Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Before the trip

In four days I will be on a flight from Charleston to Washington, DC, to London, to Dubai and then to Kabul, Afghanistan. I will be teaching there at the American University of Afghanistan.

This journey started many years ago when I met someone in DC who was from Afghanistan. I thought at the time 'wow' and 'sounds exotic' and 'where is Afghanistan.' I'm still thinking 'wow,' but now I know it's not only 'exotic' but rugged and filled with fierce peoples. And I know it's located at the start of a great adventure.

I've thought about exotic places since, including Afghanistan, and dreamt of going and doing my part to save the world. In fact, I studied Arabic for two years in preparation for going somewhere 'Arabic.' I was also part of a mini-study group reading up on the Middle East, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Islam.

And then, in April, I went to a rug show put on by Arzu - a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to provide sustainable income to Afghan women by sourcing and selling the rugs they weave. Education of the women and their children is part of the program. I saw the rugs, wondrous designs and colors, but more importantly I heard the stories. One woman finally earned enough so that she could buy a veil; in her village without a veil she could not go outside. I asked about the men: how supportive were they, what did they think about their wives and children attending school. The response was one that I hear over and over again. The men (as well as the women) want better lives for their children and they all realize that only through education is a better future attainable. (Arzu means 'hope' in Dari.)

Well, that was the hook. And what was I going to do about it? Just when was I going to go to Afghanistan?

Nothing like a good talk to oneself.

I emailed Arzu and offered my services. I may have gone a bit gaga with my enthusiasm for their efforts and my proposed contribution to said efforts. Anyway, I didn't hear from them.

I knew there was an American University in Afghanistan so I went on line and found their web site. And, they needed someone to teach Physical Science. I have degrees in the sciences and have taught Chemistry for some years; I sent off my resume. I did not expect to get a reply.

But I did. They wanted to talk to me over the phone from Kabul.

Omigod, omigod. My office mate, I'm sure, thought I was having either a heart attack or an orgasm.

That was in late April this year and I was hired a few weeks later. Probably because I was the only one who had applied. I'm guessing there weren't a lot of people clamoring for the chance to go to a war zone.

And I've had over 3 months to try and get used to the idea that I'm going to Kabul, Afghanistan, for 10 months to live and teach. Omigod.

Enough of that.

I want to share some of my experiences in Kabul, but also some stories about the country and its people.

Here's rugged and fierce:
Ahmad Shah Mahsoud

Mahsoud was a genius of guerrilla warfare, drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980's and was his country's last defense against the Taliban onslaught (Junger, S., The Lion in Winter, National Georgraphic Adventure, March/April, 2001). He was assassinated September 9, 2001.

Panjshir Valley

The Panjshir Valley was never captured by the Taliban.

Oops! The importance of air power.
(The Spanish Army in Afghanistan, courtesy of the Air Force Association.)


  1. Penny,

    I wish you well as you embark on this 10 month journey to teach, i hope it will be interesting and you will learn a lot to impact it on your fellow friends, i was also in Tehran, Iran for sometime, was amazing and interesting, maybe the next place you will love to come is my home country Ghana.

    Wishing you all the best and take care.

  2. Penny,
    Wishing the best on your new adventure!

  3. Hi Penny
    I hope you have recovered from the plane trip and are settling in well. I am sorry that I was not able to attend "the last poker game" and want you to know that I will miss you, but I am so glad that you have this opportunity and I am really looking forward to keeping up with your blog - as well as learning how to "blog." Brave new vocabulary.
    PS: Now I'll try to figure out how to add my picture.

  4. Hi Penny,

    I'm checking regularly to see if you've had time to write to us. No pressure-----but hurry up and tell us everything!!!! : )

  5. Penny,

    Just needed to explain that I'm using Jim's google account-----or maybe it's his ghost?! :)


  6. I apologize for the lack of posts, but they're coming. Still getting my 'sea legs' as it were - jet lag sucks!!!

  7. Just testing that I can add a comment

  8. Hey Penny! Delighted to get real words and real pictures from "the other side!!" Keeps you from nebulously floating above a kind of dusty map in my mind. Love your detailsl!!! I am looking forward to your impressions of your students and the learning environment. How far are you from where you teach - must you travel by car with driver? What do you hear of what is going on in the country, and how do you get your info? Have your colleagues learned to understand/speak the language? How is that skill acquired? How much freedom to travel do you have given the necessity of the chaperone/guard/minder? Do you feel sequestered? I have been eagerly awaiting word from you and was both delighted and a little embarrassed to find that you have been posting regularly, but I was looking in the wrong place. I love this blog and this adventure of yours!!! Take care! Del

  9. Del, Thanks for your kind remarks.
    I will answer all your questions, eventually.
    Right now I'm trying to organize (the secretary in me) my impressions... trying to present them (and the experience as a whole) in some kind of orderly fashion.

    But to answer one question: Yes, I feel sequestered. We all do. It's the worse thing about being here...the restrictions on our movement.

    We do not go anywhere without a car/van with a driver and an escort. We do not go in any place, without an escort accompanying us. We do not merely stroll down the street.

    The main concern is kidnapping and the risk of that is high.

    But the 'good news' about this country far outweighs the 'bad news.'

  10. You need to Blog sooner. How else would we know if you were kidnapped. Certainly not from the P&C. Love your pix and stories...also your place at the bridge table.