An American University in Kabul

(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.

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http://www.auaf.edu.af/

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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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 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”. 

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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. 

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About hotmilkforbreakfast

I am a researcher, a writer, a former soldier, an academic and a lifelong learner. All text and pictures are copyrighted and are not to be used without express permission of the author.
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16 Responses to An American University in Kabul

  1. Pingback: An American University in Kabul | hotmilkforbreakfast

  2. I always enjoy reading your blog, especially positive posts like this one. It’s easy (for me at least) to think of Afghanistan as some sort of black hole in terms of really not knowing anything about it so I really appreciate your thoughtful and educational posts.

    • Thank you very much. This is precisely why I started this blog. Many people ask me why I spend so much time in Afghanistan and upon self-examination I realize it is because it is a very nice and quite interesting place. There are some dark spots, but I think we spend too much time on those, without realizing the rest of it is really quite good.

  3. I am so glad to discover your blog and read these kinds of stories different than the usual fare. Keep the posts coming. It’s interesting to discover that some projects somehow manage to succeed in this forbidding place and I wish them well.

  4. I checked the university website and was shocked by the tuition fees. They are higher than in all European countries (except the UK).

    • Contrary to popular belief, everything is more expensive in Afghanistan. Part of it is security, but most of it is the land locked nature of the country and the lack of infrastructure. It is ironic that one of the poorest countries in the world is one of the most expensive as well.

      • But the incomes aren’t high, are they? Does that mean that this university only recruits its students from a small layer of society?

      • This is the way it is with most things in Afghanistan. The cost of EVERYTHING is higher than just about anywhere else in the world. Whether it is bread or college education, things are expensive. And AUAF tends to attractive upper income kids. Unless a community gets together and finances a promising student, that is.

  5. Nathanial says:

    Really enjoyed finding this blog and your other subsequent posts about Afghanistan. I have some more in depth questions for you because I have a possible endeavor with moving to work at AUAF, mind hitting me up on the ‘old school’ me [at] nwlynch [dot] com?

    THanks!

  6. Qais says:

    As I believes Afghanistan is more expensive country to compare with Asia!!! And American University is really expensive. but, the service which they provide is excellent.

  7. This is wonderful, thanks so much for posting this! Here’s some recent news regarding AUAF which put its influence in perspective for me.
    http://www.wsj.com/articles/frederick-starr-dueling-mosques-and-an-american-beacon-in-afghanistan-1421451475 May I have permission to use some of your images in a group project we’re working on? Thanks, John

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