Midnight Traveler – A Film and a Dialogue

In March 2020, CIE sponsored a Movie Night in the College of Education featuring “Midnight Traveler,” a documentary film of the journey of an Afghan family fleeing from the Taliban and seeking asylum in Europe.  The film was followed by a panel discussion featuring three Afghan graduate students currently associated with CIE as well as the Graduate Program Director for the College of Education. All four of the panelists had experience working with CIE’s higher education projects in Afghanistan during the past 14 years.


The Movie. Hassan Fazili, the father of the family in the film, said “We wanted the audience to be closer to our happiness, unhappiness, dreams and feelings,” He told Filmmaker Magazine in January 2019. “We wanted the viewer to feel that they are by our side during the film, to laugh and cry with us, to feel homeless and confused with us so they would not just watch us from a distance.” The movie, shot entirely by Hassan and his family on three Samsung phones, is less a migration story than the story of a family’s formative years;


Panel Discussion. After viewing the movie panel members responded to some written questions and then engaged in a dialogue with the audience.


Javid Mussawy, a Ph.D. candidate in International Education, spoke about his experience with schooling in Afghanistan and the role of International Education.


When I was growing up, school reflected the four or five political regimes in Afghanistan. The political regimes, whether it was Taliban or Communist rule, to a large extent influenced the curriculum being taught in school. Also, there was internal displacement resulting from the political unrest such that, education was not always accessible to everyone. In addition, the school curriculum was often produced outside Afghanistan, which raised questions about curriculum regulation since it was not systematically regulated by the government.


International education used to be about increasing awareness of Western democracy or ideology in the developing world. Educating the developing world on what it is like to live liberal and be humane. Now, I think we need to rethink international education in a broader context. We need to educate the developed world. For instance, when a country is going through hardship, struggle or crisis, people do not have a choice. It is humane to welcome these people and protect them. People who flee a country to seek safety but unfortunately, not everywhere is safe.


Mujtaba Hedayet, a Ph.D. student in Higher Education, spoke about issues of gender and education in Afghanistan.


Gender inequality is a global challenge; however, Afghanistan is an extreme example. For instance, during the Taliban regime that lasted five years, girls were not allowed to go school, while boys had unrestricted access. Things have improved since then, but just because they are women, they do not have equal opportunities. For example, at the elementary school level, they have almost equal access to education as boys do. However, when they go to secondary school, half of them drop out because of various reasons including traditions where girls do not have access to education beyond six-grade.


Hassan Aslami: A Ph.D. Candidate in International Education commented on the challenges of those forced to leave Afghanistan.


During the four decades of war in Afghanistan, more than five million Afghan people migrated to two neighboring countries, Iran and Pakistan. In the movie, we saw how difficult it was to emigrate from Afghanistan to Europe. It was even more difficult to emigrate from Kabul to a neighboring country of Pakistan during the period, where we were not allowed to leave the country. It was life threatening so people were not able to go anywhere.


The movie should inspire us to think about the underlying issues that cause Afghans to leave the country. Education is key to understanding the challenges. For example, twenty years ago, 85% of the young people were illiterate. It is easy for illiterate people to join any cause because they are not aware of the consequences. If we are not educating them, then we cannot blame them for the results of their behavior.


Shane Hammond, the Graduate Program Director in the College of Education reflected on his experience working with universities in Afghanistan.


As, I worked with the Afghan students and faculty, I learned how important it is to adapt what I knew to the local context. It is not about bringing practice that we have here in the United States and imposing what we know on other people’s culture. It is about creating a shared experience with the people we are working with directly and sharing the knowledge that we both bring to the table in a way that is productive in the educational context.


Reporting by O’Sheho Toweh. Pictures by Chenyang Xu