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. 

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