven't stopped thinking about it for 48 hours!" The Vietnam vets sitting next to the sign shouted "Right on sister!" I smiled and continued the walk to my office.


Later on that same day, I accepted the teaching fellowship.


As poetic justice has it, I will be moving to Kabul, Afghanistan on September 11, 2010. My fellowship will last a school year (10 months). Officially, I will be known as a Senior English Language Fellow (ELF) (yes, go ahead and make all of the elf jokes you would like to for the next year!) with the U.S. Department of State. The funding for the fellowship is provided by Georgetown University. My job is threefold: to teach English at Kabul Education University, to develop a Masters in Teaching program at said University, and to observe the students (teachers) from KEU teaching at their schools and help them develop English curriculum and improve upon their teaching methods.


Now, before being extremely worried about me, I hope that you will also rethink Afghanistan. Let me explain.


I, just like you, have read countless reports and articles about what is going on in Afghanistan for the last nine plus years. The images I have in my mind of Afghanistan are of a war-torn country trampled on by occupying forces. It is a place where violence occurs everyday and the allies are losing a battle that is more complex than they know. Among the rubble and mish mash of this war and occupation exists a people, the Afghans, who are trying to carve out a semblance of life in an increasingly unsafe reality run by a corrupt government which the occupying forces have put into place. It is a mess, and an ugly one.


You most certainly are thinking: why are you going to Afghanistan? What do you think YOU can do to make a difference?


Consider what Malalai Joya, a woman and the youngest member of Afghan Parliament recently said: "Today the soil of Afghanistan is full of land mines, bullets, and bombs—when what we really need is an invasion of hospitals, clinics, and schools for boys and girls."


I have long believed that through education, nations are built. If I can help one teacher educate his/her students in a more effective way, or I can show one Afghan that the American people (me for the time being) supports them and believes in their ability to get their own nation back on track, then I think that I have contributed something positive.


Nations are not built quickly; they are built piece by piece and across decades, even centuries. Nations are constructed by many individuals making small changes that they believe in, and then asking others around them to make small changes too. As Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Hopefully I can contribute some of my own knowledge and love to the citizens of Afghanistan who are forging a better future for their country.


What is more important, in the long run, is that I am going there to learn what it is really like for the Afghan people. I will try my best to listen to the true stories of the people that I meet, because through all of these stories we can all get a better picture of what it is like to live in Afghanistan at this time; through listening to the stories of the people we can walk in their shoes for a moment. If we can walk in the shoes of those less fortunate than ourselves, we may begin to wish for them to have shoes similar to our own.


And so I will go, day by day, rethinking Afghanistan each step of the way.