Saturday, June 21, 2008

Week Five: Jaipur

Our fifth and final week in India was for discussion and reflection about the entire Arts Exchange program. It was bittersweet, philosophical and concise.

After a one-night stopover in Delhi (Reena saw her family finally!) we got on a bus and took a 7-hour trip to Jaipur. It was such a long ride and the bus was jam-packed with both people and mosquitos, Reena’s mother sweetened the experience with some tasty desert she’d sent along with her daughter.

On Subhash’s recommendation we stayed at the Anuraag Villa Hotel in the Bani Park section of Jaipur. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who is going to Jaipur. The rooms were cool and clean and the ceilings tall, painted with the same floral design as the Taj Mahal. It was a beautiful place and perfect for our closing evaluation retreat.

For our meetings, we sat out in the backyard to eat and talk about what we had learned.

For example, Joanna asked, what can we do to insure that this program continues? If it continues, what will it look like? What worked and what could we make even better?

We envisioned taking our “model” program on a tour of the three countries – to Afghanistan, to the US, and back to India. We wrote down the nuts and bolts of our workshop approach, including descriptions of 38 favorite exercises out of the many theater games we shared with each other. We also considered what sort of performance we would like to create next time and how a new show would be possible if we wrote it before the Exchange began, and how could it best reflect current affairs in each country rather than addressing a generic problem.

The sessions yielded 26 pages of notes and a deeper understanding of what it is the three companies have created together.

Aside from these intensely focused discussions, we spent time enjoying each other’s company knowing the end was near. This included tooling around Jaipur and taking one final outstanding trip together to see the Taj Mahal. Yep. It is beautiful.

It was a great surprise in the last days to meet a new extraordinary friend: Rajesh Chauhan, an associate of Ali and Shafiq at the BBC. He was quite simply the Idealest Host Ever. He helped us get our equipment to the airport, getting Ali’s flight back home, and sat and talked with us just cause he is a true believer in hospitality and making visitors welcome. The most touching thing he did was that once he heard about our Lucknow mission to go dancing, he devised a grand plan to take us out before we returned to New York.

Part one of the plan was to treat us to an amazing dinner – our last in India.
Part two was to visit a disco on the way to the airport so we could part ways dancing! Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out and we ended up having to drop Ali, Jamil, and Rajesh off at the disco and speed directly on to the airport. But the gesture was unforgettable. On the way there, Ali and I sang through the one of our favorite songs once more. It translated, “Where ever I went, you were with me, my love.”

As we left I smiled knowing that sentiment will remain true for all of us on this Arts Exchange. Wherever we go, we will be in each other’s hearts.

We have succeeded in all aspects of what the Arts Exchange set out to do – we have built intense international bonds, exchanged a wealth of artistic practices, proven that theatre crosses boundaries of language and culture with grace and ease, and used our craft to bring laughter and self-expression to thousands of people across India. And we helped to stimulate the minds and imaginations of some of India’s most impoverished populations!

As a very unlikely three-country team, I think we inspired people most through our easy rapport and mutual enjoyment of each other… despite differences in language, religion, world-view, gender, and nationality. Our work together for a greater good – making the world a little happier – allowed us to breathe as one, and be a true team.

Our deepest thanks to all our creative team members in this venture:
Afghans: Jamil Royesh, Shafiq Hakimi, Ahmad Ali Fakri, Zia Murad;
US: Joanna Sherman, Michael McGuigan, Jenny Romaine, Sarah Peters, Meghan Frank;
Indians: Subhash Rawat, Lokesh Jain, Reena Mishra, Shashanta and Bhaswati Mukhopadhyay.
And to our very own State Department (via the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs) to believe that theatre is a valuable means to cross-cultural understanding.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Week 4: Kashmir (click here for photos)

Reena took her very first airplane trip with all of us to a place she’s only seen in movies Kashmir! She woke up a half hour before the alarm clock - at 4 in the morning – because she was so excited. It was exciting for us to watch her as the plane climbed into the sky.

