Saturday, August 7, 2021

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Afghanistan

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I'm not sure which one of my kids picked Afghanistan for this week of The Educational Summer Vacation, but wow. This was a tough week to plan.

If you don't know, I have six kids ranging from kindergarten-age to high school, and this post is part of a series outlining our weeks learning about different countries around the world during their summer break from school. We've been doing this since my oldest was 7, and now she's 17. How time flies.

Throughout the week, I also gave these books to the kids to read independently, passing them out periodically like a black market dealer pulling contraband out of his trenchcoat:


Afghanistan is a landlocked country in central Asia about the size of Texas. It's been through a lot: the list of historical invasions of Aghanistan on Wikipedia is a paragraph long. (Is that why Vizzini says "never get involved in a land war in Asia?")

We read the picture book Count Your Way through Afghanistan, and then we pulled out our passports and found Afghanistan on the map.

We use this oversized wall map and these printable passport pages you can print out for free here. Admittedly, the passports aren't my kids' favorite part of this, but I know I learn better when I write stuff down so I do think they help. Plus, the kids like to design a Visa for each country, like you'd get stamped in your real passport.

Admittedly, the Visas  sometimes don't have much to do with the country.

Then my daughter sketched out the Afghan flag and we listened to the national anthem. This video has the lyrics in both Pashto and English. 

I had to leave for a dentist appointment as the kids were finishing coloring, but I left them with a DVD called Families of Afghanistan and instructions to watch it while I was gone. It follows two families, one in rural Afghanistan and one in the capital city of Kabul. 

When I asked my kids later what they thought of the video, my 7-year-old told me "I do not want to live in Afghanistan." I think it blew his mind that some people don't have running water, even today.


A traditional breakfast in Afghanistan might be yogurt, eggs, and a sweet bread called rote. So we tried our hand at the sweet bread, but for a late mid-morning snack instead of breakfast because I can't get up before the kids to make it. 

It turned out pretty well! It had so much sugar I'd call it more of a cookie loaf than bread, but it was all gone by the afternoon so people in our house liked it well enough.

The two official languages of Afghanistan are Pashto and Dari. We learned that to say "hello" in Pashto, you'd say "Salaam alaikum." Then you can shake hands (men) or kiss each other on both cheeks (women,) or you can simply put your hand over your heart and nod as demonstrated by these kids which I thought was kind of sweet.

I had a hard time finding any resources on Dari, until I learned that Dari is the Afghan name for what's called "Persian" or "Farsi" outside of Afghanistan.

This video explained why Dari/Persian/Farsi has so many names, and lots of other interesting stuff about the language. It sailed clear over the heads of my younger kids, but my teenager (an aspiring polyglot) thought it was interesting and said that if you squinted the narrator looked like Ben Shapiro.

Both Pashto and Dari use the Arabic alphabet with extra letters added, so I printed out copies of all three alphabets  Arabic, Pashto, and Dari  and had the kids circle the added letters. I had to remind them to read right to left instead of left to right, and that made it easier to look for incongruencies.

Apparently they're on an Among Us kick because every time my son circled something he whispered, "I found the imposter."

Afghans are really into poetry. Thursday is traditionally poetry night, and they're very proud of the poetry that has come from Afghanistan. In fact, Afghanistan is the likely birthplace of the 13th-century mystic poet Rumi, who even I heard of as a teenager.

I more or less successfully got my kids to quiet down enough to listen to this dramatic reading of a beautiful Rumi poem called "When I Die."

Isn't that great?

One poetic form that's popular in Afghanistan is the landai. They are 2-line poems with a total of 22 syllables, and often deal with themes of love, grief, homeland, war, and separation. They're often composed anonymously by women to express thoughts they're not allowed to have publicly, and their short length allows for nonliterate people to read and share them.

As an activity, the older kids and I all tried writing one.

I chose to write about homeland, as in, our recent road trip to visit my parents in my hometown:

"Driving to Minnesota, fighting laughing/Rest stops, stopping for fun and Chick Fil-A."

