America's Unofficial Ambassadors

We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.

Teaching Shakespeare in Afghanistan

Written By Ian Pounds

I am back with my students. A sign that Omid, one of my students, made for me on Teacher’s Day, fills me with purpose, even if it is overstated: “The orphan children future to Ian-jan hand.” The fact that Omid neglected to insert the possessive forms for the noun and proper noun lends a dollop of humility; I have lapsed in my great responsibility.

My advanced class is with Yasamin, Sitiza, Pashtana and my hopeful star Maria. They receive an extra two hours of instruction per week. I push them. Yesterday I gave them Shakespeare. After reading the speech about the seven stages in a man’s life, they looked at me in horror. Yellow highlighters in hand, they proceeded to mark almost every word. What is a pard, and what is this capon lined? Explain, please, a bubble reputation, mewling and puking, and what on earth is a shrunk shank?

Then there is pronunciation. I almost lost them. They were distracted and tired. I assigned specific lines to the speech. Three of the four girls are in my drama group, so they took to this strategy easily, but Yasamin struggled to understand. The others teased her, and she turned away to wipe silent tears from her eyes. These girls are fragile, but also how extraordinarily tough. Having acknowledged the tears and frustration we eased back into the lesson.

At some point in every class, I stop what I am doing and lead my students in a short reflection. I put my pen down and looked at the white board. There were the seven ages ending with the dying man who fades into oblivion, sans everything. “This is a man’s life, yes?” I queried. “What about a woman’s?”

“In Afghanistan?” Pashtana asked.

“Yes, does an Afghan woman follow these stages?”

It was as if the door across the room had been suddenly slammed shut by the wind. Maria did not hesitate to answer….(continued)




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