Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Day After Thanksgiving

I think we were laughing at my Dari skills, or lack thereof.
The "day after Thanksgiving" feast. Can you find the pizza?
Chapatis, oshaq, and little meat burgers...
The family. I have about five pictures before this one. After each picture we took, they called another family member to join. I think this is almost everyone...
One of the classrooms at the little English school.

Noticeably devoid of Black Friday, football, beer, and leftovers, the day after Thanksgiving in Kabul was interesting. No, no, it wasn't apocalyptic like The Day After Tomorrow. There was no global warming, tidal waves, or ensuing ice age...just a nice afternoon eating lunch and discussing the future of Afghanistan with my students.

In the late morning, I traveled to western Kabul, home to three of my students, and shared a feast with one student's family. Upon arriving at the home, I was ushered into the sitting room to have tea and candy with all of the men; the women were in the kitchen cooking, but because I was a guest and a foreigner, I was an honorary man.

Waiting for lunch to arrive, I worried about how to sit on the mats on the ground without offending anyone. I thought, "Should I sit crossed legged or put my legs to the side?" "Is it bad to face the soles of my feet towards anyone?" I looked around the room at everyone, but because there were no women, I didn't know who to copy. I settled with sitting crossed legged and immediately regretted not being more flexible as my feet promptly fell asleep.

Lunch was overwhelming, delicious, and interesting all at once. First the mother brought out chapatis; huge flat, round pieces of bread. If I weren't there, everyone would have used this bread to eat with. They would tear a piece off and use their right hand lined with a piece of chapati to grab the rest of the food. But because they wanted me to feel comfortable, they brought out spoons and forks. After the bread came the oshaq, shallot filled dumplings in sour cream sauce. There was also a bowl of cooked wheat with oil on top, fruit, cookies, and meat. Uncharacteristic of a typical meal, I gathered, was the pizza placed in front of me. In addition to the utensils, they thought the pizza may make me feel more comfortable.

After we had sufficiently stuffed ourselves, we took some pictures and headed for the school where my students teach.

At the school, we met the other teachers. We all sat gathered around an ancient wood-burning stove, talking about music, professional teaching organizations, running a business and graduating from high school. I admired the smooth mud-brick walls and realized that most of the teachers in the room were still high school students themselves, save for the three teachers who were currently students at my university.

Unlike American high school and college students who have time to study, play sports, socialize, and be teenagers; these Afghan high school and college students are trying to make life better for their own people. Each day they attend school as students, then spend a great majority of the afternoon teaching English to people of all ages. After they finish teaching for the night, they go home and study their own lessons to prepare for the next day. Instead of worrying about fashion, pop culture, social life, or entertainment, these high school and college kids are concerned with how to re-build their country and educate their people after decades of war. And they don't just theorize and discuss ideas on how to solve their problems; they take action.

When asked if it is difficult to be both a student and a teacher, one of the boys said, "Teaching the English language to my people is important. English is an international language and having the skill [to speak] in the language will solve many problems for them. It may be difficult to work a lot, but I like to do it because of the result."

The other two boys who help run the school told me that they love teaching; that it is challenging and interesting. They believe that not only are they teaching language, but they are also teaching about the cultures in which English is spoken. "Learning to think in a different language is like becoming a new person," one of the boys said. And as they teach people to think in new ways, they are breaking down the barriers of misunderstanding. They believe that as they break down these barriers, life will get better for everyone.

Fortunately, the day after Thanksgiving I was reminded of a couple of things that I can give thanks for this year. Although I am thousands of miles away from all of the people whom I love, I have this amazing chance to learn about a culture that we, as Americans, know little about. For these ten months of my life, I am lucky enough to be able to eat oshaq with Afghans in their homes, talk about education with the future leaders of Afghanistan, and actually have a direct impact on their impressions of Americans. I get to live the reality of Kabul and see the truth with my own eyes. If I do nothing here besides drink tea and make friends, I have succeeded in building a bridge between Afghans and Americans. And that is something to be thankful for.

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At 12:00 PM , Blogger Kat Buckly said...


At 11:11 AM , Blogger Michael Lindsay said...'re knockin' me out here, kid. Keep up the good work.

I talk about you and your adventures often to Ben & Lyra, hoping to ignite their interest in the larger world.

Keep shining that light in the darkness, Jaala. The world changes one person at a time.

And for the record, I've always considered you an honorary man. :)

At 9:10 PM , Blogger Jaala Thibault said...

Thanks Michael. Can the "honorary man" title be attributed to the intensity of my burps?
Send me your mailing address in an e-mail...

At 1:05 PM , Blogger Lu said...

Listen to Michael. Tiny step make big changes. You are remarkable. I vote for the loudest burps for honoary man JAALA!!!!!!! Rmemeber when? Mom


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