Monday, 4 May 2009

Sunday May 3rd

I hate turbulence! Matthew and I left Kabul airport in a PACTEC plane, the only two passengers on board. It was a grey morning with thick dark clouds over the mountains and drizzle falling over the city. Amazing to have the plane and two pilots all to ourselves...though perhaps mildly disconcerting as to why!

Afghanistan from the air is usually an arid and desolate place, but the rains really have made a difference and it is like looking out over a different land. Everything so much greener, rivers and lakes full.

Before we reach Jalalabad, we watch the blackest clouds creep in around us and the turbulence starts...last time this happened I described it as like being a butterfly in a washing machine and I stand by my description......really unpleasant!!

Jalalabad is just a handful of miles from Torkham, the gateway to the tribal areas of Pakistan. The Americans are here in force and the airport we will use to land is now a military base. We are in a less friendly place now than Kabul. We are warned by the pilots that we have to make a very steep descent as a precaution and sure enough the plane banks hard to the left and we nosedive down towards the runway. Lined by vehicles of war and razor wire, we make our approach to Jalalabad airport. There we are dropped and have to make our own way the 2 km road to exit the base. By absolute chance there is a blond man dropping his friend off to take our plane back to Kabul. He is an American and has his two sons aged 2 and 4 with him...all three are blond and dressed in shalois chamise and it seems surreal to see them standing in this inhospitable place so far from home. They are one of only two expat families in Jalalabad and very kindly offer us a lift to the perimeter.

We immediately notice a change in atmosphere as we walk out into this Eastern province of Afghanistan. We are ushered into our car and told to lock the doors and off we go to the office. Lovely to see all the drivers again who used to take me round the schools here and in and out of Pakistan in the early days. We meet up with SCA members, Lucy, Leslie and Ollie and Raees Ahmadzi from the Afghan team. We have 3 local cars so as not to stand out too much along the road and head off to Roghano school.

It is like being in a different country compared to the North. The landscape is flat and fertile. The homes are large compounds with massively high adobe walls and look very sinister and unwelcoming from without....but judging by the tree tops protruding over the walls, they are havens within. We head off road and soon arrive at Roghano. Twinned to Marshgate and Brighton and Hove schools, Roghano houses 1300 boys and 1200 girls in 2 separate shifts. AC has just funded 7 new classrooms here and the twin schools have provided computers, science kit, sports kit, sewing machines and a generator.

The new classrooms look amazing and have been painted with murals of Afghanistan. The well is up and working. The boys are anxiously awaiting our arrival. We are here to open the new cricket wicket, funded by MCC through AC and to give coaching to the boys...they are totally overwhelmed that Raees, their great cricketing hero, is here at their school to give coaching. Matthew gives out Spirit of Cricket clothes and caps and we distribute the Fairstead Trust funded equipment.

The wicket looks great and we open with a demonstration by Matthew and Raees......and there follows a wonderful morning of cricket with several balls being hit right over the boundary wall and into the dust beyond. Lovely to hear Matthew explaining the meaning behind The Spirit of Cricket and discussing sportsmanship with these boys.....most of whom grew up in refugee camps in Pakistan, having fled the years of fighting...and it was here that they learned to play cricket.

I visit the girls classrooms and distribute the letters and gifts from Brighton and Hove High School and show them a film about the school . It is a very conservative area and these girls are not allowed to play sport. None of their mothers had an education. We are not allowed to take photos of the older girls. When asked about the 3 most important things in their lives, they say Religion, education and community. They long for better trained teachers and a chance to go on beyond Grade no girls have managed before...but they say they will not leave the school until grade I can already see the determination in these girls as I have seen in so many on my travels.

The head teacher asks us to his village for lunch. Feeling incredibly tired as this trip has been so full on! So was an utter delight to drive through the fields into a village by a stream with beautiful trees and to see before us a leafy square, shaded by mulberry trees, spilling their fruit on the cool ground. Laid out in a square were string beds covered with red tapestry cushions and in the centre, huge ochre Afghan carpets. Such a peaceful and timeless scene and so welcoming in the heat of the afternoon.

Lunch soon arrived and was laid right down the centre of the rug and we all sat together, with children milling around us and little faces peering through the gateway, discussing families, age, travels and life.....our hosts, the two brothers in their turbans and grey beards, with huge smiles and wicked eyes, described their 27 children to us of whom is doing a masters in Thailand.....all marvellous and extraordinary and once again a true example of Afghan hospitality. Delicious breads and okra and beans, cucumber and tomatoes and coriander fresh from the fields

We are sad to leave but security means we should stay nowhere for too long. It had seemed so calm and hospitable, sharing food outside with those wonderful characters......and then as we drove back through the strange adobe walls and closed doors of the villages, we saw a huge cloud of dust ahead and a black hawk US helicopter rising out of the dust just metres ahead of us. It circled above our cars, so low, so near and for one moment I wondered if they were going to fire, but they moved on and did a practice landing just beside us engulfing the area in a sweep of dust. So menacing.

As I write..electricity has gone out and I am plunged into darkness in this rather bleak and lonely guest house. Cricket camp tomorrow.....wonder how on earth it will all work out many kids and so much organizing....and so much that could go wrong! As Raees mentioned over supper...”oh yes....people have heard Afghan team is coming may be thousands will turn up to watch...but don’t worry, everything is under control!”

1 comment:

sxm201203 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.