If there is any indication at all that the girls (and the one boy, Sorab) did a great job in their debut of the Afghan version of Prometheus (Un)Bound (in Dari) it would have to be the fact that after seeing the show all the boys have asked to join drama. Maria was fabulous as the heroine (Prometheus for our purposes was a woman). She captured the character’s transitions from trickster to humanitarian to destroyed dreamer to wise fool and finally the defiant and prevailing peaceful warrior in the battle for freedom. Sahar played Zeus, and did a fine job as the overstuffed, overconfident king of the gods. The chorus played up their role well; with their masked faces outlined by black scarves wrapped about their heads they transfixed the audience that I am almost certain for the most part had not seen such a thing before. You could not tell if the ghostly chorus was made up of girls or boys, which was just right. Andeisha and Jamshid are convinced of the value inherent in teaching drama to the children. It is my dream to work the troupe we call “Raven Clan” (remember the T-shirts?) into some English language performances. What if they were to take their shows on the road? What if they were to perform in Europe and America?
My other performers were brave if not perfect, or rather perfect in their imperfection. Farzana Nori recited in English a difficult Hamlet speech, as transposed for the rock-musical Hair. “What a piece of work is man…” took some guts to learn both meaning and pronunciation, with such big words in sentence structures often reversed for poetic purposes.
Malalai Butterfly recited my favorite poem of Rumi’s, The Way of Love, and a group of younger girls sang as best they could an anti-war anthem. At the last minute we determined, given that the event was open to the public, it would be unwise for an American man to be strumming music on stage, especially during Ramazan. So the girls sang a-cappella for the first time without any key or rhythm to guide them. They hung in there as best they could until the last when their timing began to stray.
As some of you have gleaned, these past weeks I have nudged close to the limits of my capabilities. The root cause of such times has usually to do with volume, too much happening too fast. Sometimes it is a combination of things. Sometimes it is something from the past that complicates the present. Sometimes it is simply the body breaking down. In this instance it was all the above. A case of chronic vertigo came upon me, something caused by training for a marathon two years ago. My inner ear is mixed up from all that pounding on pavement. The effect is like seasickness. I move around as if I am a bobble head on the dashboard of a dune buggy. This in and of itself is not something to whine about, given the suffering I see every day I drive through the streets of Kabul. But it frustrates my desire to be 100% and jovial in my classes, rather than white faced and woozy.
The attack on Andeisha’s family was a shock that reverberates still, and morale was challenged as I had yet to see in all my time here. The shame, fear and humiliation inflicted upon that family radiated out like ripples after a stone is dropped through the surface of a glassy pool of water. I interviewed Hamid, Andeisha’s brother. For two hours I wrote down every last detail of his experience. I promised him I would write the story in my journal. It is something I am compelled to do, as much as anyone would like to forget such things it must not be swept under the rug. The entire family has exhibited a strength in character that continues to astound me. They care not so much for items stolen, the terror inflicted. More worried are they for the scores of others, citizens who are not so fortunate, who have nobody to turn to when such a thing happens, as it has happened frequently, indiscriminately and without warning all over Afghanistan.
In any event, no matter what transpires AFCECO must carry on, so that is what Andeisha and Jamshid did. Who was I to take pause? One volunteer, Chanda left and a new one Angela headed in. I had much to do in closure and preparation. Simultaneously, a great benefactor named Richard Riess donated funds to open yet another new orphanage in Herat. Immediately plans were set in motion. Again simultaneously, Andeisha won an award from Fortune Magazine in partnership with Goldman Sachs, money to be used for a girl’s leadership training program that we dreamily composed in a proposal back in June. The curriculum I put together for the fall is going onto a shelf as I now must devise an entirely new curriculum that will include guest speakers (Bashardost, Malalai Joya are hoped to come), lecturers, skill building activities that will prepare our oldest girls, 14 of them, for the world beyond the orphanage. This culminates with the top three students going to the U.S. for three months this winter, a mentorship program that I am thrilled to be putting together. (Originally we planned for five girls, five locations. We had to reduce this number to three, and at the moment I am leaning toward one placement in Boston, one in New York and one in D.C., vibrant opportunities, apart but not too far apart so I can maintain overall supervision.)
