(I must apologize for the quality of the photographs; friend Zok was not present on this trip, so we depended on my dubious photographic skills to document…)
I recently took a trip with my colleagues to talk to a man who works as a professor at a university in Kabul. Actually, The American University of Afghanistan, in Kabul. We arrived at the pre-appointed time, went through rather stringent security, and met our person on the steps to the building where they have an office and teach classes.
For those that do not know, the American University of Afghanistan is located at the old “American High School” in the Darulaman neighborhood, which is a southern suburb of Kabul. These are temporary digs for the university, as a brand new campus is being constructed across the street on a 47 acre compound that is alleged to be beautiful and ultra modern. But for now, we met our professor at small and crowded, yet beautiful and peaceful compound which effectively belies the misperception that this is the middle of some war zone while they are there. This idyllic scene is notable not only for it’s grass, trees and flower beds, but it is also interesting to note that Afghans walk together, boys and girls, with some daring girls going without head covering.
We toured the various buildings, looking at classrooms, but we are inexorably drawn to the smells emanating from the dining hall. Entering the building, we are struck by the noise, smells and cleanliness. Students and faculty look up at us curiously, pausing momentarily in their meal and conversation to wonder what these new people are here for. We get in the lunch line, and note that there are both American and Afghan menus. All of us select the pilau, which is saffron colored rice with raisins, carrots, and chunks of delicious lamb. It comes with a salad and delicious bread, still steaming hot from a local bakery, with ash on the back. This bread, for those who do not know, is called na’an, and is the very pinnacle of breadmaking art.
I sit with my colleagues and the student who is escorting us, and immediately start to dig in, as do my fellow colleagues. One of the cool parts of eating Afghan style, is that they use na’an as their silverware. It comes baked together in strips, which you break off and use as an implement to scoop the pilau into your mouth. Everyone makes a point of commenting on how well I do eating this way, and I refuse offers of western style silverware. What they do not know, is that my Grandfather taught me to eat soup and ice cream using bread and soda crackers. As an aside, eating home-made ice cream using saltines as spoon is the pinnacle of desserts. But I digress.
After our delicious and filling lunch, we sleepily walk over to the library. The library was built by funds donated by Ann Marlowe, a fairly well known counter-culture journalist. Anyone interested in her rather interesting and nonpartisan (to me) point of view can surf on over to her website at: http://www.annrachelmarlowe.com/ . I am impressed by her frankness and accuracy in opinion.
Entering the library, I was absolutely stunned by the beauty of the carved wooden doors and lattice-work that greeted us. All absolutely gorgeous, and all hand made by local artisans encouraged by The Turquoise Mountain Foundation http://www.turquoisemountain.org/. I almost didn’t enter the library, as I was so involved with examining these works of art.
But then I did.
I suddenly realized that the real beauty; the real treasure that was in this library was not in the exquisite doors. Or even in the small, but encyclopedic collection of books in this rather modest building. The real treasure was in the rows of young Afghans, young gentlemen and ladies, who were reading and studying books as if they were precious things, on the locally produced, hand made chairs and tables that filled the library. I was suddenly struck by emotion, and had to hold back tears as the enormity of what was happening here. One of my colleagues said softly: “This is the future of Afghanistan”.
Note the controversial subject matter of some of the books in the library
Looking at this, I believe that there IS an objective greater good. I am fortunate to be afforded the chance to serve my country and to do my best to help Afghanistan.