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Help Guide for Teaching Allah’s Orphans in High School and College

The book Allah’s Orphans: The Story of an Afghan Girl is a book about tea, bread and telling a story. It is appropriate to senior high school and college literature, world history and women’s studies classes. This biography of the Lodi Clan of southern Afghanistan highlights life in an enterprising Afghan compound before the Soviet invasion of December, 1979.

The author puts positive emphasis on how young people increase their understanding of one another. Vicariously taste Afghan foods, live through entertaining mischief and witness spiritual change in a culture of the ancients who criss-crossed this Middle Eastern land of the Hindu Kush. 

Excerpts from Allah’s Orphans appear so you can be the best judge of the appropriateness of the book to youth.  The book retails for $12.00 US. Discounts for classroom sets are available by contacting Summer Kitchen Press at 1-800-418-5237 or

The story unfolds as the young girl, Amina Gul, returns to her home in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan. Reminders of her happy childhood revolved around the pranks, antics, mischief and capers of Amina, her brother Masud and the cousins of their extended family.

A shipment of goode pason, kites, “Made in China” come through Afghan customs.  One of the kites finds its way for sale or trade at the Lashkar Gah bazaar. The silver blue paper, bulging in the middle with a three-dimensional orange carp, is a curiosity to Sharif and Masud. Sharif barters his tambour with the broken drone string for the new kite.

“There is a powerful wind to fly Sharif’s new toy.” Masud is his oldest cousin’s spokesperson about weather conditions.  He invites all the little boys to share Sharif’s excitement.

Amina, still part child herself, realizes the plan developing right under her parents’ nose. “Sharif’s big plans are too clever,” is her response to the cousin’s ability to charm and fascinate the smaller cousins and village children.  She could be party to the kite flying but Yahna and Latifa are stringing new beads and spangles for Latifa’s wedding dress. These domestic preparations are more exciting to Amina.

It is the middle of a hot afternoon. A breeze blows where the River Helmand erodes the sandstone cliff, a perfect shelf to fly a kite.  Already an idea forms as Sharif, with the charm of a pied piper, leads his little troupe of kite enthusiasts. They are rounding a corner near the adobe wall enclosure of the mosque, adding boys to the pack as they go.  “The lift would be better from a place higher than the cliffs,” Sharif announces. “How about we turn here to the courtyard and the mosque; there are steps Mullah uses. His parapet puts us high into the wind.”

There is no protest, no fear that Sharif’s proposal will or can fail.  Like lemmings, the boys jostle their way across the dusty prayer yard of their fathers. The holiness of the minaret does not tweak their conscience or put a stop to the ignoble adventure.

Of course, a gang of rabbit-sized boys on a mission has never challenged the Baba who guards the mosque day and night.  In fact, the Baba is asleep in the shade of the minaret until he hears the measured shuffle of sandaled feet climbing the steps overhead.

The shuffling stops. “No problem,” the Baba thinks, sucking a mouthful of warm air and turning over to continue his nap.  Shouts and cheers rise and fall.  “Unusual sounds for this time of day,” the Baba gasps and wakes. 

Grand cheers echo as the kite begins her maiden voyage.  Catching a warm updraft, it shoots alongside the blue-tiled tower toward a sky of the same pale hues. More cheers.

Suddenly the Baba is waving and shouting, the wind almost drowning his “Burro Bachi as he lunges at the littlest boys at the rear of the line, attempting to hook them with the crook of his shepherding staff.

The kite climbs higher, the little boys flee.  Only two trespassers remain on the parapet, Masud and Sharif. 

“Where do you live?  Where are your fathers?” are the first questions from the Baba’s mouth.

Masud, younger and more naive, with a propensity to tell the truth, and the Baba’s staff hooking his tunic, replies, “I will take you to my father.”

Sharif, unintimidated and stubbornly winding the string to retrieve his kite, sees it catch the steeple at the top of the minaret.

“Come Sharif,” Masud pleads, buckling to authority, “we will take Baba to our fathers.”  Sharif, reluctant to leave his kite entangled on the steeple stumbles along, his blue and orange adventure fades. Discipline looms.

Insights into Muslim life are an important part of the book. Simple rituals and the reasons for their observance are clarified.

“No” Amina moans, “I will not stay here alone. I have seen only strangers; I must go with you.”

Mohammed is stern and turns to his prayer rug, nervously pushing his ring of prayer beads through his fingers, asking Allah to bless his journey and help with his daughter. Amina knows the ways of her father.  To Masud, his middle child, he extends the respect of an Afghan male. To Sorbut, his sprite and tiny daughter, he is cajoling and tender. However, as his oldest child, Amina carries the weight of his expectations.  She does not pout, or cry, or entreat, or coax. She is silent. Her father has spoken. She will abide by his decisions. As her father prays, she finds the stylus pen and yellowed paper she keeps in her tunic pocket.

Amina’s earnest efforts to read and write have been a contentious topic in the family for many months.  Her brother, Masud, has special lessons with his religious teacher, Mullah Hamid Hajji. Amina has coveted pages of Masud’s Quran that she copies and studies.  In those months, with their parents disturbed by the indecision of war, the children have passed the time cloistered in the family compound learning their Arabic letters. Masud, tongue knotting and lolling over his lower lip, labors to read and write. However, the beautiful Arabic letters roll out of Amina’s pen. Words out of nothing at all glide to her page in flowing script. Soon she will have confidence to read aloud, the words as full and beautiful in the air as they are on paper. Now she mouths the forms as silently as possible, consoling herself, “My comfort in Allah comes like I am praying.  The Quran is a source of peace. Perhaps it is like my father’s prayer as he calls to Allah from his prayer rug.”

Food is another rich treat wafting with flavors and spices as nan, Afghan wheat bread, is pulled from the baking pits and chai tea is steeped in ancient samovars.

Jeshun and Amina work silently, rolling the elastic dough across the shaping stone.  With a familiar “smack,” of her sturdy, wooden paddle Jeshun slaps the large platter-sized flatbread against the hot wall of the glowing firepit. Small bubbles on the surface of the bread rise and erupt.  The hot wall bakes one side of the round while glowing charcoal bakes the other. Jeshun uses the wooden paddle again to retrieve the baked bread and adds the enormous round to the morning’s pile of nan for the teahouse. In a rare gesture of kindness, Jeshun tucks the last round of warm bread under Amina’s arm and commands, “Girl, go eat this for your supper and return to work in the teahouse tomorrow.”

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