Hello Kabul! Hello mountains. Hello kindness. Hello community. Hello learning. Hello growing. Hello change. I feel so full of joy and gratitude to be here and do what I love. It’s been such a busy week and I can’t believe that already I am half way done! I am finding out that being the sole facilitator and workshop coordinator is pretty time consuming but I promise to send more updates.
For now, it’s wonderful to be back in Kabul and especially wonderful to be back at the BBC-AEPO and focusing on Theater of the Oppressed. It is my specialty and my passion and I love how the process builds closeness, community and solidarity. Speaking of community – let’s meet the new group from Kunduz. Akmal, Bashir, Bilkis, Hadissa, Fereydoon, and Marya. Only 6 people means that we get to do more, discuss more and really understand each other.
It is different working with a small group and I am learning so much from being with them. For one, they are teaching me to slow down. Their easy way and unaffected intimacy put me at ease and I don’t mind that we now take two tea breaks in the morning, not one!
Kunduz is a province in the North of Afghanistan sharing a long northern border with Tajikistan. I asked them to tell me about Kunduz and they said people call Kunduz a little Afghanistan because so many different ethnic groups live in the province, in relative harmony (Tajik, Pashto, Hazara, Uzbek, Baluch, etc.). Akmal told me that his mother is Uzbek, his father is Pashto, he has a Tajik brother-in-law. Kunduz is in a valley so it’s relatively flat compared to Kabul which is nestled in the mountains. (A young woman from Kunduz who now lives in Kabul – but who isn’t in this group – said people started calling Kunduz the “little Kandahar” because of the rise in conservatism and Taliban fighting.)
Fereydoon said that there is still lots of conservatism and fundamentalism, and you can see it rise with increasing unemployment and poverty. But much of the fighting has stopped since NATO and Pakistani forces have stopped using certain roads through Kunduz. Just as the people’s ethnic identities vary, so do their political beliefs. And it’s all within close quarters. Bashir told a story of brothers who are on opposite ends of the political spectrum; one is secular and the other is part of the Taliban. Talk about tense dinnertime conversation!
Our group is already working on two stories, one of male domination and one of students’ oppression at the hands of teachers. Both are huge issue. Teachers have total domination and authority to abuse verbally, physically, and mentally – just as husbands do.
The group created an excellent problem tree which detailed the larger social, political and cultural forces that allow for authoritarianism and unfairness in the classroom. The everyday issues (seen as the leaves) were violence, verbal abuse, asking for gifts/bribes, lack of preparedness of teachers, discrimination and carelessness. The trunk – which represent the larger social and cultural values and systems that hold up these everyday acts of oppression – were identified as teachers were unprepared, had bad information, low teacher salary, no teachers’ rights, government corruption, culture of giving total power to teachers, students are powerless, lack of oversight, improper curriculum and training, and distrust of one another. Whew!
Then the roots were drawn. the long term, deepest issues that affect all systems and levels of society. The roots were corruption, continued neglect, foreign interference, poverty, tribal conflicts, war, and political factions.
You can see how this process is really powerful. From working on our own, personal stories we can connect so many interwoven threads. It makes it obvious that any attempt for social change and problem solving needs to understand the ground it’s rooted in. This reinforces the idea that in order to make change, we all need to work together because our futures are interdependent. The following saying sums it up, from an Aboriginal women’s collective: “If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
After hearing this saying, Bilkis asks if we can rename the problem tree. She tells the following story – a king has a bad dream and calls together his dream analyzers to help him read the dream’s message. The first says that his whole family will die. He banishes this interpreter. The next, having been forewarned, tells the king that his dream means he will outlive most of his family. He is thanked. Bilkis says that there are different ways to say the same thing. With her guidance, we renamed the problem tree – the forest of freedom. Because once we clear the path out, we can follow it to liberation!