Thursday, April 26, 2007

Greetings from Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan.

We are alive and well and holed up for a week with an organization called Ashiana (meaning "nest" in Dari) which specializes in basic education for working street children and vocational training for ages 14 - 20. We just had the grand tour today and met the staff; and are getting geared up to introduce the students to new and creative ways of thinking.

Though we feel secure and are sensibly conducting ourselves, there is no question that the general mood here is that the country has gotten less stable over the last 3 years. The perception is that Pakistan is stirring up the trouble and, despite the rhetoric, the US is doing nothing to stop them. The details of course are more complicated we’re just trying to keep our heads low and concentrating on working with the kids to make them more happy and confident.

The end is drawing near, but there is still work to be done. Another note or two before this is all said and done.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The last India chapter...

The India part of this adventure is quickly drawing to a close and the Afghanistan part is about to begin.

I thought by now I would be ready to head home, but I’ve gotten my second wind and am excited for the adventures that await us.

All in all, things have been going very well. I know I have learned a lot and enjoyed doing the shows and the challenge of the workshops. Everyone has worked at 110% of their capacity and we’ve contiunted to engage audiences and workshop participants wherever we’ve gone. The feedback that we got was always positive and we too have taken a great deal from each of our programs.

I think that in the future Hyderabad and it's surroundings areas might be the best place to concentrate future projects. It is easier to reach Muslim youth populations there and the theatre group we worked with, Koshish, was not only enthusiastic but also had a handful of women working with them. Both this connection and the connection with Banglanatak in Kolkata are ones to keep and grow.

While UNICEF and Gandhi Darshan/Smriti may be possible parnters in the future as well. We are working with one UNICEF group in Darshan now which is a tribal group of 30 children that live in a refugee camp just south of here. They are a great group and excellent students willing to try everything.

Well, that's the news for the moment—next stop Kabul.


coming full circle, back to Dehli

In Hyderabad, we arrived on the scene-- an actual street with motor bikes scooting past and the clamor of people all around. Then halfway through the show the sky turned dark and storm came to cut the heat and get all 200 audience members running for anything with an overhang. After the storm, our stage had turned into a giant puddle and we could not continue. I was not ready to leave, but we forge ahead.
We are now back in Delhi at the same place where we began.. the Gandhi Smiriti-- the place where Gandhi was shot- this time working with 30 children who have been brought here by UNICEF. They are from a region of India called Bastar; a region notorious for tribal violence and all of the children have been taken from the their homes, either because of violence or the threat of violence, and placed in boarding houses or refugee camps. We were hoping to go there, but UNICEF decided the trip would be too dangerous and that such a trip was a fantastic chance for these children to see

We are working with them for a week, doing theatre games, teaching circus arts, making masks. It is so amazing to return to Delhi after all of this time away. I remember thinking what a huge crazy, congested place. Now is seems so tame and orderly!

On Friday, we head to Afghanistan for three weeks of workshops and performing in Kabul and Masar-i-Sharif.

More from there…

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

From the dust of Bihar to heart of Hyderabad...

The Bihar workshops ended very well-- the theatre group we were working with was to give a small informal presentation to us to show their incorporation of workshop ideas (non-verbal communication, acrobatics, puppetry, etc) into their theatrical style. Before we knew it, the informal presentation turned into a crowd of 700 with street vendors selling peanuts and bikes parked in back like an official parking lot!

Our workshops are much more ephemeral – we do not know how our work is transferred, so the performance was a fantastic experience for us as we were able to see the direct application of our training on other theatre artists who work for social change.

The whole experience in Bihar left me wondering about the difference we are making here in such a short time. Is it possible to make an impact without knowing the language or spending time just getting to know a situation, a group, a set of circumstances? We are traveling here so much and doing so many things-- one never knows if a lot of little things add up in the end.

One particularly positive example: we were working outside and teaching an acrobatic move that requires four or more people to turn over at the same time so each person has their feet on the others back. We were working with the adults and before long there were around 200 kids and general onlookers. Not but 20 minutes later, all of the children were off in another field trying the move without us there at all, at least fifty kids working together to make it work. What a scene!!!

We are now in a new place, full of quirks and character. Hyderabad is a city of chadors and smog congested street corners and urban manifestations of rural life everywhere. The outside of Islamic buildings are so carefully constructed, with curvy organic shapes, arches and ornamentation you wouldn’t believe.

The Muslim women wear black burquas here, with only their eyes showing. The best part of this city is the juxtaposition everywhere; women wearing stylish sunglasses over their burquas, other women standing adjacent in a midriff sari of bright orange. The large British architecture of covered sidewalks stands in tandem with large Muslim influenced monuments and finally the huge lake that the city hugs with a statue of Buddha right in the middle.

We are working with COVA, a organization of many volunteer organizations that works for social progress in the city. They have an "in-house" theatre company that works to spread the message across about affordable housing. It’s really fantastic.

A few more workshops and performances- and then we’re back to Delhi before heading to Afghanistan. Every day another adventure in the making...

One month to go!


Monday, April 02, 2007

On to Bihar

We left Calcutta and are now in Bihar, known as one of the poorest and most lawless places in India.... and we are having a great time! We are in West Champaran in a town called Betiah. Every day we travel to a tiny and exquisitely beautiful village outside Betiah; poor but it is impeccably neat with tidy mud homes, thatched roofs and animals roaming everywhere. It's stunningly peaceful contrasted to the wet, nasty, crowded poverty of Kolkata.

Betiah is wild and noisy with tiny horses pulling carts, people, bicycles, cows, goats, dogs -- it's truly a zoo. The cows really do roam freely, wandering casually across traffic at their leisure.

We are working with women from the village who come to this small school for training in sewing. They are so modest and shy that they would hardly do the most simple of exercises. Thankfully they are beginning to open up, and they all came back after the break so we didn't completly scare them away.

We are working with a mask company that does a series of plays for UNICEF and their training is very simple. Our job is basically to teach them everything -- just "blow their minds" our UNICEF representative said. And so far they are loving it.

From here it’s off to Hyberdad, more to come!