call yourself an educated man.”
a buffet breakfast in 2006 with two Afghan teachers at a conference for Middle
Eastern educators (TARA) in Bahrain. The
man was young, maybe thirty, the woman, Hamaira, more seasoned, with a married
daughter of her own. She had told me of her marriage at the age of 11, how she
was in the garden playing with dolls when her father came to fetch her to meet
her new husband. While they had grown
close over the years, she was quick to distinguish her marriage from her
daughter’s, which, with a slight straightening of the spine, she described as a
“love marriage.” Her daughter lived in Atlanta, far removed from her but also
from the fighting in Kabul. “It is good,” she said definitively.
had endured refugee camps and had very little in the way of material belongings
insisted on giving me her headscarf when we parted, an act of generosity that I could not
refuse, but which hurt to accept. Years later, it
still smells of her perfume.
man had a permanent look of concern. He
thought the ideas being exchanged at the conference were all good ones, but, he
tipped his head, unfortunately not much use to him as his students had neither
desks nor pencils. These were only a couple items
on a long list of what had gone missing in Kabul as the result of war. No electricity. No clean water. His grandmother had no legs as a result of an American land mine.
sitting here having breakfast with me?” I asked.
plant this bomb,” he said matter-of-factly, evidencing a maturity of reasoning
not present at home where educated folks had actually debated the
merits of calling French fries “freedom fries,” a few years prior — a phrase
still in use at that time (and still in use in some restaurants even
today). Americans know how to hold a
grudge and spread it with ubiquitous contempt from border to border.
conference had sponsored the attendance of these two teachers. They were both classroom teachers and
trainers of teachers in a school system in which many children go to school in
2 hour increments because of their work schedules. Not the teachers’ work schedules, the kids’. With so many of the men absent from families
after decades of war, basic provisions were a joint effort. As we sat trading
stories, the young man said something that made Hamaira flare. “Ah, you say
these things, and yet when you ask your wife to bring you a glass of water, you
do not look her in the eye or speak her name. You wave your hand and say, water.
And you call yourself an educated man,” she sniffed.
expect?” The young man replied with a shrug. “I live in my father’s house.”
hearts and minds of people with such deep traditions suddenly looked to me to
be a foolish, misguided and painfully arrogant notion, dreamy, magical fiction,
transient as freedom fries.
extent, we all live in our father’s house.
How we find common ground is never along path carved out by one party.