Monday, 12 November 2007

More school visits and back to Kabul

(Posted by Paula Monday morning - email and text to say Sarah is safe and well in Kabul...)

I am sitting at Taloqan airport …. amazing place! Lost in the dustlands of Takhar, a strip of sun baked earth stretching into the scorched horizon. In the distance clouds of dust mark the progress of turbaned men riding to the bazaar on donkeys. Afghanistan at its most rugged and desolate.

The Paktek flight is landing here just for Jane and me and will fly us down to Kabul…. but sitting here I cannot imagine that this will really happen! Our journey this morning took us through the heart of morning rush hour in Taloqan. A life time away from the commuter lands of England, here the roads are packed with activity, but no pinstripes or vehicles. Hundreds of men rushing to the bazaar in hoards. Some on donkeys, others dragging cattle or goats to sell in the bazaar. Young boys push huge wheelbarrows of fresh cauliflowers to market - I guess they are no older than 10 years old, with strained faces and weary arms pushing their heavy loads. Not for them the carefree moments of childhood.

We spent yesterday visiting schools. Our first stop was Toot Mazar Kabuli –a school twinned to Bradfield College. The Bradfield students had gone to so much trouble to prepare letters and photos of their lives and a stunning wall hanging and Bradfield crested clocks made in DT. All of this so happily received – as well as the bags of fun presents which caused so much spontaneous joy. So good to see the children’s faces breaking out into laughter as bouncy balls went flying into the air, balloons popped and hooters sounded. AC is building 4 new classrooms so that no children have to study outside any more.

After lunch we visited Sari Sang High School. The girls here are amazing and it is so sad to think of all the restrictions they face in their lives. The things they ask for are – a very high wall so that there is the chance that they will be allowed to play sport. This wall is too low and in such a conservative area – and one where we are restricted in photography of the girls - the male family members won’t allow sport. They also beg for computers. Some have taught themselves English and they are so motivated. They say that they will provide money for fuel to run the generator if we can provide more computers. They have one for the whole school now and so want more.

The teachers ask for help also. Many of them come to this village from the city. They are young and motivated and want to work but as females, travelling to the village is very difficult. A village benefactor used to pay for a bus for their travel but no longer does so and they are saying that soon, unless given help with transport costs, they will have to give up. As the evening draws in, I watch these lively, clever, inspirational teachers and students disappear beneath their burkhas into anonymity, their lively spirits squashed back into the prison of conservatism which seems to have no way out.

They give me beautiful gifts, letters and educational posters which they have made about their country and its traditions, to give to the St Catherines girls back at home. I am really humbled by these women and girls.

So much to do and to work towards helping these schools …the needs are great but as one of them said to me –“drop by drop a river is formed”.

Arrival in Kabul

Now safe and well and back in Kabul. The plane did arrive and 2 Top Gun looking pilots appeared – almost surreal, this tiny airplane, gleaming white in the sun, the pilots in immaculate crisp uniform with dark glasses and trim hair- in this bowl of hills and dust! We sat right at the front jammed up against the back of the pilots’ seats, looking at all the instruments and the rough dusty runway ahead. As we took off huge billows of dust filled the air and I saw the drivers waving goodbye to us …watching us leave for the comfort of our lives back home. Must be so hard sometimes.

Great flight and so good to be a step nearer home. Greeted by Gul Noor at the SCA compound who has been there waiting for me at the end of every trip I have done since 2001 and is like a father to me. Always so wonderful to see that friendly face after travelling across the wilds of Afghanistan!

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