Progress, finally

I think that if you had asked me, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that Fatima has been in my class since January. She has since been joined by two more Afghan students, one girl and one boy, and today, finally, we had a part-time interpreter in the room with us, and I have never been more excited to meet someone in my entire life as I was this poor guy. We did some quick diagnostics stuff (a lot easier to have the kids see what math they understand when you can explain to them what you want them to do) and then I just asked him to ask them to tell him about themselves.

Fatima likes grapes. Like, that doesn’t seem like much, but it’s communication. There’s still a few days of Ramadan left but I am absolutely bringing this kid some grapes sometime soon. Two of them are from Kunar province and the third is from Khost province, which means all three of them were right on the border with Pakistan. I asked the translator to reassure them that if they wanted to talk to each other during class, that was absolutely okay– the three of them are as quiet as mice pretty much all the time— and I actually heard the other girl (who needs a code name) laugh for the first time. It was great.

I think it is actually Thursday, which is good, because I’ve thought the week was nearly over all week, and that kept being wrong, and if it’s actually Thursday than that ought to make tomorrow Friday, the actual end of the week. Nineteen days of school left.

Speaking of the end of the week, Wednesday (I think) was my nephew’s first birthday, so we’re going to be out of town all weekend to go to his birthday party in the north Chicago suburbs, so if you follow the YouTube channel, updates are probably going to be light. I didn’t post any new videos today for the first time since I started the channel because yesterday was that busy, and I think my plan right now is to do one video a day for tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, and then try and resume the normal schedule on Monday. We’ll see if I pull that off or not, but it’s the plan at the moment. At any rate, if I go radio silent over there, don’t panic. I haven’t quit anything, we’ve just hit a scheduling snag.

And now we’re getting somewhere

I am tired and annoyed for reasons that are not especially interesting, but today was a much better day at work than yesterday was, pretty much across the board. Fatima and I worked on numbers; she was already able to tell me one through about four or five, and so we worked on writing and identifying zero through nine, both as number symbols and the individual words. I have a similar process in mind tomorrow for letters, and I’ve bullied administration into letting a bunch of us out of a pre-scheduled meeting tomorrow morning so that we can all sit in my room and put our heads together to see what we can do. Apparently there are some funds available both through the program that brought her family into the country and through our own bilingual department, so we will see what we are able to get ahold of.

What we really need is to be able to secure the assistance of an interpreter. Even if it was only for an hour a day or something, some way these kids can actually talk to us would be tremendously helpful, and I’ve still had no luck in finding anything digital that can speak Pashto. We need a live person. I just don’t know yet how to find one. That’s the next big mission.

Oh, and I found something else out today that is gonna be super fun: I don’t know if this is official or not, but the word is there may be thirty more families landing in the district soon. Fatima has seven brothers and sisters, so if these thirty families are similar in size that’s quite a lot of new students to figure out. Speaking as an American, this is wonderful; speaking as someone who needs to teach these kids math, I’m shitting myself in terror.

(Mental note: try to figure out a way to ask her about her family. Brothers, sisters, that sort of thing. Second mental note: I know Islam really doesn’t like representational art; make sure asking her to draw her family or something doesn’t violate a cultural taboo. Third mental note: learn everything about everything.)

As if this year wasn’t challenging enough

I discovered today that I have a new student coming into my class on Tuesday. And by “my class” I mean “third and fourth hour,” the class I have repeatedly begged that no further students be added to, the class that is both my biggest and my by an exceptional margin most poorly-behaved class.

The student is an Afghan refugee. I have no idea if she speaks any English; I sure as fuck don’t speak either Pashto or Dari. I have no idea what her educational background is. Hell, I have no idea what her personal background is; if she’s coming out of Afghanistan there’s almost certainly some fucking trauma in there somewhere. She has a brother, and her brother’s teacher told me today that he thinks that her father worked with the Americans in some capacity or another, which could mean fucking anything. It might mean she speaks some English, it might not. For all I know, he’s making assumptions– which, okay, as they go, that’s not a bad one, but it’s still an assumption. And if I hadn’t seen her name and started asking questions today this would have happened with no Goddamned warning of any kind at all.

To be absolutely clear: I’m glad she’s here, if that’s what her family wanted, and yes I’d be perfectly fucking happy to have an Afghan family move into the house next door and replace the family of the dude who took one look at my white skin and told me he was happy “the right kind of people” were moving into our house when we bought it. I’m glad she’s in my school. But this is not a regular fucking transfer student! I’m just as responsible for her education as every other kid in the room; I don’t get to just shove her in a corner and ignore her, and if it turns out that she’s a hijabi I’ve got to prepare the students for her to be there as well. Now, granted, one can probably assume that any Afghans looking to flee the country and enroll their kids in public school in bloody Indiana are probably on the less religiously conservative end of the scale, but even a simple head wrap combined with the language barrier is going to set her up for bullying if we aren’t careful, especially in the class they’ve got her in. If she’s wearing anything more conspicuous than that the kids are going to treat her like a Goddamned alien. Can we at least get a parent meeting before this kid comes into school? Shit, Google Translate isn’t even going to help, because you can’t type in Pashto on a Chromebook. I can get it to translate– probably poorly– from English to Pashto (not that I have any way to figure out if she speaks it, since fucked if I know the difference between it and Dari, or Arabic for that matter) but not the other way around. So if she’s got no English at all we’re limited to gestures and sign language.