Here’s a brief synopsis of our travel day:
Load 12 bags into the car
Unload 12 bags out of the car onto carts
Load 12 bags onto x-ray machine
Unload 12 bags off the x-ray machine onto carts
Load the 12 bags at the ticket counter
Unload the 12 bags in Delhi onto a cart
Load 12 bags
Unload 12 bags

Joanna said that on every tour she’s been on, no matter how long, there’s a tough spot for the group just past the middle. Then everyone realizes their time together is running out and any troubles seem to be not such a big deal. The journey to the state of Jammu and Kashmir as counted as that time for us, and it wasn’t too bad.

This week I could say we have certainly become friends. My proof is the story of “Green, Blue, Push!”

We had a ridiculous laugh moment together in the Srinagar airport when Ali was telling us about his colored contacts, and Reena plowed the luggage buggy into his ankle. (Reena was pushing a luggage buggy, yes, for the first time in her life.) Then she laughed about it maniacally “Green, blue, Push! Ha ha ha ha ha.” All the way into the town of Anantnag – “Green, blue,
Push! Ha ha ha ha ha.” She was like a demonic little sister, with Ali the resigned big brother.

So the Universal Hotel was not what any of us were expecting. We all stood with our arms crossed, breathing in the exhaust fumes from the repair garage that was in the lobby of the Universal Hotel, contemplating how the lack of lights and hot water would be through the cold Anantnag night, and wondering how it could be that this was the only hotel available in whole city. This was when Reena tried to get a laugh, by repeating “Green, Blue Push! Ha ha ha hah…” And everyone just looked at her. Not even a peep of laughter. Perfect awkwardness. What a grumpy moment! I thought, this is it for sure. The rough spot. Yep, this is it.
We bucked up. And the hotel was fine. Hot water worked in enough rooms, the blankets were warm, and we ate dinner laughing once again at “Green, blue, Push! Ha ha ha!”
Next day we did a demo performance, if you will, for the principal of the Government Degree College for Women, some of the college’s students, some students from a near-by elementary school and our hosts, Mr. Nabi and Mr. Shabir. They all had a truly enthusiastic reaction to our show. After, the teacher from the Froebel Elementary School gave a particularly inspiring speech about theater’s power to bring peace because it requires teamwork, and here we had people from such diverse countries working together! (I feel equally impressed by this fact every day.)

But then, how do I describe “The explosion of Mr. Nabi?” I must begin by saying I wasn’t actually in the room when it happened. And in retrospect, everything ended up being totally fine. But I think it’s important to describe this moment of misunderstanding – a potential whenever several cultures come together, even for peaceful reasons.

Essentially Mr. Nabi wanted us to do another show at the college in order to interest the students in our workshop, but Joanna tried to explain we prefer to do shows for an audience that includes both adults and young children (as opposed to just a group of adults). There were a lot of raised voices from our hosts, and back and forth attempts at explanation on the topic until Mr. Nabi stormed out of the room in offense, leaving Joanna and Subhash in the room wondering what to do next. I believe Subhash worked as the peace-maker/interpreter with Joanna as the calmer/explainer when Mr. Nabi eventually came back into the room - we agreed to do the college show, they agreed to bring over more children, and it ended up being a great success in sharing with these young women a show designed to target both children and adults together.

So I thought oh, that was it. That was the “challenging” moment. It wasn’t too bad.
We got a tip from a friend of Mr. Shabir: Go to Pahalgam. It is a beautiful town up in the mountains with many hotels. So we went! Like explorers, packed the car and headed to the mountains.
We followed the road along the rushing Lidder river, up and up into the cold, snow-capped mountains. In Pahalgam we were greeted by a crowd of running young men whose job it was to get newly arrived tourists into their hotels.

This was when I had my own personal breakdown. Our desire to get on the road, beat the sunset and find a new hotel meant that we didn’t get a chance to eat beyond the early morning meal, and I was unprepared with any packable snack. The result? As we carried our 12 bags into the Paradise Hotel at around 9 pm I cried. Like a baby. Hungry, tired, worn out by all the debate, I broke. I felt totally embarrassed. And in this moment, Joanna came to my side and let me know it was ok and told me she was glad I had been a trooper. Ali also said, with tears juuust peaking out of his eyes, “Sarah you can’t cry. You have too many friends, and you are older. If you cry, what will I do?” This, and a plate of navratan korma, calmed me down.

