19th September 2009
“Significant in the childhood of Afghans is the lack of adolescence… life in Afghanistan is too short and resources too scarce to allow such a luxury.” Shon Campbell, Lost Chances – the changing situation of children in Afghanistan, 1999-2000
Driving through the streets of Kabul is always an interesting journey, watching the everyday life of the Afghans through a small window, men selling fruit and vegetables from their carts in the road, women with or without their burkas quietly walking past, school children in their smart uniforms heading to and from school and then of course there’s the traffic….
While we were looking out at the goings on around us, people were looking in at us, intrigued by this minivan of foreigners in Afghan attire, heading out of town. One little American boy was telling us all about his kite flying experience in the US and now in Kabul, while his 4 year old brother slowly told us about his hope of catching tadpoles at the place where we were headed. It’s always nice to hear children chatting away, and these little boys had our full attention. As I listened to them chatting away about ‘things that children like to do’, I couldn’t help but wonder what they thought about the children outside the van, the ones coming up to the window in the busy Kabul streets and asking for money, or the children walking past, carrying heavy loads on their shoulders… that would make an interesting conversation.
I read the other day that by the end of the 90s, 12 out of 20 boys and just one in 20 girls of schooling age were going to school. With the Taliban many qualified teachers fled and schooling for girls and female teachers were banned. Since 2002 the situation has changed dramatically with many in school, even in the villages.
Driving up to the village, we passed a school just as the morning session ended and there were so many school girls coming out of the gate. It was a beautiful sight. The further we drove the more rural it became, with dusty uneven roads and stunning landscape. The area we went to was particularly green and there was a little stream where we sat for a picnic while the kids got completely soaked looking for tadpoles… Going for a walk along the stream we met a little old man with a heavy load on his back, heading to town to sell. He was so happy to chat with us and asked us to come for a cup of tea, which would have been back up the hill for him… we of course thanked him and said we’d let him get to market and perhaps another time, he was full of smiles and chatter and continued on his way. Further up the track we met some little boys, with a little home-made kite. They kept asking if we had a pen… I wish I had, I’d have gladly given it. We met a lot of children as we walked, brothers minding the goats, young siblings carrying branches of eucalyptus leaves up to their home, kids knocking down walnuts from the trees, collecting for food and for market. Most were shy, but intrigued…. following us as we walked, while others kept wanting to feed us walnuts!
There’s no schooling for these kids. Perhaps when they reach 10 or 11 they will be big enough to walk down to the village for school. It’s a strange paradox. Surrounded by beauty, fresh air and family, you can’t imagine a more wonderful place to live. But at the same time, life is hard, everyone has to work hard to support the family, village girls are often married off by the time they’re 14 and boys are considered adults by the time they reach14, expected to start providing for and protecting the family.
For now though, these kids are kids. They still have time to play together, to climb the trees and to fly their kites…