From a distance, it doesn't seem like too many have made it to the opening of Agam High School, a project paid for by the Marine battalion's commander's emergency reconstruction project (CERP) funds...
Then you get closer. Ah, they're all sitting on the ground, that's why.
Q: How do you keep a crowd of adolescent boys this large quiet, and paying attention?
A: Break out the switches, that's how! (I should write Afghan proverbs)
Seriously, here and there in the crowd, instructors are patrolling with switches (the leafy ends of tree branches), with which they threaten and occasionally use on the kids. I've mentioned it before--it's no longer surprising to see, just their preferred cultural method of keeping crowds in line. Like the Italian smack to the head, the Japanese samurai sword to the neck, or the American prescription for Ritalin, if you will.
"Now how many of these kids are mine?"
Headmasters mill about with the Coalition representatives, as we all wonder when the district subgovernor will grace us with his presence so we can start the ceremony.
As I said, lots of milling...
For some, it was killing...
And for some, just chilling. Staff Sgt Hadzic, one of the great life stories out here (he fought Serbs in the Balkans as a teenage Bosnian), inspires quizzical looks from youngsters.
Check out the expression on the little bugger in the lower left!
Finally, we were underway. Mohammed Sadiq, one of the headmasters, will be your emcee today, folks. A young mullah then sang a beautiful prayer...it was totally unlike the calls to prayer that we hear each day.
Then it was time for the subphonic stylings of the Subgovernor of Pachir wa Agam, Sayeed Rahman. He echoed the headmaster's appreciation for all we've done, then spent 75% of his speech telling us what they still want. It's kind of a typical Afghan thank you.
"You can get with this, or you can get with that." He may as well have said that, for all the kids cared...they were much more preoccupied with my little camera.
Capt Battista (Sheriff Bart, as I call him) spoke for the Coalition, and reminded the people that the improvements they still seek are only possible if NGOs return, and NGOs will only return if they're not getting blown up...which is probably the most honest assessment they've ever heard.
But the boys, they're still not impressed. They're just wondering when the torment will be over, and they can harass us again.
The ribbon is cut, and Agam High School is open for learnin.' The subgovernor's speeches could use some work, but just as I was thinking that day what kind of guts it takes to be head of a lawless district, another one got whacked yesterday. So it is still one incredibly dangerous job.
Maj Edwards presents certificates to the school president and the chief engineer, who is my new Afghan hero. He spoke for about 15 seconds, as opposed to the average speech of say, two hours. His words of wisdom? Take care of the school, and make it last. Beautiful.
Hanging with my new friend Abdul, who works both as an engineer and an English teacher. Some of the more industrious young Afghans are incredible in all they take on. But I only like this picture for the guy about to pop that cookie into his mouth.
Outside, meanwhile, our vehicles attracted the usual crowds of curious locals looking for whatever treats we bring. Some relatively orderly...
And some rapscalions not so orderly. I wrote, "Total chaos when trying to leave. Teachers throw rocks and use sticks, but kids still swarm humvees left and right."
I leave you with the sentiment expressed by an esteemed American figure of educational achievement...
"Hooray for school!" -Billy Madison