Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blogging with Afghanistan

As our English 10 class picked up their Kite Runner books for the first time this semester, I mentioned that we had a “friend in Afghanistan” who was eagerly awaiting their questions and comments. About five hands went up immediately. “Who is it?” “How do you know him?” And of course, “Why does he care about our class?”

I explained that our contact, Rob Dodson, had contacted me last year after reading my class blogs, and that he was a military officer stationed in Afghanistan. I had invited him to become a part of our discussion this year, and he immediately accepted the invitation.

Sending us pictures (I've included one above), responding to question after question, and guiding us with patience, he walked us through our endless inquiries about the mysterious, somewhat veiled country in the background of The Kite Runner—Afghanistan. Before our inner circle had even started discussing the assigned chapters in The Kite Runner, the outer circle was on fire with question after question, many directed to Rob. Here is an example from the very beginning of one of our blogs:

mgardner said...
Rob-Are women allowed to go to school and get an education or is that considered something that only men can do?

ericaw said...
Rob-What are the language boundaries in Afghanistan? Do most people speak the same language or are there local languages?

moe fo show122 said...
Rob-Thank you for answering my question about the realations of the Middle East and other countries. Your explanation really helped me see what was going on in "The Kite Runner".Are the taliban still in control over in Afghanistan?And have you personally seen violence ocure between a Taliban member and a civilian?

KristinW said...
Rob-Who do the men and boys become a part of the Taliban?All-How has the Taliban influenced the people in Kabul? Have the people changed because of fear or because they like living under Taliban rule?

And Rob would take the time to write paragraphs back to each individual student, validating their questions and guiding them (and me) through which stereotypes are unsubstantiated, which ones are true, and how history plays a role in this country's complicated dynamics. Consequently, our class started many days with question after question about Afghanistan. For the first time in my teaching of The Kite Runner, students were genuinely, authentically interested in the cultural background of this book. There were days when I had to tell them to put their hands down because their questions were far beyond my ken, and so they eagerly redirected them to Rob.

Many students eagerly checked the blog as soon as they walked in to see if Rob had responded to any of their questions from the day before, which of course, he always had. Moreover, he answered their questions with interest, patience, knowledge, and eloquence. Here is an example of one his responses:

robd said...
Hi,I will try to answer your questions...I think the discussion was very good by the way...

mgardner - girls are allowed to go to school, but not across the country. In the South, it is discouraged and the Taliban tend to burn down girl's schools. In Kabul, the girls go to one school the boys to another.ericaw- there are two national languages - Pashtu and Dari. Dari is a version of Persian Farsi. In addition, there is Urdu, Uzbek, French, English, German, and Turkish spoken. Most Afghans speak at least two languages, either Pashtu or Dari and then one of the others. Most Pashtuns refuse to learn Dari and the Tajiks and Uzbeks in the North refuse to speak Pashtu. Dari would be understood by most of the people in the country, however, it was discouraged by the Taliban since it is so close to what is spoken in Iran and the Taliban did not get along with the Iranians (the Taliban are Sunni Muslims, Iran is a Shia Muslim country).moe - the Taliban have a great deal of influence over a large part of the country, at least where there are Pashtuns. Yes, I have seen some of violence that is the result of the Taliban. I know a number of Hazaras and know that they are treated very poorly.

KristinW - People join the Taliban for a number of reasons. After 9/11 and during the first part of the conflict most of the Taliban were refugees from Pakistan that wanted to return to Afghanistan. Boys and men join for a number of reasons, some because the pay they are given is more than they can earn in Afghanistan (the Taliban pays $250 a month - an Afghan solider makes $160 a month). Some join because of their religious beliefs (you can erase your sins - something from the movie Kingdom of Heaven), others because there is little else for them to do.erica - there are two courts in Afghanistan, depending upon the crime. One court is similar to our system and they put people in jail. The other, for crimes against religion, the punishment is generally very harsh. Recently an Afghan converted from Islam and was sentenced to death. The Taliban only use Sharia Law for their courts, so punishment is very severe....death, cutting off of hands, etc.travis - in those areas that the Taliban control, most women do not venture out of the house. If they do they must be in the company of a male family member. The age of majority comes into play here, so the son would have to be over 14 (the age of manhood in Afghanistan).

In short, he offered us a close-up view of Afghanistan and The Kite Runner that no essay, article or video could ever give us. The results? Ask any of my 4th hour students how they liked The Kite Runner, and their faces actually light up as they respond with an enthusiastic, “It was amazing.” And it was.

If you would like to look at our other discussions with Rob, here is the link to our class blog: