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 plié 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!