In third grade, most of the kids in our town walk to and from school. They walk in groups. Crossing guards on almost every block safely transport them from one side of the street to the next. We’re only four blocks from school so it’s a real old fashioned experience. Just lovely. Really, a special treat to walk with friends and unwind after the day is over.
And though my son loves the independence of walking to and from school–his main concern is getting a cell phone. That’s it. When will I get a cell phone, Mom? When when when? I would say 95% of his friends have cheap cell phones for emergencies (or, as some are doing, texting each other “You’re a poopy head.”). But I didn’t get one yet for my kid. And probably won’t for some time.
I walked home from the third grade without a phone… without an army of children.. without a buddy and maybe half the amount of crossing guards and I was fine. (Also, I walked home from school. Fifty miles. In the snow. Uphill. No shoes. In the dark.)
But what has changed about the walk home? Not much. We’re more aware. We’re more frightened. We’re programmed to check in. Checking in is crucial, so crucial that it’s simply part of our modern day living. We spent centuries without checking in. In fact, Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain” would never have been written in the age of cell phones because Robert Plant wouldn’t have been standing in the rain on the corner, watching the people go shuffling downtown, another ten minutes no longer, and then he’s turning around, round because his girlfriend, who ever she was, would have called him!
On. Her. Cell phone.
“Hey babe. Running late. Don’t be a fool waiting on the wrong block.”
Anyway, I thought of all of this when I read this harrowing story on CNN about Afghan girls walking to school and the incredible dangers they face. Says Nushin Arbabzadah, an American-based author and scholar who was raised in Afghanistan:
“The walk from home to school is — and has always been — the most dangerous part. You are told to stay covered, keep your head down and walk quickly … and stare at your toes.”
Through the tales of early arranged marriages (starting at the age of 12), the violence, the poisonings, the physical abuse and the absolute lack of human rights–one hopeful story comes out of it all and it involves Razia Jan, who along with her team at the Zabuli Education Center are “providing a free education to about 350 girls in rural Afghanistan.” According to the report, 3 million girls are now being educated when in 2001 there was basically none being educated. Even with that remarkable number, there are 4 million girls who are still not being educated in Afghanistan. And with 57% of children making up the Afghan population, this is a terrifying thought.
The violence of humanity isn’t one that’s new. We’ve been slaughtering each other for hundreds of thousands of years. But in the scheme of life, children are off limits. It seems impossible that a mere walk to school would put you in danger. Such a simple task that my own children will accomplish hundreds of times! Without thought.
A commenter wanted more from this post (you can read her comment below), and that’s why I’m writing more. I said my reasoning was time, but it wasn’t really time. It was sadness. What’s the summation of this post? The dichotomy of two childhoods? Isn’t that quite obvious? Too obvious really.
My son is worried about getting a phone as he travels to school in safe packs; with crossing guards at every street; with his mother waving and watching him as he disappears up our paved road and tree-lined street with a friend?
And for the Afghan girl? What is her wish? To avoid death. The dichotomy is too easy to mention because the sentimentality takes away from the true issue.
But if we can give our children some introspection about how this other world lives, how this foreign land of people we don’t understand, the “they” we’re fighting against, then maybe in a generation or two a new understanding can morph into a means of discussion or respect.
Below, the Today Show covers the education of girls in Afghanistan.
(Image: AFP/Getty Images/CNN)