The Kandahar Marathon: Week Twenty-One

The Kandahar Marathon: Week Twenty-One

“Extremists have shown what frightens them most: a girl with a book.”

~Malala Yousafzai

Monday was the last Monday I’d ever teach a class at the high school level—assuming I don’t resign from my professorship to return to the high school setting someday in the future. Walking into the building felt more and more surreal each time, and the boxes of books packed up on the floor of my classroom, the posters coming off the walls, and the masses of artifacts that I’m gradually deaccessioning scattered throughout the classroom only added melancholy to the effect. I love teaching high school and I identify as a high school teacher, or at least I did. Leaving is terribly difficult. When I walk out for the final time, part of my identity will linger behind I know, and I know too that I will deeply miss that part of myself that I can’t take with me when I depart.

The start of the week was made less painful by a visit from a former student, now a Navy Yeoman, who joined me for an early morning coffee to start the day. Having taken my coffee pot home the week before, I stopped by Scooters on the way in and snagged two tall black coffees from an especially friendly young lady at the drive-up window who seemed vaguely familiar. The young man and I chatted about life, about the Navy, his engagement, his family, my departure from the school, and many other things. Half an hour wasn’t long enough, but it felt good. I’ve always enjoyed it when former students, once boys and girls, show up as adults—their maturity punctuated by their uniforms. Watching young people grow, and knowing they regard you highly enough to come back and see you, is perhaps one of the greatest joys I have known as a teacher.

Tuesday came and the presentations on traveling abroad were fantastic! I got to hear about the trips my students planned to Cambodia, Armenia, Rwanda, Germany, and finally Afghanistan. The young lady really invested a lot of time into the trip, what she would see in Kabul—the museums, the gardens, as well as a trip to Bamyan. Of course, a heavy air hung over her presentation. We knew, all of us in the room, from our study of Afghanistan that hers was the lone trip that simply couldn’t be taken right now. Even if she could find the $4K for a flight from Minneapolis to Kabul and the estimated $9K total for the trip, she wouldn’t be safe in a country run by the Taliban. Is anyone? Still, I was pleased if not entirely content with the knowledge that I had helped a brilliant young person, probably a lot of them, think more deeply about Afghanistan. In my note to her about her presentation, I wrote that I hoped we’d run into one another someday on the streets of Kabul.

One of the places my student wanted to visit in Kabul was the Bird Market. Another was the University. This got me thinking about the Taliban and their backwards views of women and education—views that my own society effectively held until far too recently, and which some in my society quite clearly still believe. For the vast majority of human existence, only men have made the decisions, have ruled, have become educated. I suppose that may be why the world today is such a mess. But we know it doesn’t have to be like that, that societies can value women, and that they’re better for it without exception. Rwanda is a perfect example. Their democratically-elected parliament is 61% female, and has been as high as 64% in recent memory. This is no result of genocide, either, in case that crossed your mind. When genocide broke out in 1994 the prime minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, was a woman. Rwandan culture values women, and I think that despite their troubles they are a far better nation as a result.

Afghanistan was on that path. A year ago, the Afghan ambassador to the US was a woman. Today, of course, no more. As my wonderful student showed such curiosity and interest in this nation, I was struck by the fact that were she Afghan herself her own curiosity and interests would surely go to waste, her genuinely brilliant mind left to marinate in its own juices indefinitely. I considered that she started taking high school math classes in the seventh grade. Then I thought of my own daughter, and the position I recently accepted as a college professor in large part to help ensure that my two children would be able to earn a college education. Anger is all I feel when I think of the Taliban, and of any nation, any person, who would stand between young women and their education. And though I scaled my miles back significantly this week, I allowed that anger to fuel me at least for some of the miles I ran.

It was a fair week for running, if admittedly erratic, coming on the heels of the highest mileage week I’d ever run before. I took Monday as a rest day, ran nine miles outside Tuesday, followed by five and seven respectively on Wednesday and Thursday on the treadmill due to the heavy rains that would surely have meant blisters, chaffing, or worse. Friday morning I woke up and for whatever reason wasn’t feeling the run. This is an odd and dangerous sensation; that is to say that I didn’t want to run. This idea was foreign, but I gave in to it. Forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do isn’t good for the longevity, so two miles in I decided to stop. I’d take Saturday off and hope that was enough rest for Sunday’s long run, and enough time that when that day came I would be eagerly chomping at the bit to lace up my Metaspeed Edges and hit the trails.

Sunday came and I woke up early, made a French press of thick, rich coffee, and sat down at the kitchen table to do a bit of writing. I was dressed to run, by which I mean it was seventy degrees out so I had shorts on, socks and shoes, and a cap. I put my new fuel belt on, with forty ounces of Gatorade in it, and I met up with my friend Jared. Jared is a fellow teacher and we ran twelve miles out and back on the trail, talking the entire time. Toward the end of twelve, he was tired (he’s not marathon training) and my feet were killing me in my new Metaspeed Edge shoes. At twelve, we were back at my house. Jared got on his bike and went home, and I went inside, refilled my Gatorade, and changed into a newer pair of Gel Cumulus that I knew fit well. Then I struck back out and ran the route again, finishing twenty-four miles in 3:38:23. My pace for the near-marathon distance was 9:06, which would finish me in just under 4:00:00 if I can replicate it at Grandma’s in three weeks. With my longest of the long runs behind me, I knew that it was time for the taper to begin, and I was grateful.

Sunday afternoon I attended several grad parties, mostly for brilliant and college-bound young women. Sunday evening we had dinner with some old friends who, like us, have a daughter. I kept looking at their one-year-old girl, then at my five-year-old. They had taken a clear liking to one another and seemed to find each other hilarious. I concluded that the Taliban, and by extension any organization that seeks to deny women power, be it by denying them an education or by any other means, must do so because of just how evident the greatness of women truly is. Speaking as a man, I mean, sure, we’re fine. We have our moments. But women, little girls, the elderly, and every one of them in between, they have something we don’t. They’re inherently extraordinary, not for their ability to lift heavy objects or grow hair on their chest and chin, but for real reasons, reasons I suspect most men, perhaps even myself, may never fully understand. I suspect the Taliban fear women, are afraid of what they would do given time and a proper education, and know that they would not be nearly so easy to subjugate and corrupt as the buffoons who fill their ranks at the present time.

I hope one day my daughter and I might take a walk in the Bird Market, in the streets of Kabul. After she finishes college, of course.