Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Grace - Confidence - Poise

The Kabul Dance Studio is in its inaugural year.  As you can well imagine, there hasn't been a high demand for ballet, tap, or the arts in general in the last few decades.  But with a growing (and then shrinking, and then growing, and now shrinking again) expat community, two ladies from the international school saw a void that needed to be filled.  Many of these families have children, many of them have little girls.  And while expat boys play soccer at school and fly kites in the street, these little girls (and us bigger girls too) don't have a lot of extracurricular activities available.  Afghanistan is a man's world.  Kabul Dance Studio is helping to change that.  Over the last year, classes were held as the studio was built.  Both teachers laugh that at the beginning of the year, they were teaching girls to pliĆ© without a roof.  The floor was shipped from the states, the mirrors were added just a few months ago, and now it's a full-on dance studio.

Last Friday we attended "Let's Go Fly a Kite," Kabul Dance Studio's spring performance at the Serena Hotel.  We had quite a few little friends dancing to "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "It's a Jolly Holiday with Mary;" and we had some grown up friends tap dance to "Sister Suffragette" and "Vote for Women."  Listening to a few of the girls read papers on why dance is important to them was enough to draw tears from the crowd, and being at the Serena (Kabul's only 5 star hotel) with little girls running around in tutus was enough to make me feel like I wasn't even in Kabul.  After the show there was kite flying and ice cream in the gardens of the Serena.  It was a lovely afternoon.

Someone recently asked me if it was hard being a woman in Afghanistan.  To be perfectly honest, my answer is yes it is hard.  But I do think we're taking steps in the right direction (see example above).  And I think whether life is hard or not has a lot to do with perspective.  Sure I have to wear a chador, long pants, long sleeves, long shirts; but it is possible to embrace the cultural restrictions and make my Kabul style my own.  And yeah, everything seems to take longer here, from iodining vegetables to doing laundry; but I get to enjoy the juiciest mangoes, the tastiest tomatoes, and at least I have a washer (no dryer anymore, we nixed that when we moved last weekend and gave up generator living).  And yes, women do not have the rights they deserve here and are often treated horribly, but rather than sit around a lament this, I join in the growing crowd of women that stand up and say this must change.  And it is true that there are few outlets for entertainment or expression for women; but we make our own fun with movie nights, in house coffee dates, shopping trips, and the occasional ladies night.

At our last organizational ladies night we had Lebanese food, chocolate fondue, Joey and our country director (my boss) acted as baristas and made everyone cappuccinos and lattes, we had a speaker, and everyone got a reusable shopping bag filled with chocolate, tea, a magazine, and spa kit.  I was privileged to get to plan the night and it was so much fun!  I spent weeks ordering things from the states to make the ladies feel a little bit pampered.  I was given a larger than normal budget to play with since we didn't have a ladies retreat.  And at the end of the night, we all walked away feeling refreshed and encouraged.

The Kabul Dance Studio's motto is "Grace - Confidence - Poise."  While watching the High School Class dance to "Step in Time," I realized so much of surviving in Kabul as a woman is wrapped up in those three little words: grace to let the long list of annoyances and difficulties slid off your back, confidence to stand up to the stares and stereotypes placed on all women, and poise to handle it all in a dignified manner.  It's easy to feel frayed and worn out here; many women I know sink into a cycle of complaining, frustration and unhappiness.  But, as Mary Poppins so eloquently said, "In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun," the key is finding that fun whether it be tap dancing to a song about women's rights or spending an afternoon on dreaming of the perfect gift basket.

From Ladies Night
You may notice none of use are smiling in this one, very Afghan.  Doesn't really go with our BRIGHT bags!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

High School Drama

This post could be a "You know you're in Kabul when . . .", but the high school drama class at the international school deserves something a bit more.  So, to start, you know you're in Kabul when the topic of the high school play is the effects of the opium trade on rural Afghan life.

Last Wednesday, Joey and I attended the International School of Kabul Spring Drama Night at the French Cultural Center.  We all know that high schoolers can be teeny bit on the dramatic side.  Having been a high schooler once myself and having 15 year old sister that is a high schooler now, I know this to be true. But the high schoolers of ISK have a unique situation.  Many of the usual high school experiences are unavailable to them because, well, they live in Afghanistan.  There is no prom, no dances, no place to hangout after school, no driver's ed, no cheerleading squad, and few other typical high school things (although I will say that my high school experience had few of these things either).  And the students come from such vastly different backgrounds (70% Afghan and the other 30% made up of 20 different countries), there is a much different vibe coming from the student body.  With 21 different cultural backgrounds, it makes sense.  So, to some extent, I think the dramatics of these high schoolers is understandable.

