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.
Sometimes I wonder if everything I’ve thought of, everything I’m thinking of, has been thought before. Often, it’s in bouts of depression and my conclusion is that I’m probably useless and unoriginal. (Yes, I am being a bit dramatic but that’s me!) These last few months, however, when I reflect on the originality of my being (how embarrassing) I have been grateful for all the thinking that has come before me. Millions of people, doing the best they could, have lived lives and laid the groundwork for me to do what I do. Being immersed in the world of craft, it is starting to make more and more sense that originality isn’t highly prized. It’s nice, but it isn’t the point.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Oh please leave, please just leave!” I’ve been repeating this phrase in my head for the last couple of days. My workshop has been stopped thanks to a high level international conference on aid and development funding for Afghanistan. The office is shut, many roadways are completely closed, and everyone is waiting for Ban Ki Moon and the other international superstars and diplomats to get on their planes and fly out of Kabul.