December 19, 2003 - New York Times: RPCV Barry Rosen returns to Afghanistan to serve in Kabul University

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Afghanistan: Peace Corps Afghanistan: The Peace Corps In Afghanistan: December 19, 2003 - New York Times: RPCV Barry Rosen returns to Afghanistan to serve in Kabul University

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Friday, December 19, 2003 - 9:34 am: Edit Post

RPCV Barry Rosen returns to Afghanistan to serve in Kabul University

RPCV Barry Rosen returns to Afghanistan to serve in Kabul University

Returning to Danger, Desire to Serve Unquenched

Published: December 19, 2003

But for a security alert in Kabul, where Afghans are struggling to hammer out a constitution, Barry Rosen would once again be leaving his family behind and putting himself in harm's way, all for the love of a region, a language, a literature and a religion that have captivated him for half his lifetime.

Some would call the 59-year-old Mr. Rosen crazy, obsessed, foolhardy his grown children and in-laws among them for accepting a yearlong posting to begin in January in Kabul, where Columbia University, Unicef and the local ministry of education are working to rebuild Afghanistan's school system.

His wife, Barbara, is outwardly supportive, Mr. Rosen said from his cozy office at Teachers College, where he waits out the security alert in his current job as executive director of external affairs. Inwardly, he knows she is frightened. How could she not be?

The last time Mr. Rosen set off on such a journey, 25 years ago, he was headed for Tehran, to serve as the press attaché in the United States Embassy at a time when the rule of the shah was giving way to a fundamentalist revolution.

Mr. Rosen was perfect for the job: fluent in Farsi and its related languages, knowledgeable about Islamic theocracy and versed in Persian literature back to the 10th century, which bound Central Asia even as ethnic and religious forces tore it apart.

Mr. Rosen said he believed he would be safe in a land that he knew and loved from a two-year Peace Corps tour there in the late 1960's. Even amid charred buildings, newspapers closed by censors and thugs bearing bayonets, "I stupidly thought, `I know these people and these people know me,' " he recalled. " `I can't get hurt because I can talk my way out of things.' "

That faith was misplaced. Mr. Rosen wound up being one of the 52 Americans taken hostage at the embassy and held for 444 days, from Nov. 4, 1979, until Jan. 20, 1981.

Details of captivity, peculiar as well as profound, are never far from Mr. Rosen's mind. In one of many safe houses where he was held, the only amusement was playing with red ants that crawled the floor. In another, he had a roommate whose occasional mail from home included the boating section of The Washington Post. The two men entertained themselves choosing a vessel and imagining a sail on Chesapeake Bay. Once, given an orange, they maximized the rare treat by searing its rind on a space heater and making marmalade.

Those are the cocktail party stories, easier to tell and to hear than accounts of months bound hand and foot and other horrors. And then the rocky road home, to a son, 3 at the time of his capture, who knew him best from televised propaganda, and a daughter, a year old when he left, who howled if left alone with this strange man claiming to be her father.

The marriage, too, was more a memory than a viable union for the first few years after his return. But Barry and Barbara Rosen made a pact: they would hold it together, he said, by "thinking about the children and thinking about ourselves before all this." He added, "We knew we had had something together and we waited to find it again."

Mr. Rosen, an adventurer at heart, yearned to return to the foreign service or the Voice of America, where he had worked before his Tehran posting. But he chose to respect his family's wish for a secure, if mundane, future. "I'd already done too many things for myself," Mr. Rosen said.

So he stayed, wrote a book and accepted a position in the press office at Brooklyn College.

In 1995, he moved to Teachers College, drawn by the school's long history of international education. That included training foreign administrators and teachers on its Morningside Heights campus and partnering with underdeveloped countries, primarily Afghanistan, to produce textbooks, design curriculum, recruit teachers and help local ministries take over these tasks.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Rosen pushed for Columbia to resume its work there, playing a constructive role in a wounded land. He laments the decision by the Bush administration to devote enormous energy and resources in Iraq, rather than Afghanistan, which he says is "the homeland of terror" when it could be a "showcase for democracy."

BUT Teachers College, Unicef and the ministry are making strides on their own. The partnership has already created first-grade texts in a half-dozen subjects, including Islam, in both of the country's languages, Dari (a close cousin of Farsi) and Pashto. "Afghanistan wants both languages spoken by every Afghan," Mr. Rosen said. "That is one of the essential ways to build a nation."

Once the current alert is lifted, Mr. Rosen and a retired professor will relocate to Kabul, with additional faculty rotating in and out. Their task: to get an education system up and running, even if it means "emergency teacher training" for anyone with a ninth-grade education and classrooms in tents, he said.

On his short visits to Kabul so far, Mr. Rosen has been teased for speaking Dari with a Tehran accent and is called aqay-e Irani, or Mr. Iran. "It's the funniest thing given my history," he said. Yet Mr. Rosen has told no one in Kabul of his ordeal as a hostage and says he cannot imagine doing so.

"They only care that I'm there, that I know something and that I'm trying to be of assistance," he said. "These people have suffered such ruthlessness and devastation. Why should I burden them with my stupid little story?"

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Story Source: New York Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - AFghanistan; COS - Iran; Return to our Country of Service - Afghanistan



By imeh ( on Sunday, June 06, 2004 - 12:14 pm: Edit Post

I will like to know how peace corps operate and as well function

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