"That's just ignorant," Maroof says, shaking his head.
"Yes, it is," I say. But, I tell him, when I spoke to a random sampling of other New York City parents, friends and acquaintances—whom I consider to be well educated, open-minded—I occasionally heard similar rumblings. Those people destroyed our sense of safety. Those people are terrorists. I don't want my children knowing anything about those people or their murderous ways.
To be fair, our world was turned upside down on September 11, and emotions in my hometown were running high and raw. We all either knew or knew of people who were killed in the attacks. Opening the mail became an act of courage. The subway transmogrified, at least in our minds, into a sarin- or anthrax- or smallpox-filled tomb. People, including my husband, were losing their businesses, their jobs.
But we can't close our eyes to the open wound festering on the other side of the globe simply because Osama bin Laden chose this place as his special clubhouse. Quite the contrary. Even if self-interest and personal safety were our only concerns, allowing yet another generation of Afghan children to grow up disenfranchised, uneducated, malnourished and angry about their treatment at the hands of the United States, allowing another generation of American children to grow up with no knowledge of or sympathy for the world outside their borders, would be, to my mind, an isolationist recipe for doom. Or, as W.H. Auden more eloquently put it, "We must love one another or die."
So, I tell Maroof, I'm taking my son to Pakistan—home to an estimated 3 million Afghan refugees. We plan to visit Afghan schools, talk to Afghan children, build a few bridges. We've brought along an enormous suitcase filled with school supplies—paper, notebooks, markers, pens, etc.—that Jacob's class has collected. We've brought two checks that the parents in the class donated as a supplement to the bookmark profits: one that we'll deliver to the UNICEF field office in Peshawar, the other that we'll give to the Ariana School, an organization run by a local Afghan nongovernmental organization with which we've been exchanging e-mails.
"I have told the students that a nice boy from America will visit you," began one of the e-mails sent by Fatana Gailani, the school's director. "They exult and I do not know how to express their being so happy. Even the children who never have smiled so far, I saw the cheery smile in their lips. In fact, our children need to be supported and sympathized, as they are the seeds of peace."
We're also toting PowerBars and fruit leathers from the health food store down the street to bring to the refugee camps, along with some toys that Jacob picked out by himself after being told that the children he'd meet wouldn't speak English: Legos, K'nex, a soccer ball. "Stuff that doesn't need language," he said.
"You are doing a good thing," Maroof says. I hope so.
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