And that was it. I can look back now and say, that was my most personally challenging moment. And – not so bad!

Into the week of workshops - one at the Froebel School, and one at the Women’s College. It took an hour to come down from the mountain every day, which was a beautiful background for our daily workshop planning sessions.

Our workshops this week gave the college women a new format in which to express themselves, and we hope that both the teachers at the elementary school and the college students will consider theater an educational tool they can use in the future.

Our final performance of this week, and the final performance of the tour, was very special. We heard rumors of a town that had seen a terrible massacre in the year 2000 and thought this might be a healing place to do our show. It turned out that in fact Mr. Nabi was from this area. So he took the steps to arrange a performance. By sheer chance we performed on the anniversary, March 20, of the massacre of 3 Sikh men by militants in the area. People often refer to Kashmir as “heaven on earth” because of its beautiful natural resources. But it in this village after the show that Dr. Mohammad Amin Malik, the head of the political science department at the College for Women, explained that in fact Kashmir is heaven on earth because people with such diverse beliefs have lived in peace – for much longer then the recent conflicts. The people we met in Kashmir want this to be why their state is known around the world.

Other Bits: Many people pointed out that Ali and Jamil could easily be mistaken for Kashmiris.

The dogs of night – defending their dog territory, playing their dog games to stay warm, and then sleeping the day away.

Reena always says “No ‘thanks,’ no ‘sorry’ between friends.” The result of this viewpoint is that when I say thank you, she says, “Oooh no, no, no!” or “It’s NO problem!” One morning she said to me, “Thank you, Ooh, sorry! OOOH!! NO ‘THANKS’ NO ‘SORRY’ BETWEEN FRIENDS!” Ha!

Every day the pashmina sales men met us at the car before we left.
I think of men in matching coats with beautiful faces when I think of Kashmir.Another first for Reena: snow! – the Delhi girl froze the week away and counted down the days until she’d be back in her warm home.
We left Anantnag on Friday - Eid! - which meant we drove through four parades on our way down the mountain. We even became a part of one of the parades, as the chanting, celebrating men jumped up on our slow-moving jeep. 

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Week Three: Lucknow (click here for photos)

Before our week’s work of artistic ambassadorship began, Ali and I wanted to go dancing! The Sunday night air was filled with the sound of parties that we wished we were at. Instead we took a bicycle rickshaw to the only disco in Lucknow. Ali says in Kabul, everyone is indoors by 7 pm because of the situation there. So he was super-enjoying the 10 o’clock adventure where the disco was cheese and we were mice in a Hindi maze. One bicycle rickshaw, 1 auto rickshaw, and several dead ends later, we were on the top floor of a mall – coulda been New Jersey! – including walking through the door that said “members and couples only” into an overpriced and completely empty club. No matter. We danced like superstars in a music video. Despite his lack of nightlife, Ali is a fantastic dancer.

New week, new set of workshops, this time for girls age 7 to 14 at the Prerna School, a school for the poorest girls (the daughters of rickshaw drivers, beggars, ragpickers and the like) created five years ago by Urvashi Sahni, a woman whose capacity to inspire is reflected in the eyes of both her students and the teachers who work for her.

The Prerna school is housed within a private school for middle-class families called the Study Hall Foundation. The girls who attend Prerna pay a nominal fee because their education is subsidized by the families of the wealthier students: they give a bit more than the cost of their own child’s education to support Prerna. These young girls were an inspiration, many taking education into their own young hands and putting themselves into the school without any support from their families.

As for performances, we did four shows this week – one for the Prerna Foundation girls, a show for disabled children at SPARC, a performance in a Lucknow slum called Balu Adda, and another rural village performance in a place called Mishrapur. The most memorable was the performance in Balu Adda.

