Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Michael's First Update from Herat: On Youth

Greetings friends and family.

We are into week three in our six week project in Afghanistan, the last 9 days being here in Jabraiel, near Herat. (Jabraiel is the Afghan name for the angel Gabriel). It’s good work; the members of Simorgh Theatre and Film are completely enthusiastic, soaking up all our exercises, and totally wearing us out. There are 35 members, ages 12 to 24. It’s a young company, but very well organized with a number of international performances, including Germany and India.

Simorgh is the first of four companies around Afghanistan that we will be working with over these two years. The project, sponsored by the US Institute for Peace and the US Embassy in Kabul, is to create with each company a series of issue-related performances that they can market to NGO’s and government ministries. Basically, we are giving the companies the tools to generate earned income. This week we were sharing various theatre techniques with the Simorgh actors and Monireh Heshemi, their Artistic Director. At 26, Monireh is smart, devoted, and well respected by her actors. Her command of English is quite good, so translation has not been a problem.

As it happens, the members of this acting troupe are all Hazara, the ethnic minority of Afghanistan’s four main tribal groups. Actually, almost all the inhabitants in Jabraiel are Hazara (think Chinatown, Spanish Harlem, or other such neighborhood). As this project requires the company to do 10 performances, and ethnicity can be a hot issue, we asked the company if there would be a problem if we booked a performance in another community of, say, Tajiks or Pashtuns. So check out the answer of sixteen year old Rahelah:

“When we choose to do theatre it is our task and duty to reflect on the problems and pains in society. It is not important who is the audience, if we have an opportunity to affect a good change in people and society it is our task and duty to do it."

Right on! That’s a pretty impressive quote, and to hear Rahelah proclaim it makes all the stress of our travels vanish like the fog in a breeze. Her answer is testimony to the very real desire of many Afghans to transcend the conflicts and build a peaceful society.

Rahelah is a young woman enjoying the opportunity to pursue her interest in acting. That she is allowed to do so in her immediate society of family and friends, and that there is a local theatre company here for her is pretty remarkable. Yeah, there is a certain stigma in this conservative society about women appearing on stage, but the real issue is the economic one… theatre is just not considered a viable career. Sounds familiar. Which is why we’re helping with possible solutions, working with NGO’s and schools and government ministries. It’s a start.

We’ve just started working on the specifics of the performances, and that will be the subject of the next entry.

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