Our driver, Shah Mohammed is thrilled to to see me again…big smile. Unfortuantely, its soon very apparently that he should not be driving outside the city, in fact, probably shouldn’t be driving as a profession AT ALL. Hamid, my flatmate and translator, sits next to him in the front and it was soon apparent that Shah Mohammed couldn’t see the numerous speed bumps. The ancient Toyota Corolla is not meant to take on these things at high speed, yet Shah Mohommad couldn’t see them till it was too late. It came to a head, so to speak, just around the corner from Massoud’s Tomb in the Panjshir – rounded a bend, the car was suddenly careening towards the cliff and the cement/rock barriers that border the road. Luckily these barriers are solid, we broke a huge chunk away and thus slowed the car down enough to stop before following the rocks tumbling down the cliff side. In typical Afghan style, Shah Mohommad quickly reverses to drive off. We shout for him to stop and check the car, the barrier, and collect ourselves. It was truly inches from death and it was interesting to have that near death experience and realize that your life doesn’t flash before your eyes…you just internally think, “well, damn”.
The ironic part is that Toyota Corollas are resilient as hell. Proof in point, take out a concrete barrier, get a crowbar out to pull the fender and the wheel panel back into place and we’re off. No harm no foul. Other than the kid that came running down the street to tell us we needed to pay for the barrier.
Clouds were rolling in hard and we headed to ‘our village’. We continue a couple more hours down a pretty rough mountain road. Each time Shah Mohammad turns sharply to the left, the wheel grinding in the crushed wheel, every time he braked, the wheels squealing. It was around this time that our near-sighted driver starts bitching. He wasn’t happy he had to drive so far, on such bad roads, etc. etc. Hamid took the brunt of it. About 15 minutes from the village, Shah Mohammad actually tells Hamid he wouldn’t go any further. It turned into a bit of kerfuffle and I said I wasn’t paying if he turned around. We said we had hired him for the day to go to Panjshir, if he had a problem with how far, or the roads, etc. he should have said and we would have hired another driver. He continues to complain but keeps driving.
Travis and Hamid found this village a while back while journeying through this area. They had randomly stopped to ask if they knew of somewhere they could stay and Idi Mohammad immediately offered his home. Turns out he is the principal of the village school and Travis told him about me and the work I was looking to do with Mountain to Mountain. They returned a second time a few weeks later and again stayed with Idi Mohammad’s family.
As we pull up, the village looks the same as any of the other villages we’ve driven through. The only distinguishing feature is its remoteness and the new building of mud being built on the left side of the road. A two story building with two men on the roof. One is Idi Mohammad, in a Panshiri hat (the type favored by Massoud). Turns out that this is to be a guesthouse, and his family’s home is directly behind. He was all smiles when he saw Travis and Hamid. He comes down from the roof while we walk around back, gathering a crowd of children and men behind us. I am introduced and find myself, once again, mesmerized by the handsome features of Panjshiri men. Idi Mohammad is genuinely happy to see the guys and asks how their motorbike trip went, he was worried about them.
Hamid explains that we wanted to stop by so that they could introduce me, but that we have to go back tonight, especially as our driver is being such a pain in the ass. Idi Mohammad looks concerned and unhappy that we cannot stay the night. He offers a second time, and we explain that our driver is the main issue, but that we will be back next week and will stay longer. We take a seat on a stone wall overlooking the road and the valley. It turns out that he was originally a teacher, and spent many years as a Pakastani refugee. When he returned to his village he started up a school with a couple other teachers to teach the children. It expanded and they now have a school that services all the way through high school. He is the principal and while they have a school, and teachers, they are lacking in supplies. This is something I can help with this trip. We discussed the need for stationary (paper and pens) is the biggest need. Ironically it’s the reason many children do not attend school. Their families are simply too poor to afford the 20 cents for a notebook. The school houses 600 students on average. Amazingly, the other need is computers. I was surprised, and asked why they felt computers would be a necessary component of their school. Idi Mohammad explained that it connects them to the rest of the world and allows their remote village to provide better education for their children. They already have a teacher qualified in computer sciences so its simply a matter of machines.
I also ask Idi Mohammad about neighboring villages that don’t have schools. Would he be able to direct me to others that are lacking schools entirely. He agrees to come up with a list before my next visit. He also mentions that up on the mountain behind the village is a small community of fifty families. Their children make the long walk to attend the school at ‘our village’, but that the young ones (grade 1-5) are unable to attend school during the winter due to the snow. They are simply too young to make that walk. We discussed building a primary school there so that they can attend their classes year round and stay with the same coursework as the larger school and when they are old enough they will graduate into ‘our village’ school to finish through high school. It would be a simple project , a few classrooms only. We talk briefly about construction and logistics and Idi Mohammad looks at me with all seriousness and says that if necessary he will oversee the construction himself. We have ourselves a school, a computer lab, and a project manager. As well as a solid contact for reaching out and making first steps in other villages.
During the last few minutes of the talk, a loud repetitive banging is heard, I look behind us to the street to see Shah Mohammed banging away at the front fender with a crowbar. Passive aggressive behavior or does he really think it will fix the wheel?
Dark was coming on, our driver had a crowbar he was starting to use more agressively, and our tummies were rumbling. Perhaps it was time to make the four hour drive back home. We said our goodbyes with the promise we’d return to stay for several days next week to discuss further.
Great leaps forward. Good stuff.