With all these trajectories I found myself not entirely rising to the occasion. Instead I started to feel buried. I had to prepare my performers for the Independence Day celebration, and along with bobble head I was suddenly assaulted with a case of intestinal you-know-what.
Shameless and melodramatic, I may as well tack on here the fact that I negotiated these past few weeks a large dose of the past slipping into my consciousness. As I approach September I think of where I was a year ago, saying good-bye to the children with no indication I would ever see them again, no money and no place to call home. I go back a year further and recall the last phase of my training for the Marine Corps Marathon, slowly working out the loss of a deep and lingering love, or exactly three years ago when I left my home in Vermont, saying goodbye to thirteen years living in the quaint village of Ripton, the Bread Loaf Writers’ community, and so-on and so forth. You know where these thoughts lead.
I’ve often fought with my streak of sentimentality. It is a luxury, and it is indulgent. But sometimes I wonder if this is not merely the modern voice that ridicules such feelings. Old journals are riddled with sentimentality, from soldiers to explorers to chroniclers of history. Even Darwin filled his pages with some pretty gooey longing for things past, for the unknown whether it is God or the great Void. Whatever the case, it passes, and it has passed. The party is over, and there is work to be done. The girls are so excited about the new leadership class they were literally jumping up and down and wringing their hands. The boys of Sitara II are ramping up their Taekwando training, and the girls of Mehan are ecstatic to have begun their Karate classes with Angela. The lives of these children go forward, the garden it there and we are its tenders, however we roll out of bed. This morning I received an e-mail from The Evergreen State College, one of the institutions that dared enroll me in my five and a half year quest to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. One of the administrators had forwarded quotes that students retained from my presentation there last February. It was a very strange experience- the person I was, travelling the country giving impromptu talks about the orphans of Mehan and Sitara, is not the person I am today. But it is fruitful to remember that every moment of my life is an opportunity to send a message to the person I will be in a year, two years or ten. As I look at the messages from Ian six months ago, one seems useful to me now: Acting, he said wistfully, is like breathing.
Last night I listened to Angela as she described how the process of coming here actually trained her for being here. I nodded. It has to do with the same way you travel along a narrow path through the forest, along a river, higher up to a mountain ridge, deeper and deeper into the wilderness. There is a dot on a map, but destination is only an abstract and incidental notion. You keep your eyes trained on the path ten yards ahead of you. If there is a fallen tree, a ravine, a beast of some sort, you adjust accordingly. Underlying this journey is the necessity to trust that which you cannot know, and of course you mustn’t forget to pick up your feet and mind where they land.
“I have of late, but wherefore I know not lost all my mirth…” As I watched Farzana add yet another dimension to those famous words, the trough I’d been through of late appeared to me not as an omen, but as a simple bend in the road. Farzana had quite frankly on her own found a way into that speech, grabbed it by the neck and made it hers, an anthem not of despair and disbelief but of strength long before she reached the defiance of the final verse tacked on by the creators of Hair.
I’m afraid I was too nervous to hold a camera during the drama group’s performance, but to see the Hamlet speech, go to the following link. It is not my fleeting woes, nor my words I wish to linger in your mind’s eye this week, but Farzana Nori, her voice, her determination, and her unflinching and beautiful eyes set firmly upon her future, and the future of her people.
In 2009, Ian Pounds spent five months living and working as a volunteer in Mehan Orphanage in Kabul. It is an experience which affected him deeply. Those of us who followed his weekly journal were moved, educated and inspired. We came away with a much richer understanding of the workings of the orphanages and the world of our sponsored children.
Now, Ian is back in Afghanistan, once again volunteering with AFCECO at the Kabul orphanages. He will continue his journal and we will feature his posts here on Hope for Afghan Children.
I hope you will join those of us who already make it a habit to sit down with a cup of tea or coffee each weekend while we read Ian’s latest installment.