I haven’t written an update for months. I’ve wanted to, but every time I sat down to share a thought, or an observation, I was acutely aware that something was incomplete. And so, I said to myself, why offer a fleeting, shredded little thing when you can gather up your thoughts for something substantial? Little did I know, that the substantial is made from the tattered bits and pieces.
The famous banyan tree in India has aerial roots. That means small seedlings growing on its branches send down vine-like extensions that upon hitting dirt, take root and anchor the tree. If left unchecked, a single banyan can expand into a maze-like thicket of its own creation. A tree intertwined around another tree, creating shadow trees. I’m living in a similar metaphoric spiral right now. Thoughts shooting straight downward, leading to confusion, leading to pause, leading to insights, leading to growth.
I’ve come back from Afghanistan about 3 weeks ago, and in another 3 weeks I am heading off to India for 8 months on a Fulbright grant. I’ll be returning to the country of my birth and the adopted homeland of my people. It will be strange to be back in a place that is so familiar but so alien. It’s like meeting a celebrity in person. You recognize her, you’ve seen so often. However being here, face to face, makes you realize that you have no idea who this person is and she knows nothing about you.
It’s a Friday full of sweetness and sadness for me. I leave in a couple of days and I am spending this lazy Friday visiting friends to say goodbye … until we meet again. Everything about the city seems magical today. The mountains are glowing white, circled by grey clouds. The streets are calm and people are out and about.
Tomorrow is my last day of training. The actors from Khost, Baghlan and Herat are going to perform two short Forum Theater plays for a limited audience of friends and colleagues. At the core of both stories is the question of whose decisions are respected? Who has the power to make a life choice, and who doesn’t.
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.
Through struggle we bring forth the ripened fruit of a changed tomorrow. We never stand still; motionless as life breezes by. We move in the wind. Sometimes with it, Sometimes against it. Ever changing, we remake our reality. This past week I have been changed by the fortitude, brilliance and endless capacity of Afghan artists.
It’s that time of the year again. Spring is creeping up on us, new shoots are poking up from the ground and festivals of regeneration and re-birth are taking place around the world. In my ancestral part of the world, South and West Asia, the festival of Holi, (celebrated in South Asia) and Norooz (celebrated in West Asia), are coming up this month. Holi is March 8, Norooz is March 20th. Both feature fire, a meditation on righteousness and lots of color.
Since returning from Kabul last month I’ve jumped back into NYC life with both feet! Now I find my schedule full of speaking events and workshops from February through March! If you will be in NYC on any of these dates, please come to one or more of these events. I’d love to see you. And as always, please forward this to anyone who you think would be interested.
The burka. It is such an emotionally charged, unique piece of clothing. For me, focusing on a thing rather than the real issues of sexism and women’s oppression doesn’t make sense, and foreign obsession fn the burka often stinks of exoticism and othering. So I’ve never commented on it nor have I spent much attention on it … until my last night in Kabul.
Today is the holy day of Ashura where, in Islam, believers mourn the death of Imam Hussein, the prophet Mohammed’s grandson. Imam Hussein was fighting a great oppressor and on this day he and his entire family and followers were massacred and left in the desert of Karbala. This story is most important to Shi’ia Muslims a they believe Imam Hussein to be the rightful successor to the prophet Mohammed. Sunnis also believe this day to be sacred and attribute other reasons to the observance like the day god forgave Adam.
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.
I’ve been back in NY for two weeks now and am so pleased that I got to see the last of the fall colors. When I arrived, reds, yellows, browns and greens were still bright and shocking. Now, many of the leaves have fallen – and the colors faded. When I left New York in October Zucotti park had just been occupied and the movement, which seemed to appear from nowhere, bloomed and blazed. In the two months between, something important has begun.
There’s no way around it. I can’t hide, pretend it’s not happening, close my eyes. I have to have to face it -the project has come to an end. Well, my part of it has come to an end and now the young students are tasked with carrying on the work and moving it forward. I have learned a great deal by spending these 6 weeks in Kabul, listening to people, observing life, understanding daily struggles, seeing entrenched attitudes and thinking about all of this in light of how art and culture can be used to educate, build community, and inspire change.
This last week has been filled with performances for NGOs and community spaces throughout Kabul. We often have 2-3 per day which makes for hectic and fun times. So far we’ve performed at schools, orphanages, for the National Police force, a community center for widows and orphans, the Kabul women’s prison, and in the garden of a women’s rights organization.
Sometimes a banana is just a banana … and sometimes it’s more! For the young men’s theater group, a banana represents the multiple problems in Afghan society. Dealing with the seemingly insignificant task of where to throw the peel leads the main character on a journey through the maze of maze of problems on all levels of Afghan society.
I’m writing two separate blog posts, one about the young men’s production and process and one about the young women’s. This one is all about the women. Despite being located in the cosmopolitan capital city, it seems that this theater group is the first all women’s group in Kabul. Many of these young women, even though they have studied theater at university, have not performed on the stage for audiences – not even in university productions. Well, here’s their chance! They are talented, smart, passionate, and ready to shout from the rooftops.
Here’s what happened the other day … Every day, in the room we train in, I hear drums playing, horns blowing and people jamming. Yesterday I took it upon myself to investigate the source of this funkiness. So I walked the halls of the fine arts building at Kabul University. I was stopped on one staircase by some heavenly rabab playing. Coming from where, I didn’t know. It was magical and lovely to just stand there and listen.
I’m tired. Tired, tired, tired. I work 6 days a week with the actors, then spend many more hours at the apartment revising agendas, planning, And trying to connect with local and international NGOs who would be interested in supporting this fledgling theater company when we leave. We go to meetings in the mornings and then go to the university in the afternoons until evening working hard and pushing the students harder. The sky is dark when we leave and Kabul is getting chilly, “sard-e-st” … “it is cold” in Dari.