Not far at all from the Prerna Foundation, we turned into a vast landscape of dwellings constructed from tarps, hay, and pieces of plastic built amidst mounds of garbage and plastic bottles. How do people live here? How will they like our play? I wondered. What will it mean to them? There was a huge crowd. Somewhere around 450 people. As the show began, looks of curiosity became smiles and laughs, for the kids and adults alike. And when it was all done, I had a group of small-sized followers looking for more fun. One little girl in particular developed a new version of tag I guess you’d call “punch the pillow butt and run.” She’d laugh which would make me laugh and then the other kids would laugh. Amazement all around.

This was the dirtiest of all places I’ve ever been, and we rolled in and did a show and rolled out. This show is memorable to me for what we are able to do and what we are unable to do, both made visible in the extreme conditions of these people’s lives. What is it that we do? We give an hour of intrigue and laughter. Laughter! It improves the immune system, stimulates neural connection, and instigates smiles (the glue of humanity). But to see that, without fresh water and basic hygiene, simple cuts fester and easily treatable conditions worsen, made us all aware of our limits.

The unofficial theme of this week was the state of women in India, which kept coming up from many different people. If I ever identified myself as post-feminist, in India I have been quite clearly asked to question my assumptions about women’s level of equality. “Indian food is designed to torture the woman,” said one of the reporters who came to interview us. She spoke of how she is ready to change careers and location now that her daughter is going to college so she can have a life that doesn’t include tending a pot of food that cooks for hours. She was being funny about it – but it is true in the US I have food that can be made pretty quickly. What a simple luxury.

And then there was the night Urvashi gave accounts of 15 year-olds being married off to men in their 50s. It is more like buying a servant, and not what I have been raised to think of as marriage. The last day at Prerna, she invited the first graduating class to tell us about their opinions and experiences. The girls stood there and said they didn’t know anyone who has a happy marriage. “Many women are single women living on their own despite being married!” said Urvashi.

My friend and co-worker Reena later that night said, “my father hopes to get a lot of money for my sister and I. I don’t like marriage. I focus on what I can control, which is my profession.” She has a passion to work with disabled children and a hope for a good marriage, but not any control over whom she will marry. I imagined the unpleasant pressure of having to command a high price.

I made friends with the assistant manager of the hotel where we stayed and even she brought up the topic, saying for many, if a women doesn't do all the housework, the marriage is over.

Despite these realities, because of them, women here have astounding determination. The Prerna girls work 5+ jobs to support their families, AND put themselves into the school. The young women who have been there all five years said their parents definitely treat them differently as a result. Now that they have received education, the parents don’t dismiss their daughter’s comments and opinions as easily. They listen a bit more. This girl has been to school, she knows a bit more than before!

And my favorite moment all week was when one of the older Prerna students bravely (it seemed brave to me) asked Jamil if he makes his wife and sisters cover their face in Afghanistan. He said it is their choice whether they do or not. Then Urvashi asked why is it that Muslim men can marry 4 wives, but women can’t have 4 husbands. He didn’t know and the girls swapped exasperated looks. As we left Jamil told Urvashi he would like to come back to Prerna Foundation and when he does, he said, “I will have an answer.” Because those young women will definitely be asking!

Other Bits: Over the course of two weeks of driving to workshops, we have developed “Ali’s favorite jump” and “Sarah’s favorite left turn;” Our driver, Raju, gamely would speed up the car to fly over “Ali’s favorite jump;” Ali has a secret sign for beer! (taboo in Afghanistan… but available). We haven’t met them yet, but Mr. Nabi and Mr. Shabir (our Kashmir hosts) have become a daily presence in our lives with the planning for next week’s trip. We made a visit to Waris Alisha, a memorial to a Sufi profit who symbolizes, says our friend Adyog, peace between religions. In this temple, both Muslims and Hindus – anyone – is welcome to pray; I can’t say precisely why but we all felt a deep bond with the young women of Dewa. We had a certificate presentation ceremony with singing and snacks that was emotional for everyone. I will miss them very much.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Week One: Delhi (click here for photos)

I will begin by introducing myself. My name is Sarah Peters and I am finishing my graduate degree from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater in California. I came to New York to intern with Bond Street because like many, many people, I was impressed and inspired by their work in social humanitarian theater.

This is both my first tour with Bond Street and my first visit to India, so as you can imagine, my excitement level is pretty much through the roof.

