I am home, back in NYC. It seems strange to have been immersed in another culture, another way of life, expanding my perspectives, thinking about theater and social change daily, and then come back to relative quiet where all that discussion and activity has stopped.
I’ve been reflecting on my experience and the discussions I’ve had. I am sure more will unfold as I synthesize the information and wisdom I received, but the one thing that seems to be present in my mind now is the fact that poverty and lack of access to education and participation in civic life are far more serious threats to security and stability than any ideological “anti-Western” sentiment.
A photo-journalist I met told me that day laborers in Kabul (men who come to Kabul from outside provinces looking for work) make about $3 a day. Their plight is similar to day laborers in the States – they wait around at a central location where people pick them up for all kinds of day work from construction to cleaning, etc. They are not protected from abuse, violations, and rip offs. Well, these men who are looking for a way to feed their families could be paid $10 a day by the Taliban. One can immediately see a huge missing piece of the story – as it’s told in the US and “the West”.
Another thing that I learned a little about were people’s responses to “standing up” for themselves and resisting oppression. We made frozen body sculptures of the above concepts in the workshop. The first few represented people gathering, rallying; but they soon transformed into images of private deals, corruption, and manipulation. When I observed that it seems like standing up for yourself is done in private, behind closed doors one of the participants told me a “joke” – many jokes are more like parables that expose a social situation. Here’s the explanation.
There was a judge, or elder, that was presiding over a case where two men were claiming the same land. One evening, Man A visited the judge in his home. He presented a lovely turban to the judge and mentioned that a positive verdict in his favor would mean a lot. The judge said that he was confident that Man A would prevail. The next evening, Man B comes to see the judge. He gives the judge a cow and respectfully expresses how important it would be for him to win the case. The judge nods and remarks that Man B can rest assured that the case would be settled in his favor. On the day of the decision, the judge rules in favor of Man B. Man A is shocked and blurts, “But what about the turban I gave you?!” The judge responds, “I am sorry, but the cow ate it!” The story was their response to my observation about the process of getting justice. How it happens, how it’s connected to resources, and how those who are already on the bottom of the heap, have little chance to change things – especially when those who make decisions are also in need.
Nonetheless , we went on to speak about how their performances could be a place where people come together, in public, to collectively solve problems and think about making change in their lives and communities. The groups have agreed to perform in their provinces within the next 2-3 months. I can’t wait to hear about their experiences and what they learn along the way. I’ll be checking in with them to see how things go and I promise to share their thoughts. I am hopeful with this small start.