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’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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Being raised in a South/West Asian home, in NYC, I have the privilege to be able to see things from different cultural perspectives and to carry with me the knowledges of many people. (I use the plural to reflect that there is no one “knowledge”.) I am blessed to have an extended family of second mothers, sisters and brothers who have shared with me some of Puerto Rican culture, African American culture, LGBTQ culture, Jewish culture and so on. I am grateful to have that information and perspective as a part of my being.
The last four days at the Kabul Theater Festival has been heady, thrilling, hopeful, and heartful. I was overjoyed to meet most of the theater artists that I worked with last year. They were presenting their work at the festival (one of them won best scenery and costumes!) and they all looked radiant and full of life. Moreover, I met so many new, creative people working in MANY different provinces of Afghanistan and in different forms of theater.