Friday, February 22, 2013

Before we offer the job, can we meet with your parents?

The last two questions of the interview were hardest for me. Mariam was the second young woman we were interviewing for an opening at the APT office, and most of the questions were pretty standard. Work experience, life vision, why do you want to work at APT? But then came the questions that I have such a hard time with.

If we offer you this job, would one of your parents be able to meet with us?

What is your marital status? Can we meet with your husband or fiancee?

Most of the young people we interview answer these questions without hesitation. Mariam was the first to question it.

I've been working for six years, she said. I support myself. Why do you need to talk to my parents?

We think it's important for your parents to know us, and us to know them. We've had trouble in the past, when a young woman came on an exposure trip with us and was met at the airport by her enraged fiancee, who hadn't given permission; we don't want that to happen again. We meet with the parents of everyone we hire, both men and women.

She glanced at me. Did you meet with Rachel's parents?

After the interview, I was talking to the others on the hiring committee. I could see why we have to ask when we take students abroad, but adults? I can't imagine an employer at home asking that; I can't imagine my reaction if they did. I love my parents, but since I turned eighteen, I haven't always even consulted them when I took a new job, much less had their permission be a requisite of taking it. Doesn't Afghanistan have an age of majority?

Technically, they told me, eighteen is the age of majority. But in practice, it doesn't work that way. Young men live with their families until they are married; their parents have a say in where they work, how they spend their evenings, not to mention who they marry. A friend of mine is a young professional, several years out of college, but he told me that even his parents still like to control whether or not he goes out in the evenings. Young women are in the same place, except that after they marry, their husbands replace their parents. Even the most independent young people I know don't ever truly have the independence that I am so accustomed to.

There's a part of me that loves the family-oriented culture, the way that children stay so close to home and such a part of their families even when they are grown and have children of their own. You wouldn't know it from how far I live from my family, but that kind of atmosphere really matters to me.

But at the same time, I ache for the young people who are trying so hard to become independent, who can't get a passport without their parents' permission, who apply at awesome jobs like APT and still get asked those interview questions.

We are relying on them to be the future of this country, but they don't yet have the freedom to even be their own future.

Afghanistan Debate Resolutions

Just a taste of what our students debate at tournaments. The format we use gives five topics each round, and the students choose. I've included only the topics that students chose to debate.

Preemptive war is never justified.
The Internet promotes democracy.
Suicide is never justified.
The UN should intervene in Syria.
The UN is not an effective organization.
Sometimes terrorism is justified.
World peace is not a possibility.
The US should mind its own business.
The Islamic revolution in Iran was a failure.
An oppressive government is better than no government.
European countries oppress Muslims.
Corruption is the price of international aid.
Mali is the new Afghanistan.
The West is in decline.
Western countries should give preference to immigrants who are members of under-represented religions.
The Arab spring has done more harm than good.
North Korea is a great threat to world peace than Iran.
International intervention can lead to the creation of sustainable democracies.
The US should end its “war on terrorism.”
The media should limit coverage of terrorist acts.
The US should end military aid to Pakistan.
Russia is a sleeping giant.
Political assassinations are a justified foreign policy tool.
We should ban advertisements that have been edited to alter the size or shape of the model.

Debate tournaments should be held in Dari, not English.
Afghanistan is losing its culture.
Turkish television shows promote bad morals.
Students should be required to learn English.
Men should help cook and take care of their children.
Afghan culture has more in common with Iranian culture than with Pakistani culture.
People have an obligation to help their neighbors.
Students should not be required to wear uniforms.
Russia is responsible for Afghanistan's civil war.
Buzkashi should be banned.
Teenagers should be allowed to own cell phones.
The government should ban wedding halls.
Celebrating Nowroze is un-Islamic.
Afghanistan should adopt a new constitution.
Violent video games should be banned.
Afghanistan will succeed.
Smoking should be banned in public places.
Foreigners who work in Afghanistan are overpaid.
The Afghan constitution should be rewritten to reduce the power of the president.
It would have been better if the international community had not intervened in Afghanistan.
Parents should not be allowed to beat their children.
For-profit organizations have benefited the economy more than non-profit organizations.
Elected politicians should be required to send their children to public schools.
Teachers should not be allowed to beat their students.
The government should provide financial incentives for marriages between people of different ethnicities.

