Camilla Barry, Mill Valley
“Since Afghanistan is halfway around the world, I was thrilled that Emirates flies direct to the Middle East, so when I got to Kabul I wasn’t so jet-lagged. Last summer was the eighth year I’ve spent two months in Afghanistan teaching students and giving teaching clinics. My specialty is science and math. From Kabul, I paid a driver to take me to Jalalabad, where I would teach a group of teenage girls. It was August, it was 90 degrees, and everything was shut down for the national elections and the beginning of Ramadan. This was good because fathers walked or drove their daughters to classes, bad because the Taliban announced they’d cut fingers off people who voted and kill any Americans involved in the elections. For some reason, I don’t scare easily. I actually asked to be driven to a polling place; seeing it was very moving. I wanted to snub my nose at the Taliban. Of course, I always wore a scarf. In my classes, the girls were very disciplined and focused; they also wore scarves along with long pants or skirts with blouses that came down over their hips. A 19-year-old was my interpreter; he had never been out of Jalalabad yet spoke fluent English and was passionate about teaching like I am. The girls already knew multiplication, ratios and percentages, so we used protractors to measure angles and went outside to figure the height of buildings and mountains. The two-week session went very well; the girls asked—even begged—for homework. The school is run by an NGO, International Orphan Care, based in Los Angeles. American groups like this one do a lot of good in Afghanistan and you never hear about them. I’ll be going back in early summer; meanwhile, I give talks locally to raise money for my trip. My website is classroomsacrosscultures.org.”
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