It’s not a classroom I’m used to.

I’m seated at a long table, chairs gathered around. No orderly desks lined up facing a whiteboard. Instead, we’re set up in the middle of a community space. Toys litter the room, a kitchen opens onto our space, glass walls reveal the gymnasium next door.

I’m usually strict about the noise level in my classrooms: it’s hard to concentrate when others are talking, when chatter and movement rise to a din. But here, the sounds are out of my control. Next door, in the gymnasium, primary students shout as they run and jump and climb. In our room, preschool-aged children and infants play and cry and demand the attention of adults. Around me, at the table, a group of women sit. Some of them are quiet, looking at me as I give instruction. But usually a pair or two are turned towards each other, speaking quickly, not quietly, in Dari. Twice during our class, the beep, beep, beep of the school’s bell will sound, moving children to the next period. Often the combination of all these sounds rises in a surge, like a wave coming at me that I am unable to rise above, and I’m overwhelmed, drowned in the cacophony.

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