What’s it like to be a theater artist living in Afghanistan? Over the last 3 days the group shared personal experiences of what it is like to make theater in their provinces. We used their stories and created a “problem tree” – a tool used in popular education to analyze a present problem, what supports this problem, all the way down to the root causes. The problems they presented are somewhat familiar to me: no respect, no resources, and no support. These become the leaves, or fruit of the tree.
The “trunk” represents issues that hold these problems up; what allows these problems to exist. The group spoke about: weak government, lack of education, lack of security, economic problems (poverty), lack of cooperation, and cultural repression.
We then looked at the roots. The deep, underlying issues that have been present for a long time. They spoke of, influence and invasion from other countries (the US being the most recent, but there is a long history of this), violence, and lack of national accountability and responsibility.
Besides their stories of being an artist, they all had powerful and severe stories of killings, death, and tragedy. Violence at the hands of the government, Taliban, US forces, family members, etc.; extreme violence is almost normal. Yet they are here, at a theater workshop, wanting to change the world with art. Artists being artists against all “sense”. Artists making art among violence, poverty, death, limited education, low status, lack of funds, and insecurity. And they continue on – with pride. They are showing me how it’s done. (I’m sorry, am I here to teach them something? I can’t remember.)
One extremely bright, gentle man from Kandahar told us his story today. He comes from a poor family. He was married at 16. When his wife became pregnant, he didn’t have money to get health services for her. She ended up dying in childbirth as did his baby. His day job is digging and shoveling. He shovels gravel and stones. Because his family is poor, and because of all the fighting in his region, he started school at 15, he’s now 24. Today he studies at night, works by day, and tries to forward his art-making whenever he can.
To know his story is to be humbled and inspired. If he has faith in theater, I can never lose my faith.
In my first message to you, as I prepared for this trip, I had deep doubts that theater and arts can be effective tools for liberation is such an environment. I questioned my decision deeply, down to the core.
These participants are my answer. Theater is already their tool. They are showing me how it’s used!