Women's Rights
Empowering women is more important than building roads.
Women should not be allowed to travel alone.
Women should be given priority in competitions for international scholarships.
Female politicians are better than male politicians.
Women will suffer the most if foreign troops leave.
Mothers should not work outside of their homes.
Females should be encouraged to participate in violent sports.
The international community has neglected women outside of major cities.
Separating men and women promotes violence against women.
The government should prohibit women from marrying men who are more than ten years older than they are.
Women in Afghanistan were better off forty years ago than today.

Mining natural resources is the key to economic development.
International aid hurts long-term economic development.
Women's rights are dependent upon economic development.

Experience is better than education.
Video games are a waste of time.
Reading books is a better use of time than watching television.
Some lives are not worth living.
Good intentions should be valued above results.
Appearance is reality.
There is no justice in the world.
There is no peace without compromise.
The morality of an act should be judged by the motives of the actor.
Human rights are an instrument of Western imperialism.
Freedom is an illusion.
Philosophy should be taught in high schools.
Valentine's Day demeans women.
Those who do not forgive are not free.
We value what we've earned more than what we are given.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

They Are Afghanistan's Future

We were on the bus back to the hotel on the last day of the 10th Annual Shajiwana Debate Tournament. It was after one am, the longest of three really long days of competition. Students from Pakistan and India, judges from the Philippines and Kashmir, our group of debaters from Afghanistan; at the end of the day, borders and ethnicities and divisions fell in the face of shared experience, shared conversation, shared exhaustion.

I was sitting next to one of our debaters, Ramiz, as half of the debaters on the bus fell asleep and the other half shouted songs at the top of their lungs.

“So, what did you think of your first international competition?” I asked Ramiz.

During the trip and after, we asked that question of most of our debaters, and their responses were wonderful. Nazifa told me about making friends, which I think she managed to do with just about everyone at the tournament. Sherzai mentioned improving over the course of the five rounds of competition, and how good that felt.

Faisal talked about the expectations people had of Afghanistan, that even its college students would wear the shalwar chemise (traditional clothes), have beards and turbans, be rude and tough. “They didn't expect Afghans to be like us,” he said.

Zubair said the same thing. The media shows the wrong side of Afghanistan, focusing so completely on the fighting and the danger. “[The Pakistani students] said we were a symbol of a different Afghanistan, that we were educated,” he said.

That isn't exactly the picture of this country that the world sees.

Ali said that his favorite part was doing well in a round. He is a new debater, who just competed in his first tournament in November and who had never competed in a BP tournament before going to Pakistan. He was one of the most dedicated of our students, attending every workshop we gave the previous week- on time, which is a bit of a rarity in Afghanistan- and working really hard to master debate. When he talked about the tournament, he didn't dwell on the negative or get upset about not winning every round; he spoke seriously about the best round he'd ever had, and how proud he was of himself.

Sitting next to me on the bus, Ramiz took the conversation in a different direction.

Debate in Afghanistan needs to grow, he said.

We talked for most of the bus ride, discussing how much debate in this country has grown in the last three years but how much more potential it has. We talked about the differences between competitions in Kabul and the competition in Pakistan, about all the things Ramiz had learned about debate during this tournament. We talked about how to share with the rest of Afghanistan that information and that passion and that desire to grow, and about how excited we are to be a part of that process.

We took debaters to Lahore for many reasons- to let them experience the high competition that the international circuit offers. To meet students from their neighboring country and discover that they aren't so different after all. To show the world what Afghanistan is really like (for more on that, check out Josh's blog). To let their skills grow and to help them become stronger debaters.

But one of the most important reasons was to instill in them exactly the kind of fire I saw in Ramiz, on the bus, at one am. The fire that will make them the future debate teachers, the future business owners, the future politicians. Josh and I won't be here forever. The international community won't be here forever. If debate in Afghanistan is going to continue to grow, if Afghanistan itself is going to continue to grow, it's going to be these young men and women who make it happen. It's going to be their exposure to the global world that shows them what could be, their difficult history that gives them perseverance and resilience, and their passion that pushes them forward.

They are Afghanistan's future.