Afghani Mobile Mini Circus for Children (part 3)

Zach Warren and friendPrevious letters:

This is Zach Warren's email from Kabul.

Dear Friends,

Since I last wrote you, there have been at least three kidnappings (one British, two Japanese), three politically motivated assassinations, and over two dozen American and Afghan soldiers' lives lost in guerilla fighting. Closer to the circus, the father of Mujeeb, one of the unicycle boys featured in the picture I sent last time, died of a heart attack. And yesterday morning, a six year old boy and neighbor of one of the circus teachers died after he fell into a pot of boiling milk and suffered fatal burns.

At a glance, especially in news reports, life in Afghanistan walks a capricious tighrope over the gravity of death. The people seem to survive in the liminal space between stability and uncertainty, between hope and despair. But focusing on the dilemmas and dangers overlooks the heart of Afghanistan, the spirit and potential of the people.

In the past week, thousands of Afghan men and women with access to world news have expressed concern and said prayers for the survivors and families of victims who suffered in the New Orleans tragedy. O ver 100k has been donated from Afghanistan to New Orleans relief efforts -- a notable sum in this part of the world, with so many other needy projects at hand. With the spread of televisions and radios, the world is more connected now than ever. The level of international concern I've encountered among Afghans with the most basic means of connection -- sometimes just a radio on a push-cart selling radishes or peppers or popcorn -- inspires me.

It's kite season here, and the sky is filled with colorful paper shaped like diamonds. Hints of winter come in gusts, and my Afghan friends shiver at the suggestion of cold. I do too, but winter in Afghanistan is notably worse than winters in Boston.

In a few hours I leave for Delhi, then Bangkok, finally arriving in Boston on September 14. I'm going to miss the heck out of Afghanistan -- not only because of my close friends and teachers and students here, but also because of the sights and smells and sounds and sensations unique to my daily life, like the backdrop of the daily calls to prayer... the daily pleasure of riding the circus bike through herds of goats on the dusty streets of Karte Seh... waking up and shaking a dozen hands before I reach the bathroom... practicing the tabla drums in the afternoon... playing soccer with neighborhood kids at sunset in the local park... or bargaining over the price of a tarbuza, or yellow mellon, in the bazaar.

I'll miss the daily sights and landmarks of my neighborhood, Karte Seh -- like the King's Palace a mile away on Salake Darlemond, a majestic building painted with bright yellows and the craters of an army of mujaheddin bullets. Closer to the circus is Maktab Habibia, the high school where Karzai and most of the current government were educated, recently renovated with Indian government funds. Two blocks away is the enormous Shi'a madrasa being build with Iranian government funds, a hulk of a structure that will train the minority branch of Afghanistan's Islamic mullahs. Within sight, perched on a nearby mountaintop, is Zumburak Shah's mud brick palace. Zumburak literally means "little bee," and according to one of my taxi drivers, this one-time harsh Kabul ruler was also known to have a bit of a Napoleon complex.

I'll miss the interactions here -- like dancing the attan, the national dance, with the circus kids, or play-wrestling with Samir, one of the circus teachers, or joking with Fahim, my research assistant, about the phenomenon of "shosh kardan," a Farsi word for when people go to the bathroom just to sit and 'hang out.' The bathroom seems to be one of the only private spaces in Afghan daily life.

I'll miss the stories. In the last two days, I listened to stories from members of the underground Afghan Christian network, a story from a Canadian intelligence officer who proudly described the time he singlehandedly captured an armed Taliban leader in Khost, all the while posing as a Pashtun Afghan, and the story of Tony, a man who won the "Mr. Afghanistan" bodybuilding contest in 2001, during Taliban times. (Tony's now a security guard at Coco Cabana, Afghanistan's first and very controversial night club for foreigners.) I even like the stories that are obviously stretched and elaborated (there's a word for the Afghan tendency to exaggerate in storytelling -- in Farsi, it's 'laaf')

I'll miss the winding passages of the bazaars, the crowded streets and bustling markets, the taste of a spicy kebab, the lengthy customary greetings... More than anything, though, I'll miss the circus community, the kids and the teachers that make it a magical, creative, and hopeful place for children to grow. The experience of living and working at this circus gives me a rational hope for a peaceful and stable future for Afghanistan.

If you have any questions about my experiences in Afghanistan, or the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children, or just want to catch up and swap stories, feel free to contact me after September 15th. I'd enjoy hearing from you. My (new) Cambridge cell phone number is 617-710-4121.

Shao ba hush (good night),

Photos attached:
Smiles and laughter in Afghanistan... one from the MMCC's journalism class (the kids run their own radio program in Kabul)... one from a recent theatre education piece... two of Fahim, an Afghan researcher on laughter with me

Kabul, Afghanistan
Mob: (from US) 001-93-079424338

"One Wheel, One World"