Wednesday, 15 October 2014

11th October 201 - A Day in Worsaj

We were up at dawn to film the sun rising over the mountains and the moon slipping away behind the great range of the Hindu Kush. The mornings are a hive of activity in Worsaj. The narrow streets are filled with shepherds taking their animals to pasture. Women and children are out collecting water in large yellow cans, and the fields are already busy with farmers harvesting and ploughing. All in the most beautiful morning sun which sends long shafts of light through the dust.

Abdul Basir looks remarkable surrounded by the snow peaks and vast plains. We watch the women at Farzana's house making bread.

One woman flattens balls of dough on a giant curved cushion, stretching it out in to huge rounds before pricking it and handing it to the other woman. She flicks water across it and leans right over into the fiery bread oven and slaps the dough against the inside wall.  

When it is done she removes it with a cloth and throws it into a basket. I long to take it out and smother it in honey...but instead it is time to walk to school.

We follow Farzana along the mountain path, her tiny  frame hidden beneath her deep blue burka which catches the light and makes her look as if she is floating within the billowing folds of blue.

She is framed against the mountains as she walks and looks so small and insignificant against this rugged but beautiful backdrop.  Children are arriving at school, climbing steep slopes and approaching from every direction. Some have garlands and flowers for me and they come up and put them over my head and into my hands as a thank you for the school.

We have fresh trout and plates of meat stew for breakfast...the trout freshly caught and delicious, the meat stew slightly less welcome!
Then into the classrooms where I have great fun celebrating Girls Day with balloons and asking the children about their lives. They then write on cards what they think education can do for Afghanistan...and they all long to create a better future with peace and security.

I head off to visit Dehpaayan Community based School. This started last year and is just two classes of children. It is held in a simple but rather beautiful house, which has been given to the community for use as a school by one of the teacher's fathers. Both teachers are young women who studied at Bibi Zainab School. One of them, Soraya went to teacher training college at Bibi Ayisha, which was built by AC and is used as a TT centre after the school closes each day.

 The other girl, Halima went to Taloqan University and studied chemistry and physics. She was unable to find a job, but the SCA school consultant heard about her and made her a teacher at the CBE. She is delighted and the children all say she is a wonderful teacher. Things have really changed here. The women are so much more confident than they were just a few years ago. And they are happy to have their photographs taken.

The next school visit is to Bibi Zainab, a girls' school for over 700 pupils where we have just completed construction of a new classroom block. The school looks fantastic and wonderful to see.

Last stop before lunch is Kemyan School.

This is also a Community based School, but it has been recognised as a formal primary school by the government now and goes up to grade 8. As we arrive, we see a line of children waiting for us with posters with hearts on saying “Wellcom Sara Fane”.

As we walk up, they all start clapping and putting garlands of flowers over my head. In clouds of dust, they surround us in a cheerful crowd and make their way to the classrooms. This is a new school building completed by AC last year. I visit every classroom giving out balloons and chatting to the children.

We walked across the bridge for lunch in a village house overlooking the river. Huge plates of meat and rice were produced and platefuls of tiny fried qazalak - birds like swallows- their heads still on with their eyes popping out! The heads are a delicacy. These are the birds which are caught in giant nets. The men hide behind a wall with their nets and young boys beat further down the valley, sending flocks  of these tiny birds flying into the direction of the men, who are waiting to throw their nets up. We struggle our way through the mountains of rice and meat and the birds, rewarded by plates of freshly picked sweet pears, grapes and peaches.

The day has been condensed because of our late arrival to Worsaj and we head off to another school, Dihmeeran, after lunch. This is a CBE we have visited each year and all the children study outside. We have started to build a new school for them. Once again we are greeted by lines of children with their placards and garlands and cheers. They come into the courtyard and there are speeches of thanks. Then they all go wild with balloons and I reflect on the fun we bring and the utter disruption!

The new building is well underway and it feels tremendously exciting to think of all those children going from studying out in the dust, to secure and brand new classrooms by next year. I wish I could bring all the donors here to see.  We are the guests of the headmaster for the night. He takes us to his home which overlooks the mountains and river. The house is full of guests who have stayed after Eid and there are 30 women, children and babies in the room with us. In the evening light we all sit round on the floor, the men in one room, and women in the other.

 We show photos of our families to them and do our best to talk in pigeon Dari. I play games with the children. Supper comes and again, huge plates of rice and meat and we vow to live off vegetables for the rest of our lives! Then they bring in another special...sweet sticky white rice in a great pile, with a hollow in the centre filled with oil. We have not one ounce of room left and we must eat on!

It is a very lively household and we are dirty and exhausted and long for sleep. Eventually crash out in the midst of it all, watched intently by all as we prepare for bed. There is no idea of privacy here, no one has any privacy and so it is not something that is really understood and it is completely natural for them to watch our every move. A very cold night on the floor being bitten by something!

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