This final installment of the International Arts Exchange (the culmination of this three-year project) began in the city of Delhi. This is where we would both rehearse our show and teach theater workshops.
The team includes me along with Artistic Director Joanna Sherman and Managing Director Michael McGuigan from Bond Street of the US. Then there is Jamil Royesh, Shafiq Hakimi, and Ahmad Ali Fakhr (he goes by Ali!) from Exile Theater in Kabul, Afghanistan. And finally, there is Reena Mishra and Founding Artistic Director Subash Rawat and from Purvabhyas Theater of Delhi, India.

We have all come together to collaborate artistically, to train teachers and other trainers in “social theatre” techniques, and to provide theatre-based programs to disadvantaged children and youth, as Joanna says, to “encourage self-expression, creative thinking, and teamwork.”
I am particularly proud to be a part of this international collaboration because it is funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State. Art exchange has the greatest potential of bringing people together. Art is an act of love and it is with great joy that people share music, theater and educational practices. This funding of a creative exchange is an important counterbalance to more violent actions my government is taking elsewhere. So my job here is to perform and teach, but always with an eye toward building friendship and understanding between our three countries – US, Afghanistan, and India.

We leapt right into it with rehearsals and workshops. We did three days of workshops for a group that included young women from Janki Devi Memorial College and young men from Jamia Millia Islamia University. Our host at Janki Devi, Deepali Bhanot was very enthusiastic about what we taught the students, which ranged from physical expression to stilt-walking to image-based theater techniques. The students were even more enthusiastic with their enjoyment and appreciation. We also did four days of training with young girls at an amazing organization called Project HOPE which aids children and families in the Nizamuddin neighborhood– a very poor Muslim community in Delhi.

As explained by Director Selvi Roy, many of the girls in this program are not allowed by their families to attend school outside the neighborhood, so HOPE has created education within the neighborhood. The program began as only a few hours of study a day which expanded to educate children and adults all day and even into the night. At night, HOPE provides food, shelter and education to young children who come to the Delhi to work and have no families. HOPE has even helped the children organize banking among themselves since normal banks won’t allow minors to open accounts.

The girls of HOPE were bright, smart, playful girls who over the course of four days bravely tried things they’d never done before.

Simultaneously, in the mornings, we rehearsed and updated our play “A Kite’s Tale” which was originally created with Exile Theater in 2005. Our Afghan collaborators had unexpected trouble getting a flight to Delhi and were not able to arrive until Wednesday night! But there was plenty to work on until they arrived as both Reena and I were new to the show.
“A Kite’s Tale” is designed to bring laughs to children and families and it includes music, stilts and silliness to tell the story of 4 children trying to reclaim their playground from an underhanded developer. The message may be more about the idea of actors from three countries working together as much as it’s about the children teaming up to achieve their goal.

Our first performance was a great success! About 300 people from the Nizamuddin neighborhood showed up to watch and laugh and be totally amazed that something so interesting and new should come to their part of Delhi.It was especially exciting to get the show on its feet, since our short rehearsal time was unexpectedly cut even shorter. The Afghans, after struggling to get to Delhi, had to go register the morning of the performance with the foreign registry office. Turns out people from the US and Great Britain are the only visitors who don’t have to do this. I must applaud Ali, the newest member of the Afghan team, who did not have the comparative luxury of rehearsals that Reena and I did. He’s a pro for jumping right into a new show with virtually no rehearsal.

What I have learned this week is that Bond Street Theatre has admirable comfort with a complete change in plans, a sense of ease in chaos, and lots of patience. These qualities are shared by everyone on the team, which means that no matter what, we get through the day with grace.

Other Bits: A girl from HOPE introducing me to her mother. A goat wearing a sweater. Seeing Reena perform for the first time! She was pretty great. My teammates laughing at the big pillow butt I added to my “teacher” costume. Eating a meal as a whole team together for the first time on Thursday. Throwing lentils all over myself and the wall and the floor when I tried to do a plate flip with a plate of actual food. The sound of Ali’s voice singing so sweetly. Joanna and Michael telling tales of the Odin Theatre Anniversary. And tales of fiascoes from previous tours - with only one key for the eight of us, of course someone got locked out just once during the week. The gigantic crowd of laughing kids. The college students from Jamia Islamia being equally excited about who I thought should be president and our show. Being able to call it “our” show.

