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Well-meaning travel description

Unni Rustad wants to give voice to the voiceless in Afghanistan – the children. But well-intentioned intentions are not always well-written books.


On the day of the dream, we get up at four in the morning is a result of Unni Rustad's journey and work to organize children's conferences in Afghanistan for Save the Children. The book is at its best when it reproduces the stories of children and Afghans, while the depictions of the environment are not as successful. They have a language reminiscent of postcard descriptions of what they did on that particular day: “I've been dreaming of the Silk Road all my life. Now finally a bit of it is below me, and then I have to look at the clock and hurry to reach an appointment! We will meet Mr. Mohibi, who heads the Ministry of Education. ”The transitions may have been more elaborate, but the book's stories and voices are so interesting that it never becomes as boring as a postcard.


The title of the book is taken from one of the wishes of an Afghan boy. On the day of the dream, he would get up as early as possible so that the day could last a long time. At the conferences Rustad has arranged for children to paint, draw and tell about their everyday life, problems and dreams. Afghanistan has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Save the Children has traveled around telling children that they have rights. Right to school. Right to self-determination. Right to safety. Right to meet basic needs. Rights that are just as unreal for an Afghan child, as Norwegian children dream of getting up at four o'clock: Have a school to go to and electricity to read homework.

Rustad gives insightful considerations about why children do not have these rights. She describes poverty and war mixed with children's hopes for another world. They want to build Afghanistan on knowledge and not with the power of warlords. "Without knowledge, you cannot know God" is the children's main argument, taken from the Quran above parents who reluctantly want to send them to school. However, the most heartbreaking descriptions are about the reproductive health of Afghan women. In Badakhshan, seven out of 100 births do not survive. Basic knowledge about the relationship between menstruation and pregnancy is not general knowledge, not even in hospitals. Women travel bleeding for three hours before collapsing in front of the doctor's office. The midwives have no knowledge of hygiene. A French doctor tells Rustad how she has used the local imams to spread information about women's health with great success.

Gods will

Rustad himself asks the question I myself am left with after reading the hopeful stories from the children's conferences: "Is it really possible that people who have been at war for twenty years still have confidence in the world?" Rustad answers an unconditional yes to the question through the book. Humanity is stronger than war, destruction and difficult lives. She tells us that in Afghanistan they write about bitterness for hope of tomorrow. It lies in their faith. Insh'allah means "if God wills". Every promise of the next meeting is answered with those words. What is happening is God's will and the time of miracles is not yet over.

Here at home, Åsne Seierstad's Afghan bookstore is on its way again, but a visa is denied by the Norwegian authorities. Board member of the international PEN club, Eugene Schoulgin, told Aftenposten: "First we took honor and glory from him and then we ridiculed him." The debate about the portrait figure in Seierstad's book is not over.

A bit predictable

For how can a young woman from the West understand a country, a people and life in a country so far removed from her own? The question is also not irrelevant to ask Rustad's book. She has chosen to reproduce the voices of victims of the brutality of Americans, parents, husbands or local gunmen – and of the hopeful children. Maybe it was time to give hope the word – but I still wonder if the form does not go up too easily.

The good guys are against the United States and the bad guys are in cahoots with the empire. The children are strong, and hope for a free, equal and independent Afghanistan. Is not this a picture Norwegian left-wing radicals want to paint and see? I would like to hear the voices of an American soldier, a corrupt judge and a wife abuser. Their brutality is described, but how will they defend the existing and their actions?

The American philosopher Sandra Harding has rhetorically asked: Why is it mentioned and researched so exclusively on those who are in a weak position? Why are they rarely the powerful in the West's spotlight? Rustad does not take on this challenge. Still, I would say that the book has insightful considerations and voices from Afghanistan we need to hear, but it will never be an exciting book.

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