It’s entirely possible that she’ll turn out to be Westernized enough already that none of this will be an issue; again, I know nothing about her. But if she isn’t?


1/16 EDIT: It has only just now occurred to me that even if this girl is literate in her home language, which is not guaranteed, her home language is not going to be written in Latin script, and therefore she may not even know the alphabet. And I’m supposed to teach her 8th grade math.

On Afghanistan

I don’t know a Goddamn thing about Afghanistan.

Well, okay, that’s not quite true. I probably know more about Afghanistan than most Americans. But that is a perilously low bar, and does not really imply anything worth bragging about, and if the bar is not compared to other Americans but is my knowledge of this country useful or sufficient, well … it ain’t, on either count.

I saw someone suggest on Twitter earlier today that the one thing we could have done to avoid what’s going on right now in Afghanistan would have been to elect Al Gore in 2000, and I have some sympathy for that argument. I saw another that suggested that Biden has simply decided to be the President who takes the hit for a result that was going to be inevitable whenever we decided to leave, and that the main thing the policies of the Presidents between him and Dubya have done has been kicking the can down the road so that the disaster after the withdrawal was someone else’s problem.

We have been in Afghanistan nearly half my life. The Taliban has simply … waited. They are more patient than us. They always have been. No matter which President chose to leave, the Taliban were still going to be there, waiting. And I don’t think that the regular Afghans were especially happy to have us there either. One way or another, they were still going to be there when we left.

I do, however, feel like it’s not unreasonable to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we should have done something more to help those who helped us. America should have been welcoming of Afghan refugees for decades, and we haven’t, and I have to believe that the number of people we’re looking to evacuate– I’m seeing the number 3500– is sorely insufficient. There are apparently just short of 100,000 Afghans in the United States right now. I feel like after 20 years of occupying their country that seems like a very small number.

We spent two trillion dollars and lost over six thousand soldiers there in twenty years, and in the end it was for nothing. We probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place, or maybe we should have just kept paying attention after we got there— Afghanistan has always been our forgotten war even just after it started, when our attention immediately turned to Iraq. I don’t know. I don’t know how things could have gone better. I’m not sure how they could have gone much worse, either.

I suppose we’re about to find out what the results of 20 years of shitty policy looks like one way or another.

Syria and the limits of my knowledge

SIRIA_-_TURCHIA_-_RUSSIA_-_pace_paese.jpgI’ve kinda had my head in the ground for the last couple of days; I’m sort of still there, as it’s taken me a good five or six minutes just to write this sentence.  It’s been a shitty few days to be an American, or at least to be a sane one.

(It’s been a worse few days to be a Syrian; I hope that I didn’t need to clarify that, but I’m going to anyway.)

I’ve been very clear here on multiple occasions about how I feel about how this country should treat Syrian refugees.  What I’ve been less clear on– in fact, I don’t know that I’ve really addressed it at all– is how we should treat Syria.  There’s a good reason for that; I know when I’m in over my fucking head, and this is absolutely one of those times.  Even before we get into “Should America take a side in the Syrian civil war?” there is the very important “Can America do anything about the Syrian civil war?”  There is also the minor fact that the Russians are involved and anything we do with Syria runs the risk of provoking Russia, which is something I suspect all of us would like to avoid.

I don’t know what to do about this, except for the part that is both relatively uncomplicated and morally clear: we should accept every refugee from this conflict that we possibly can.  Period.  I don’t have the tiniest idea what the hell to do about the rest of it.  I don’t feel bad about that.  I’m a fucking furniture salesman from Indiana.  There are people for whom figuring this shit out is their jobs.

Which, speaking of that: another thing I am absolutely certain of is that none of the gang of scam artists, poltroons and quarterwits currently occupying the White House have the vaguest fucking clue what to do, and I don’t trust them even the tiniest little bit to get any aspect of this shit right.  Barack Obama went to Congress to authorize military action and they turned him down; the shitgibbon fires fifty Tomahawk missiles at an airport, warning the Syrians and the Russians first but not bothering to notify Congress, and somehow fails to even disable the airport.

That is a failure of such epic proportions that it simply had to be intentional.  The point was to make a bunch of noise and waste a bunch of money but not to actually do anything worthwhile.  I suspect when Obama asked for Congress to authorize military action this was not what he had in mind.  Was what he wanted the right thing to do?  I have no idea.  I know that I trust Obama’s judgment infinitely more than I do the shitgibbon’s.  But that doesn’t mean he was right either.  For all I know there may very well be no way to cut this particular Gordian knot.

Fuck ’em for the stolen Supreme Court seat, too.  Which doesn’t really fit in this post but I’m including it anyway because it’s my blog.