Week Two: Lucknow (click here for photos)

The week began with a train ride from Delhi to our next destination: Lucknow.

None of us got any sleep the night before. Michael was up virtually all night arranging for a taxi that would pick up me and Ali, and then take us to pick up Reena 25 minutes outside the city, and then come all the way back to the train station by 5:15 am. In the US, this is not as much of an organizational event as it was here. When Michael wasn’t on the phone, he was wondering whether it would all work out. In the end, everything came together.

Everyone was up all night packing and being with friends or family one last time before our tour headed out for the rest of the month. And while Ali and I hardly slept with our 3:45 am departure, Ali softened the pre-dawn taxi ride by singing Afghan songs all the way to Reena’s.

A little bit about Reena: she is a volunteer at Gandhi Smriti (the place where Gandhi last lived and was assassinated). Just as this is my first trip to India, this is Reena’s first time leaving her parents for longer than a few days although she is over 21 years old – quite typical situation for girls. This is also only her second time performing in a play. Her parents were very concerned that she be well taken care of and I feel determined to live up to their expectations. Her mother cried in the early-morning darkness as Reena said goodbye and got into the taxi.

The train ride was a great idea. As it pulled out of the Delhi station, I had a keen sense of the adventure we were about to embark on together and I was flooded with precious memories from my past: first time riding a bicycle, first plane trip across the Atlantic, first day of class at Dell’Arte.

Ali and I wrote commemorative poems (in English - Thanks Ali!):

From a red shard of moon and a sleepless night,
God’s eye burns through the milky morning haze.
Together we fly faster than the birds,
protected by a mother’s tears.
Roses in our hair,
buttered bread in our bellies,
napping content as cats,
we head off to a land of new songs.
There is no other feeling like the beginning.
We wear fresh excitement for the beautiful future,
which stretches in front of us like the train tracks.
-- Sarah, Delhi to Lucknow, March 2, 2008

"A trip to my heart"
Let your beautiful eyes see all these beauties
Look at the romantic sun
It smiles on you
I love her golden hair
Around her beauty face
Let your soul feel all these joys
The trees outside the train
Want you to smile
To hug and to hold in their arms
Can you tell me why we can’t feel these natural happinesses
Yes. Because we don’t seek it around us.
Sarah, still I hear your voice and your violin’s voice
I feel your mixed in fogs
And your music too
Have this phrase in your mind forever
When we think beauty, when we see beauty and when we travel beauty so everything will be beauty for us.
-- Ali, Delhi to Lucknow, March 2, 2008

We saw the beautiful Indian countryside and got to spend some time together – arriving in Lucknow about six hours later, where members of Nisarg (Nature) Theater group – our hosts – helped us get all our many bags to the Executive Guest House where we are staying for the two-week visit.

Just a small bit about Lucknow: it’s known a City of Culture and I am told it is a center of the Hindi language. It was the home base of the Muslim kings of ancient history (Nawabs they were called). Many buildings are crumbling beauties, worn out from the heat and humidity. There are extremely modern, shiny glass buildings too. And then right near those, people live in tents and shacks and make fires every night to cook. The contrast sends me on a reverie on the adaptability and resilience of humanity.

We have had a jam-packed week and I very much look forward to further exploration next week.

Our first order of business was a performance in the village of Shram Vihar – a dusty slum area near the train station. Though we felt, as a cast, a bit shaky with new adjustments to the show, the community watching clearly had a very good time. Here is a first – in the middle of the show, a small herd of goats walked across the “stage” followed by a little old woman who looked a bit aggravated that we decided to play in her goat path. The goats were nonchalant. We stayed after to have chai with members of the village. It was pretty great to be there.

The next day we performed for and met the participants in our next workshop in a rural village of Dewa, about 45 minutes outside the city of Lucknow. In this community there is no electricity, and the people live in brick shelters.

