How do I talk about difference without putting a value judgment on it? If one thing is different than another, must one thing be better than the other? How can I value multiple experiences, approaches and perspectives while keeping a sense of self? Must I choose one as better so that I can hold on to something familiar?
This project is different than the rest of my work in Afghanistan. I am not working directly with a theater group, I am working with media makers; writers, producers, researchers from Equal Access, Afghanistan. I am training them in methods of participatory storytelling for community engagement and social change. In some ways, it’s very much like the T.V. show I created at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Adult Education.
It’s different working with highly educated, sophisticated men from the capital city versus men with different levels of education from outlying provinces. How have I experienced the difference? There is a warmness and familiarity with the men from the provinces. A sweetness and a homey-ness that comes through in my interactions. With the men in the city … there’s a distance some more formality. I could chalk it up to being busy, being movers and shakers, being pulled in many directions. I could also say it’s because the city-folk are treading new ground. Working closely with women on a daily basis means they must be extra careful to avoid criticism of mixed sex workplaces.
Massoumeh, one of the community leaders and advisers involved in our process, offered another thought. She said in the cities, people are connected only through work. In the village, people are connected through daily life so they know how to be together easily. Profound words.
All this considered, we’ve had a lot of fun and made real connections. An interesting discussion of leadership came up after playing a game called Colombian Hypnosis where one person leads another around the room using only the the palm of their hand. Most of the participants said that they didn’t like leading because they felt that they didn’t know what their partner was thinking and therefore felt strange about just leading their partner anywhere in the room, they said it felt pointless. This got us talking about the relationship between leader and follower. What is the relationship? How are each responsible to the other? What do you need to think about in order to lead well? Where do you have power as the follower?
At the end of the last day of the workshop we went around the room and said what concepts were most interesting and engaging for us personally. Basharat said that the discussion on leadership was the most useful for him. He said that when he went home he realized that as a father, he doesn’t have to take a commanding attitude. He can talk to his children and tell them what’s happening and hear what they’d like to do.
It’s amazing to see how personally this work reaches in such a short period of time. I think that maybe in our few days together, we’ve figured out how to be together easily.