The drama night consisted of two plays written by students and one 1 act.  The theme of the night was "Sins of the Father."

In play #1, a son deals with his father's decision to turn the family wheat farm into a poppy farm thinking it will provide them with financial stability.  In the end, the whole family is in prison, one son addicted to opium and going through withdrawals, the other son lamenting his father didn't listen to him, and the father screaming, "Enough! Enough! Enough!"

Play #2 featured a man interviewing for a job as a editor for a well known author.  As they get to know each other, it is revealed that Jose's family was killed during the Cuban Revolution in a strike ordered by a certain general who retired and became a well known author.  For years, Jose planned his revenge and was prepared to enact it at this interview.  The author pleads with him that it won't solve anything if he kills him and takes him away from his family repeating, "My family is all I have. It's the most important thing."  Jose leaves the office with his bomb laden suitcase sitting beneath his chair.  In the end, he decides not to use his cell phone to activate the bomb and runs off stage.

The 1 Act was a little abstract, mostly because there was confusion over whether it was the end of Play #2 or something completely new.  It was about a village's decision to fight back against the oppression of General Despair.  They did this through, what else, song and dance. . . I guess it could be compared to Stomp.

The evening ended with about 10 minutes of bows from the 10 student class and lot's of flowers from parents and peers.  The acting was alright, about what can be expected from a high school drama class (apparently the drama club is much more accomplished).  Some of the younger kids came out with very wide eyes asking questions like, "What's opium?" and "Who is Castro?"  The subject matters were pretty grim, but it is Afghanistan after all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Our Life in Photos

Wow!  We were busy last week, and the week before and the week before.  Basically, life in Kabul is busy!  We've said lots of goodbyes to lots of close friends who were departing Kabul for the summer, furlough, or forever.  We've both been busy at work.  We had a Cinco de Mayo Party with our Afghan staff!  Really, we are just trucking right along.  Here are some photo highlights of our last few weeks:

From Last Import
The Maintenance guys who came to help out.  Always nice to see a familiar face in Kabul

From Last Import

From our trip to Dubai.  Do you see the camels on the beach?

From Last Import
The Walk in Dubai.  Joey's all about the candid photo, so none of us are looking in any of these.

From Last Import
Our good friends were in Dubai with us on their way back to the states for a year.  We miss them so much!

From Last Import
Looking for a Starbucks and a Cinnabon.  Dubai has everything!

From Last Import
Our Swiss Friends an fondue night.  That's our living room.

From Last Import
We went to a carnival that day, hence all the face paint.  Oh, and we're moving in with these hooligans in July!

From Last Import
Cinco de Mayo! That's the kids table (or dest-e-khan).

From Last Import
Everyone loved Joey's mexican food.  Ali couldn't believe there was no oil in it.  He said, "How can it taste so good without oil?"

From Last Import
Habib and his kids.

From Last Import
Rafi and his kids.  Horace is too cute and has the best handshake and little raspy voice when he says, "Salaam!"

From Last Import
Tea and campfire.

From Last Import

From Last Import

My good friend and I after a family lunch.

And that's some of our goings on!  We keep busy and have lots of fun hanging out with all our Afghan and Expat friends.  And it's sunny and beautiful right now.  Kabul's pretty great!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Little Shout Out

Today is my dad's birthday.  I sure do love him.  Here are some of my favorite pictures of Papa Pandiani:

That's me and Dad.  I think he should bring the 'stache  back.

Two of my favorites: Dad and Karis.  I'm pretty sure they were watching High School the Musical.

I love this picture for  few reasons: 1) It's at Lake Wenatchee, an important Pandiani place, 2) Sarah and I are much more interested in Starbucks then golf, 3) Although Starbucks is one of Dad's favorite things, golf takes precedent. and 4) This is just a putting course and look at Dad's form.  He obviously schooled us all.

These are some photos from our family trip to Hawaii last year.  We had a great time being together as a family before Joey and I took off for the other side of the world.  If you ever get the chance, ask my dad how he pronounces the word "lava."  
Bill Pandiani is one of the things I miss most about home.  
Happy Birthday, Dad!