Interview with Jamila, a young woman from Kabul about learning opportunities in Afghanistan.
I am sitting in the GIZ office in Kabul, the headquarters of the huge project on reforms of vocational education and training in Afghanistan run in almost 60 schools all over the country. One of the members of the local staff is 28-year-old Jamila – competent, energetic, a bit strict, she smiles seldom, but when she does then it is with a big, lovely and friendly smile.
Where did you learn your English, Jamila?
(I am curious, because I know that she did not live or study abroad, and her English is not perfect, but fluent, with good vocabulary.)
Here in Kabul.
(A simple answer.)
During your school time?
No, during the Taliban’s regime. (Again a simple answer.)
But how were you women allowed to learn during the Taliban regime?
(This was something that I was wondering because it is commonly known that any kind of education was prohibited for girls and women at that time.)
No, we were not allowed. On the contrary – we would have been severely punished or even killed for that. If you went out, you couldn’t have been sure that they weren’t going to kill you on the street – for any reason.
So, how did you learn it then?
Well, you know, when the Taliban entered Kabul, we were prohibited not just from learning, but even from going out, from leaving the house. It was unbearable! Boring, awfully boring… So one day, a friend of mine came and told me that one of the female teachers was offering to allow us to come to her home every day where she would teach us English. She was also bored staying at home and doing nothing. There was a group of us who decided to accept this offer.
Wasn’t it dangerous?
(I ask this because she is telling the story with the same tone that we would use when talking about how we missed the bus yesterday and got wet in the rain. Additionally, she belongs to the Hazara ethnic group, so I suppose that because of this she had some additional difficulties among the majoritarian Pashtuns.)
Oh yes, it was dangerous just to be on the streets, so I had to hurry up, well-hidden behind the burka. But we had to take other measures of precaution. The mother of our teacher was on duty, looking through the window while we were having the lessons. One day she announced very excitedly that the Taliban were entering the house.
(Her face turns conspirative and devilish, like a child trying not to be caught while stealing cakes from the kitchen. Her big smile shows that this is an interesting part of the story.)
You know what we did? Since the Quran consists of three parts, three volumes, we were carrying our English book in between two of them. So, when we heard them entering, we quickly put the English books under the mattress and took the Quran out, starting to read from it very loudly. Since I had the strongest voice, I raised it and read verses loudly from the Quran.
(Remembering this, she smiles again like a naughty child.)
They asked us what we were doing. “Reading from the Quran,” we said. “Oh, we were told that you are learning English here! But as it is not true, it is ok, you are good girls, you may continue.” When they entered the house, they banged the door, but when they were leaving, they closed it carefully and slowly so as not to disturb us.
(A winning smile on her face…)
How long have you been learning?
Well, after that we had to take a break, like two weeks, and than we continued. All in all – three years. And you see – I have a job now, and I plan to enter a Masters programme at the university. Of course, I will marry first…
(So next time when you are tired and not motivated to learn, just remember that for the majority of people it is an unreachable privilege – they don’t look for motivation, but rather for the opportunity, and they are willing to sacrifice a lot for the chance to learn.)
This article was produced in cooperation with InfoNet adult education network.