What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
This week was a long week with lots of prodding and pushing. We were telling stories about oppression, personal experiences of oppression, something simple, clear. I started by asking them to make a frozen body sculpture of one such experience. After the activity, we spoke about what they were showing.
It turns out no one made an image of something from their own life! They made images from other people’s lives, images from stories they heard, or things they saw. They were finding it hard to access those personal stories, without compounding them with others.
I asked my translator Walizada if it was the translation. We tried a few different times but it didn’t seem like it was working. Then some folks said they weren’t oppressed!
Hmmm … let’s see where we go with this.
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
The next day I had them make group sculptures of an oppression seen in society. Poverty, unemployment, lack of education – they named the issues. They created 4 or 5 frozen scenes to show a problem playing out. This time, almost every one of them included weapons, force, and violence on top of the social issue shown.
When we discussed these images, it turns out that everyone’s lives have been interrupted by decades of war.
Their educational opportunities, their opportunities to work and the simple ability to live in stability and peace are things that were torn from them and the lives of their families. Stories were of kidnappings, gunshots, fleeing armies, and enduring the Taliban.
Their lives are like a body whose parts are chopped off by the cleaver of war and the effects of war. It is only recently that they’ve tried to put those pieces back together.
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
But how can a society of amputees be expected to get up and run a marathon? They need to heal, to gather themselves together, to become whole.
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Finally, I had them do a visualization of a desire they once had but weren’t able to fulfill – a simple desire from childhood or early in their lives.
They were to then imagine a journey to find that lost desire, what would they have to do to get to it? Would they have to climb a mountain, swim in the ocean, walk a long road?
And lastly, when they reclaimed that desire, what animal would it turn into?
This brought out such wonderful imagery and rich explorations. Rather than speaking of problems, which are MANY, we spoke about lost desire. This allowed them to dig under the trauma, the constant instability, the uncertainty, to a place where they dreamed of a better future.
The stories that they expressed were simple desires of a time when they could consider going after small, personal desires. One person spoke of wanting to learn to swim, another spoke of wanting to ride a bicycle all over her town, a third person shared their desire to be an artist but was forced to start working at age 12.
One person wanted to be an archeologist but this knowledge and course of study wasn’t offered. Another spoke of wanting to walk to a neighboring village to see an eagle that was said to live there.
It was wonderful to be able to have them reconnect with a part of themselves buried under the rubble of violence and war.
From these desires we are going to build our play. There was a definite change in the air after they embodied their animals and many spoke of regaining a sense of dreaming.
These men, women and girls all have figured out how to use creativity, intelligence and the few resources they can get to bring art and goodness to their society. They are transforming into birds of freedom, bringing messages of life, vibrant hopes and collective endeavor to their communities.
I keep reading articles on the international failure to turn around Afghanistan, on the increasing Talibanisation, on the decreasing women’s rights. But you never hear of artists taking their lives and their futures into their own hands and setting off to create new avenues of change.
Please tell people about this work. About the thousands of Afghans who are healing their society, who are working for whole communities, who are making a way where there is none.
It won’t happen over night, not even in 10 years. But slowly and surely these birds are gonna take flight. Let’s support their soaring ambitions.