A Travel Diary from Afghanistan: Mazar, 30 September 2014, Day 9

We are heading north on a ruler-straight street towards Mazar-e Sharif International Airport. A lot has changed since we arrived here for the first time in March 2012. At that time, we drove along bumpy streets with potholes and down unexpectedly narrowing lanes. Most street surfaces are paved now and the left and right lanes are clearly marked. Along with a strikingly large number of new gas stations, there are new settlements and small shops and business premises on both sides of the street. Next to the fruit, vegetable and drink stands, there are outlets and repair shops for all kinds of vehicles. On the side of one of the parked trucks we can still make out the German lettering and we ask ourselves, how did a Nürnberger Kloß-Teige (Nuremberg Dumpling Dough) truck wind up here?

About half way down we turn into one of the development areas. The outside temperature is about 40 °C. After passing a number of rusted skeletons of abandoned military vehicles at the side of a dusty road, we finally arrive at the newly built University of Balkh. A new wing will be inaugurated in a few weeks, and we and our colleagues in Mazar are particularly interested in having a look around at the new Faculty of Administrative Sciences.

We are pleasantly surprised at how much the pale yellow building with its brown stripes between the four floors reminds us of Bauhaus architecture and how well the color fits into the barren, desert-like landscape. Although we’re told that something’s wrong with the power supply in this part of the city and they have to use a generator, it seems to us that everything else is going according to plan. The temperature here is often above 40°C in summer and -15°C in winter, so most of the new seminar rooms and lecture halls are equipped with a heating system and double-glazed windows, unlike the old buildings in the city center. The rooms on the first floor are bright and spacious, not only the Dean’s Office, but also the offices for professors and assistants, we note with envy. Construction workers are beavering away, assembling office furniture and countless tip-up seats in the lecture halls, installing power lines and polishing stairs.

The new building – Insha’Allah – will be officially inaugurated on 9 October 2014 with representatives from the German Foreign Office attending, because the building has been financed by the German Government under the “Strengthening of Public Administration Education in Afghanistan” (SPA) project. From here, we can look across and see the little white zeppelin on the horizon that’s used for air surveillance in Mazar-e Sharif at the base of the camps for the Scandinavian and German troops.

When we leave the campus, there’s not a breath of wind and the midday heat is sweltering. Nearby, we see another German commercial vehicle; this time it’s green, and – no kidding – the sign reads: “Getränke Lambert – Licher Bier”. If only the workers knew what a blasphemous vehicle they were using for transporting their construction materials …

We are now hurrying towards the city center because we are invited for lunch at noon at the Dean’s house of the Faculty of Administrative Sciences. After lunch, we’re scheduled to give two lectures at 2pm. The food is rich, as is usual for private invitations, and served on a tablecloth on the floor. We sit on cushions in a rectangle and enjoy the company, especially after the lost day at the airport in Kabul yesterday.

Prof. Sharaf has accomplished amazing things during the past two years since the faculty was founded. He and his ten colleagues supervise about 400 students of administrative sciences. Although we noticed a few students typing on their smartphones during our presentations today, most of them seem to be interested in learning about the new subject and the job prospects it might offer them. The students ask most of their questions in English; they are specific and to the point and do not seem to have prepared their questions in advance.

Unfortunately, at about 4pm the intense sun starts to pierce through the drooping pink curtains and it’s getting really hot and muggy in the lecture hall of the old main building. The wood paneled walls and stage remind us of a theater. The huge ventilators they’ve wheeled in to cool the room are obviously from another century and produce a lot of noise instead of blowing out cooler air. We finish our presentations with an appraisal of the virtues of the air-conditioned lecture halls on the new campus. This draws enthusiastic applause from the audience. The end. We drive back to our hotel.

Text: Harald Fuhr - Professor of International Politics at the University of Potsdam
Online-Editing: Agnes Bressa, Translation: Pearl Wallace
Contact Us: onlineredaktionuni-potsdamde

Reprint of the online diary, as a whole or in parts, requires the approval of the Press and Public Relations Department of the University of Potsdam.

Journal overview