I noticed the book The Sky of Afghanistan, by Ana A. de Eulate and Sonja Wimmer, with the library’s collection of new kids’ books. The title of the book brought to my mind images of Canadian and American airplanes, but the front cover shows a young girl flying through the air, her arms outstretched. I checked the book out of the library with a stack of other books.
It took my children a little while to get interested in it. The text of the book is somewhere between blank verse and what I don’t quite know how to describe other than inspiration fluff.
The sky can be full of kites, I think to myself,
but it can also be full of dreams…
And mine flies up high, high into the sky,
towards the stars…
The girls dreams are illustrated as the ribbons from a kite and she runs through the streets and different settings until at the end she and others are walking up a kite-string into the sky “towards peace.”
The pictures are what delighted and intrigued us. In one picture the girl’s headscarf is blowing in the wind… the girl herself is sketched in black and white but the headscarf becomes the blue cloud-dotted sky. Henna artwork is visible on the girl’s hand. In another picture the girl is in a crowd of burka covered women, in another she is at a girl’s school, and in another she is playing with dolls made out of garbage and an old tire. Behind lines about her dream of peace a tank is driving across a map of Afghanistan with a flower blooming out of its gun. There are intriguing details for us to discuss.
The occupation of Afghanistan rarely makes the news or discussion topics in my house. I joined in protesting it way back years ago, but then its fallen off my list of things to follow. So why bother bring the war up with my children? Yet I want to somehow give them a well rounded image of the world, the good and bad within it. I liked The Sky of Afghanistan for allowing them a glimpse of a country torn but not completely defined by war.
After I had peaked the children’s interest I borrowed a collection of other books from the library, a set of books from The Lands, Peoples and Culture Series by Crabtree Publishing Company. One of the books mentioned that kite flying was banned in Afghanistan under the Taliban but is popular again, with people sometimes gluing glass onto the strings of their kites so they can “kite fight” trying to cut down each other’s kites.
I printed out a map of Afghanistan and had my oldest use the library books to help him find and label some of the cities. We talked about the terrain. The book on the land mentioned the Karez system of irrigation and from searching online I found it was also called the Qanat system. I love how figuring out what something is called allows it to be googleable. We rewatched the section from Engineering an Empire about how the qanat systems got started.
We looked up farming. I found a video showing some Afghan farmers in the 1950s and we sat and tried to figure out what everything was. I wanted to talk about some of the agricultural challenges, so we talked about irrigation and saltiness. I looked up some other videos about farming and found one about Canada’s involvement in irrigation projects. The government video might make it sound hopeful and inspiring but other stories report the locals view the project as a source of corruption and waste of money. The same Dahla dam has just made the news again for the amount of money Canada has spent in security for the project – about $10 million. Should Canada be there at all? Are we really helping or hindering? By narrowing in and looking at just one development program the kids and I can start to talk about some of those questions, as well as about the general questions of how dams work. Development projects can be ways of asserting control and irrigation can have unintentional consequences.
The March 2013 edition of the CPPA monitor has an article in it talking about the New Silk Road Initative announced in 2011 by Hilary Clinton and how the occupation of Afghanistan might be part of the U.S.’s engagement-containment strategy with regards to dealing with China. Chinese infostructure will link Afganistan with potential trading partners and allow the development (exploitation) of Afghanistan resources “provided China complies with the rules of the American-dominated global economic system.” (CPPA monitor pg 8)
I don’t want the children overwhelmed but I don’t want them to learn too white-washed a history either. As it was my oldest read through the books and started asking about when they were written and made the connection himself as to how recent the fighting was. So then we talked more about it. He admitted that he thought that all wars are over and its strange to him to think that there is fighting going on in the world. He was also concerned about what part Canada might have in it. My son drew the connection to Star Trek. He said that he felt like a Cardassian boy from a second season Deep Space Nine episode, angry at the knowledge that his country have been murderous.
I try to remain calm. I try to give him the tools to develop a nuanced point of view. I want to help him balance a recognition that his country has done wrong, that wars still exist and that there are others suffering, without getting overwhelmed or forgetting that there is a lot of good everywhere and in everyone.