American Major's Secret Afghan Meeting

The questions and answers lobbed back and forth like a leisurely game of badminton, with the interpreter pausing play every few minutes. The meeting lasted about an hour. Afterwards, the only man at the meeting – the husband of one woman who stood above them and frequently interrupted - showed the soldiers an extra room in his home where the school could be held. He also indicated he expected to be paid rent for the room.

Nothing was decided, nothing was concrete. The soldiers encouraged the women to work with the Afghan government so they become self-sufficient and could make the changes for themselves.

"It's amazing how long it takes just with the interpretation time to have a conversation," said Erickson. "If we spend more than an hour or two in one place, we often times kind of feel a little bit of pressure. We need to go, we need to move on so we're not being a target or drawing attention to that particular location. So a lot of times it takes multiple meetings to do what we think we should be able to accomplish in a short period of time. So you kind of always have to factor that everything is going to take at least twice as long."

Americans Enjoy Enthusiasm of Afghan Girls for Education

Back near the base, life for young girls in Qalat almost appears progressive compared to life in Shajoy. A girl's school offers education to more than 1,500 girls from grades 1 through 12.

As the Americans, weapons in hand, march through the streets en route to the school, a male American soldier quietly says that visiting the girls' school is the favorite part of his job.

"Whenever we walk past the boys' school, they look like they are fooling around," he said. "But the girls want to learn."

Inside the school gates, his assessment feels right. The excited voices of young girls carry from the classrooms where they crowd around teachers asking questions, taking notes and smiling with their veils falling loosely around their heads.

The school is run by Mehmooda Maki Wal, a principal and teacher for 27 years. She said the school received threats from the Taliban, but she must educate the girls.

"When we were having the inauguration for this school one of the teachers was threatened by Taliban," Wal said through an interpreter. "They told her 'If you go to this school, you will really pay for this if you go and educate the girls.' But we fought this and we said we don't care even if you threaten us we will still make sure that we go and we educate our girls."

So the girls continue to attend classes and their parents continue to encourage them to go.

"The women have such little opportunities here, if they just get anything, even if it's just to go to fifth grade, they're just excited to get something because something is better than nothing," explained Saelens. "It's baby steps here so if we can just make things better in Qalat and then move gradually to other districts and be kind of like a role model district for the other ones then hopefully it will move to other districts."

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