A Travel Diary from Afghanistan: Jalalabad/Nangahar, 24 September 2014, Day 3

[Translate to Übersetzung Englisch:] Foto: Sadeqar
[Translate to Übersetzung Englisch:] Foto: Sadeqar

Back from the university, we relax on the guesthouse’s terrace. It’s 6pm and the sun is going down. This is the time when the bats and geckos come out to hunt for mosquitoes. The furniture in my room is covered with a layer of black dirt – not surprising really when you see all the grime that the generator puffs out in the backyard. Our janitor apologizes and says that nobody has visited them in four months. Jalalabad is quite cut off from international development aid and there is only one GIZ project for business promotion. When we’re not here, the generator is switched off. No cold Coke (as we’d hoped) because the fridges have been switched off all day.

Afghanistan could easily provide enough water and solar energy, but gasoline and generators are still the most reliable source of electricity, especially for heating. It’s not just an economic problem in a developing country that has no developed oil sector - the deserted drilling rigs from Soviet times are rusting away - the environment also suffers. During the ice cold winters, those who don’t have enough money to buy fuel burn anything they can find; the poorest burn plastic bags or faecal sludge from the sewage. It’s said that those who breathe in the wrong direction get sick in Kabul. There have been some nascent attempts to solve these problems. The street lighting in Mazar and Kabul is now powered by solar energy, and at the roadside in Jalalabad they sell little solar panels “to go” for domestic use. The university gets its electricity from a small dam. One big advantage is that electricity is nearly always available, and the air conditioning in the student hostels makes the overcrowded shared rooms bearable. The men and women are strictly separated, and the women’s hostel is surrounded by barbed wire fences and high walls. When female students enter campus through the steel gate, they’re dressed in light blue burkas or black chadors with holes for the eyes, but in the seminar rooms they only need to wear a headscarf. Families, though, still fear for their daughters’ integrity, which is why there are so few women, we are told. Many families give their consent for their daughters to study medicine or teacher training. The faculties of veterinary medicine and agricultural sciences also have a higher percentage of women, since it’s considered acceptable for women to work in hospitals, schools, and in agriculture.

Thurid and I are basically wearing a piece of cloth towel; we’re all wearing local traditional dress today. Although we’re not used to it, we feel quite comfortable in our traditional outfit with loose trousers made in thin material. Only Werner Jann is wearing an outfit made from a high-quality, khaki-green wool blend fabric. In the sweltering 37°C heat, he can be spotted looking enviously at everyone else in their light cotton tunics.

The climate here is sub-tropical. The university campus, located to the west of the city, is a paradise of very old palm and eucalyptus trees, cypresses, bright flowers, and head high grass. Exotic colorful pheasants, geese, ducks, and chicken strut through the grass. Jalalabad doesn’t have much in common with the Afghanistan we know from Kabul and Mazar. Dean Doudiyal describes the city as a mixture of India and Pakistan. The city’s irrigation systems and electrification date from the time of the Soviet occupation. The engineers working on these modernization projects lived in the buildings that would later become the university, which moved into the complex in 1963 with initially eight professors and 48 students. Today, the university has about 500 teachers and 14,000 students. On the one hand, this can be seen as a positive step, but it’s a lot of hard work for everyone involved. The countless flashy advertising by private universities does little to improve the situation. Since a certificate can be obtained via bribing some private universities, degrees from state institutions enjoy a better reputation. “Auch bei uns ist nicht alles Gold,” (“All that glisters is not gold here either”) says University President Dr. Enayat in fantastic German. His beacon of hope is Ashraf Ghani who wants to fight sleaze and patronage. Dr. Enayat, who has himself only been in office for 10 days, also wants to raise expectations. A life devoted to science, he studied in Jalalabad together with Dean Doudiyal while the Mujahideen went to battle in the streets, obtained a doctorate in Italy, was Director of Kabul Education University, President of Kabul University for five years, and an advisor to the Minister of Education, who finally called him back from Germany to his roots. “Education is the most important investment for the future,” he explains.

Afghanistan’s state institutions don’t charge its students tuition fees. If a student’s place of residence is more than 35 km away, meals on campus and a place in a dormitory are free. Whoever decides to apply for a place at university needs to take the Kankor, a national university entrance exam similar to the former Central Office for the Allocation of Study Places in Germany. The examination results decide what and where you will study. The programs are listed in order of popularity. If you achieve a high score, you can study medicine or law. Administrative sciences managed to get into the top third of the allocation list in just two years. This is, of course, a very positive result, but a real burden for the 15 teachers whom we’re meeting today. One of them has a doctoral degree and the others have Bachelor degrees in related disciplines such as economics, law, and political sciences. “Why choose administrative sciences as a course of study?” the students ask after listening to the presentations given by Jann, Fuhr, and Hustedt. It just seems to be a mix of law, economics, and politics, offering no real expertise in any one subject. “Look at medicine,” Jann explains. “Chemistry, biology, psychology – you have to know all these, but you need more to be able to heal someone.” “Yes”, agrees a lecturer, “and our country is an extremely sick patient, so we have to become very, very good.” We’re impressed by the analytical and critical thinking of the first-year students. These young people want to understand concepts and hold discussions, not just learn something by heart and repeat it.

Text: Julka Jantz - Project Coordinator for the project “Strengthening of Public Administration Education in Afghanistan.”
Online-Editing: Agnes Bressa, Translation: Pearl Wallace
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