My 13-year-old picked the theme of "war" and I think I kind of have to agree with him:

"When you choose to start a war with your siblings/It will be awful and bad, nobody will win."

And my 17-year-old just chose all the themes, also ironically pointing out that her life is pretty cushy:

"I love grief, war, homeland, and separation/I have lots of experience with those things."

We're not poets, but at least we tried.


Today was the difficult day, talking about the Taliban. You knew this was coming. 

I started by showing them this video about the Bamiyan caves in central Afghanistan. They're beautiful, covered with paintings on the walls and ceilings done by Buddhist monks and surrounded by two giant Buddha statues 120 and 175 feet high. These statues date back to the 6th century, you guys.

And in 2001, the Taliban blew. Them. Up.

I watched this old video tour of the caves and Buddha statues, followed by a video of them being destroyed, and I was honestly choking back tears afterward trying to answer the kids' questions. Questions like, "What? Why?!" and "How would they like it if someone blew up their statues??"

(If you're up for it, here's another video about a museum trying to piece together a smashed Buddha collection in the wake of the Taliban, but I totally get it if you aren't.)

It was a hard day but lead to a lot of good conversations about what "extremism" means and why it doesn't make sense to destroy everything you don't agree with.

The older kids got a lot out of this video overview "Who Are the Taliban," and the younger kids liked reading Nasreen's Secret School by Jeanette Winter. 

For dinner, we made the national dish of Afghanistan, called Kabuli Palaw. It's made from rice, raisins, carrots, and lamb. If we were being traditional about it, we'd have spread it out on a cloth on the floor and all eaten with our right hands. But... we're not that  traditional.

My kids kept calling this meal "Kablooey Palaw." I give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was decent.

After putting the youngest kids to bed that night, we watched the DVD The Breadwinner. It's rated PG-13 but it was nothing too much for the 9-year-old to handle. (After having seen it I also think the 7-year-old would've been fine, possibly even the 5-year-old if we talked about it afterward.) 


What do Afghans do for fun? The kids were pretty fascinated/horrified to learn about buzkashi, the national sport of Afghanistan. Buzkashi is like polo on horseback, but instead of hitting a ball with a stick you're trying to grab a goat carcass and drop it into the scoring circle as shown in this video.

It sounds gross but to be fair, most of the sports we play today started using an inflated pig bladder or something. Afghanistan just stayed close to their roots.

Kite flying is also another popular pasttime in Afghanistan. Or more correctly, kite fighting. Both kids and adults try to cut the strings of opponents' kites with their own, and we watched this video to learn more about it. This week I'm reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, a novel my high schooler read last year and said was "good but depressing."

It's not exactly the right time of year for flying kites, so as an activity we made some suncatcher kites out of wax paper and tissue paper to hang in the window. 

My 5-year-old was unimpressed because it was rainy the afternoon we hung them up, but he approved once he saw them sparkling the next day when the sun came out.


Afghanistan has some fun wildlife to talk about, like the markhor and the toad-headed agama lizard.

But today, we focused mostly about the national animal of Afghanistan: the snow leopard. Snow leopards are called "ghosts of the mountains" because they kind of hide out in the mountains and are generally hard to find. 

We watched this video to learn more about snow leopards and then, for fun, played "find the snow leopard." Also known as hide and seek, except "it" was "the snow leopard."

For dinner, we had some yummy chicken kabobs with naan, and some steamed vegetables.

We have naan all the time so my kids were excited about that, and the kabobs were delicious. I don't even know what made them that way since the marinade was so simple. 

Teaching the kids about Afghanistan in an age-appropriate way was sometimes challenging, but we learned a lot and had fun. My one regret is that I bought the ingredients for aushak (kind of like an Afghan meat dumpling with yogurt) but ran out of time to make it. I'm cautiously optimistic that it might work out tomorrow night!

Learning about Afghanistan is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #Afghanistan #educational
Building the perfect Afghanistan lesson plan for your students? Are you doing an around-the-world unit in your K-12 social studies classroom? Try these free and fun Afghanistan activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #Afghanistan #lessonplan
This Afghanistan unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Afghanistan in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #Afghanistan #homeschool

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