By Fariba Nawa
(view article with photos at scholastic.com)
In the northeast of Afghanistan is a village called Yaftal, built along the edge of a mountain thousands of feet high. In the summer, it is windy and sunny. In the winter, it snows and only the men in the family dare to leave the village to find work.
Yaftal is home to 15-year-old Hasiba, who lives a hard and busy life. Her father is a farmer and her mother a homemaker. She lives in a two-bedroom, mud-brick shack with her two sisters and four brothers. Their kitchen, which has no door or window, has a portable gas stove and a clay oven the family has built into the ground to bake bread. They have one pot and a tea kettle visible in the kitchen. Their bathroom is a hole in the ground.
Every day, Hasiba wakes up at 5 a.m. with the rest of her family. She and her two sisters carry empty oil cans to the spring five minutes away. They fill the cans with water to use for the rest of the day. Then she sweeps off the dust in front of her house, which is on the edge of a cliff. She rolls up her bed, washes, and sits down with the family to have breakfast. Wheat bread and tea with milk and sugar is their morning diet. Hasiba puts on her black uniform, braids her long, brown hair into several strands, and wraps her head with a sheer, black scarf. She puts on her tattered shoes and begins her two-hour walk downhill to school.
At 8 a.m., she reaches her school on the rim of the Kokcha River. She is one of the best students in her seventh-grade class. Hasiba and more than 100 other students cram into a windowless classroom to study math, science, English, and literature.
“My favorite subjects are English and math. I want to be a teacher,” Hasiba says shyly.
School ends at noon and Hasiba and her siblings begin their journey home, a three-hour walk uphill. They have bread and water in their backpacks to eat on the way home. At 3 p.m., Hasiba reaches home exhausted, her feet blistered. She rests for a few minutes before her mother serves lunch: tea with milk and sugar, and rice or bread.
From Student to Teacher
At 4 p.m., Hasiba goes to work—without pay—as a literacy teacher for six older women who cannot read. She doesn’t go far this time—the village women come to her house to learn. Her course is part of a larger program for women who are illiterate, or cannot read. With a small blackboard and chalk, she teaches them the Persian alphabet. People in this part of Afghanistan speak Dari, a dialect of Persian. One of her students is her mother.
“I’m so happy that Hasiba can teach all of us. I don’t want her to get married so she can continue her education,” her mother says. If Hasiba married, she would most likely become a mom and have little time to learn or teach.
At 6 p.m., Hasiba finishes teaching and cooks dinner with her mother. They eat rice or soup. Hasiba does homework for an hour. At 9 p.m., she lays out a sponge mat next to her siblings, and falls into a deep sleep.