Three performances and upcoming workshops … all in the next two months!
More than 8 years ago I️ stepped away from performing ... Now on the eve of my 40th birthday, I'm coming back to the stage!
I can’t seem to turn on the news without having violence, persecution, oppression and the worst of human behavior splashed in my face. Yesterday, I was speaking to my partner’s ex-roommate and he, teasingly, asked me what war-torn part of the world was I planning to visit next? The truth is I’ve had many impulses to run away and try to heal the pain of the world — somewhere else — but I’m counseling myself to stay here.
I barely know it’s Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanza season here in India. After all, being a country where the majority of people are neither Christian nor Jewish the holidays are different. (I previously wrote a little about Diwali which just passed.) But yesterday I took a walk in the paper, wrapping and trimmings market in Bombay and got to see some Christmas fun.
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.
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
As I prepare to return to Kabul for a short project with the US Institute for Peace, I wanted to take the time to wish everyone a very happy Eid. May it be filled with closeness, kindness and a renewed hope for human liberation. May the best and brightest parts of your spirit shine. The end of Ramadan (marked by Eid) this year coincides with the Zoroastrian time of prayer and reflection for our dearly departed. The prayers we held at my parent’s home fell one week after the death anniversary of my maternal grandmother. As a girl growing up in India when she did, Dina Arjani was not to be educated past middle school, but her family relented after her insistence.
I was sitting in a café with a dear friend asking her advice on a community education project I am working on. We’re imagining the question, “What does it mean to be a citizen in the 21st century?” and we’re thinking of how to implement informal “schools” to develop poor people’s critical thinking and leadership skills. (I speak of citizen with a small “c” as in an engaged community member not related to national borders.)
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.
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.
Full of JOY! I feel like I’m walking on clouds, slowly climbing higher and higher till I reach my cruising altitude. I am preparing to go back to Kabul for a month of trainings and am thrilled to see my work build on itself. The first two groups I trained are coming back and I will be offering them new cultural tools for community engagement, collective problem solving and local healing. After this advanced workshop, a few members will stay with me to co-facilitate a brand new training with 3 new groups!
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.
I love this time of year since its often the only extended break I have to reflect on my life, gather with people I love and appreciate the small, simple moments of grace from the year gone by. The lights we burn on Yalda, Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa are all rooted in primal symbolism and full of references to the light of human goodness triumphing over fear and confusion.
Art imitates life, life imitates art … but what’s the deal with pepper spray at WalMart? It’s the theater of the absurd in overdrive. I sit here next to the pot bellied stove in my guest house, calm and distant. I don’t mind the distance from this facet of life. Though I do remember when I was here in late September, I had such longing to be part of the Occupy movement in NYC. Funny how things change.
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.