The workshop was organized by Nisarg along with a group called Insaani Biradari and its leader named Adyog. The 30 or so girls came from different villages and Adyog told us that, of the girls there, only three had permission from their fathers. Their mothers knew about and supported their interest to learn about theater and how to use theater for education, but from their fathers and brothers it had to be hidden. The fathers want to preserve what they see as the only appropriate role for women: They must stay in the home and care for the family, far away from exposure to the outside world.

Despite all this - these girls are like smart girls anywhere. They are brave, silly, shy at times, and surprisingly not shy at others.

I ducked out of the workshop to peak at the village one afternoon. As I walked up the narrow dirt road between homes - one child up the way pointed and yelled to about 6 other children who came out to look at me, along with I think their mother. I took their picture and we all had a good laugh at it. These kids don’t see their own image frequently and digital cameras produce some amazement.

I also saw a group of men and women digging the red dirt out into a pile (I imagine for bricks). And several happy cows. And a man and woman puffing rice over a fire – the man shook and stirred this wok-type pan while the woman added grass to the fire, they moved the rice from two gigantic piles – from the raw pile to the puffed pile. They called me over and GAVE me a little bag of it! I couldn’t believe it! I ate it for breakfast all week.

It is such a beautiful place. The people are tough looking. A little on the gnarly side. In utter contrast are the girls of the workshop! The girls are beautiful and seeing the tough skin and thinness of the other villagers, it makes them seem even more astounding. I know they will take what they’ve learned in the workshop to enrich the lives of everyone around them. And what are they learning? How to express themselves freely with confidence, without shyly covering their mouth or putting their head down. To stand boldly and make a statement, or sing a song, or say their name out loud. To feel like a whole person.
This week I have come to love the car ride to Dewa and back, during which we plan for the workshops, discuss how workshops went, and communicate about upcoming events. It was during one of these rides that Shafiq laughingly pointed to one of the many brick kilns off in the distance and said, “You see that? That is a well that they are drying out. They take them out of the ground, and air them out for a while then put them back into the ground. It purifies the water!” Always joking! He also said when he reached for one grape and got a big bunch, “God loves me!” Ha! What a great spirit he has. We were all very sad that he had to return to Kabul for his work with the BBC.

I must mention that also this week we did evening workshops for members and affiliates of Nisarg. These were performers who work doing social theater, who will be able to directly apply what we taught to their own projects. Again the topic of the state of women came up! The first day, Joanna pointed out that of the 40 actors, only three were women. I guess I'm a bit of an American post-feminist. I want to assume men and women are equal and avoid making an issue of it, so I was nervous for how the group would react to the comment. Boy, they had great things to say. Families do not support a woman’s interest in theater. There are certainly many well-known female theater artists, but for most people, the idea is impossible to swallow. One young man said that there is a lot of lip service given to supporting women who want to be involved in theater, but then no one wants their own sisters or daughters to make that choice and that the men must start following through with what they say they believe, which is that there should be equality for women. And Joanna said they could also be more sensitive about making an environment where women feel comfortable to do something that is both new and socially unaccepted. I was grateful that Joanna brought up the topic. I am cracked open. I see these three women, and Reena, my excellent roommate and co-performer with even deeper appreciation.

I have also learned this week what it is like to be given the space and time to grow as a workshop facilitator. I led some workshop sessions that I wish had better transitions or more inspiring explanation, but no one criticized my work, and in fact all were very supportive. I appreciate the space and trust the team gives each other, especially to Ali and I as we step into leading workshops for people who do not share our native language.

Other bits: Shaheen from Dewa teaching me to write my name in both Urdu and Hindi, taking a 24 hour fast with Reena in celebration of Shivratre on Wednesday and getting applauded by the whole Nisarg workshop when they found out, learning about Rosa, the month-long Muslim fast, which will be in October this year, Sangeeta, the assistant manager of the Executive Guest House taking me on her moped to the mall! Having a dance party with Reena along with the Indian music video station on TV.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bond Street in Afghanistan Video

A mini-documentary that follows Bond Street Theatre's work in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2007, to collaborate and perform with Exile Theatre and to reach over 30,000 people in rural provinces.