This is a question that I have often thought about, perhaps because I have done so much traveling in Third World countries. It came to my mind again yesterday as I finished reading “The Bookseller of Kabul”, which I recommend by the way.
When I was in McLeod Ganj teaching English to the monks, yes there are Tibetan monks about who speak English with a Scottish brogue – don’t you love it? – I was astounded by their lack of knowledge in the area of science, specifically cosmology. Because I have an affinity for physics and cosmology I use words from those disciplines for examples, which ended always with a long and convoluted explanation about space, the planetary system, etc. AS in the Madrassas (Islamic seminaries) the education of Buddhist monks is concentrated on religious text (but we leave out the “we are right and everyone else is wrong” diatribe). Most of the monks enter the Temple at the ages of eight or nine and that is their formal education. But consider this, where their knowledge of the physical world is limited, their familiarity with the spiritual world exceeds mine by far. The abilities of some of the older monks are astounding – the ability to control their body functions up to and including their deaths, the ability to penetrate and travel in spiritual realms that I have only read about.
What about a young woman in Kabul? The Taliban prevented the education of an entire generation of women and subjugated them. Even though the Taliban is gone, the mindset of many of these women prevents them from moving beyond the barriers that were imposed. They are for the most part, illiterate. They have never traveled outside their village or town; some of them have never left their father’s house. In Khost on the Afghan-Pakistan border the law of purah reigns, the total segregation of men and women. The town appears to be devoid of women as they are rarely allowed out. They move from their father’s house, after an arranged marriage in which they have no say, into the house of their husband. How big is their world? What they know of the outside world is what they learn from the men in their homes. Men who get their knowledge from the state television, the Mosque, and if (a big one) they can read, whatever state approved or smuggled in papers and books they design to take in. They know nothing of science, literature, world politics, the intricacies of economy, and the variety of cultures in the world.
The young boy in Rabat who has to work because the father is dead. He left school after only a very few years and now must toil from dawn to dusk to put enough food on the table for his family. He goes to the Mosque, listens to the older men who lounge in the coffee shops, and watches a great deal of television which in large percentage consist of the reruns of really bad American serials. He sees the wealthy tourists come through the Medina, and the rich Moroccans in their mansions in Soussi but knows he has no chance of ever living that life. There is no government program to feed his family while he goes to school in order to improve his lot.
It is not only the Third World is it? What about the children in the American ghettos? They see Hollywood’s version of life in the movies and on television, but does that help them make a life. Is there anyone there to tell them how essential an education is? Anyone to encourage them and support them? Violence, drugs, and the pressure of various gangs surround them. How big is their world?
This line of thought always makes me monumentally grateful for the education and worldview that I had as a child and young woman. Knowledge in my world was revered, any knowledge, all knowledge. Even though my talents lie more in the sector of Political Science and literature, I have a continuing thirst for physics and cosmology and I try to keep up with all the modern discoveries. And the other world, the spiritual world is one I continue to explore and strive to make my way on the Path.
So, that’s what I was thinking about. What do you think?
Here is an excerpt from “The Valley of the Kasbahs” for everyone
Here is an excerpt for everyone BUT JMB and Q.