Afghanistan: under the spell of dollars
“My name is Samiullah. I am from Surkhrud district of Nangrahar province, Afghanistan. We live on Warsak Road in Peshawar. I work with an NGO in central Daikundi province of Afghanistan” the new student introduced himself.
“So why did you choose to join this class and what are your expectations?” asked the teacher.
“I am on two months’ leave. I want to improve my English in these two months as much as I can. A friend told me that he had been in this class so I came here. My director has promised that he will increase my salary from 300 US dollars to 500 US dollars if I was able to improve my English to a good extent,” the student explained hesitantly in half English, half Pashto.
It was the conversation class of Kabul English Language Center (KELC), located on the main University Road, near Shaheen Town, Peshawar. The Center has several classes for learning English, starting from Beginner to Special Grammar, Writing, Conversation and Advanced level classes as well as a library where different dictionaries, learning videos, speeches, fresh English newspapers, etc. are available. Thousands of youths, most of them Afghans, learn English not only in this center but there are many other similar centers where anyone can take admission in any class for a fee of rupees 800 to 1400.
The high number of youths rushing to these centers forces one to think if only education in the world is learning English or, to say more explicitly, that in today’s world they can survive only if they have a good command over the English language. They think so, of course.
But, unfortunately, the more bleak aspect of this trend is that the youths learning English in these centers are not dying for knowledge or education, nor the centers have any modern methods to impart them knowledge. They just want to learn the language to find jobs with foreign NGOs in Afghanistan to earn a lot of dollars.
This reminded me a reportage a Pakistani journalist wrote in an Urdu newspaper some time back after he returned from Kabul. “The first word we heard was ‘dollar’ as we alighted on Kabul airport,” he wrote.
This is a truth no one can dispute. Dollar has become Afghanistan’s own currency as salaries are paid in it and shopkeepers prefer to buy and sell only in dollars. They even don’t call it dollar in most cases.
One day a friend visited us from Kabul. He told me that he was working in an office of some foreign NGO.
“How much they pay you?” I was just curious to know.
“FIFTEEN HUNDRED RUPEES? What are you saying? How do you live there with only FIFTEEN HUNDRED RUPEES?” I was in shock.
“Ohh” he smiled, “I meant dollars. People call them rupees there.”
Hurrah! I understood why his hands were so soft now. He said that he worked with two more organizations in his spare time and earned some extra ‘rupees.’
Undoubtedly, English is becoming a global language, but the speed it is gaining ground in Afghanistan is badly affecting local languages and trends. And this is not because people are attracted to global status of English, but because it is required for all ‘dollar jobs.’
Afghanistan is now home to more than 70,000 foreign soldiers, most of whom communicate through English, and nearly 1600 NGOs, who prefer the applicants fluent in English when they give employment.
So dollar is playing an important role in spreading English. “There were just few students in our center before Americans came to Afghanistan” said a teacher before starting an open discussion on a topic: ‘The Importance of English Language After Americans Came to Afghanistan.’ He said that people were not interested in learning English then, even loathed the idea. But as soon as the Taliban were ousted and the Karzai government was installed, the centers were not able to make room for armies of youths willing to learn the language and find jobs with NGOs.
A friend of mine, with whom I discussed this topic, appreciated the trend and said, “It’s good that our youths now have jobs and earning money. It’s not a bad thing.” I agreed. But, I told him, the spell is so strong that it creates problems some times. For example, the government of Afghanistan is so badly affected or spoiled by this spell that it does not know what to do to ameliorate its system and give some relief to people.
It was a few days back that I had to get my Afghan passport renewed that I went to the Afghan Consulate in Peshawar. After standing in queues for a long time, I reached the relevant office and the man behind the window gave me a bank receipt for 40 dollars. By then banks were closed so I had to go again the next day. After an hour and half’s waiting in a queue at bank came my number and the man there told me that I had to pay only in dollars.
“I don’t have dollars. I give you rupees, you change them into dollars” I requested. He said that the Consulate accepted only dollars. So I had to go to a money exchange – two kilometers away. The man there said that he had not ten dollar bills so I had to buy 50 dollars instead of 40. After buying them I returned to the bank, paid the dollars and when reached the Consulate, it was closed.
More than two million Afghans still live in Pakistan most of whom turn to this Consulate for their passports and other purposes. A high number of Pakistanis also go there for visas. Now imagine their difficulties when they are forced to pay fees in dollars as everyone has to pass through this process.