NUR. Afghan Diaries
i m a ge s s t o r i e s m o v i e s s o u n d s
by and with Monika Bulaj
direction of Daria Anfelli
For the last two decads I have been walking East through forests and fields, from Eastern Europe to Central Asia, through Caucasus mountains, Russia, North Africa, Middle East, looking for places where the sacred transcends borders. And I always found humble people, again and again heard their prayers, shared their bread. This is why I went to Afghanistan.
Many months of walking and hitchhiking, of riding on trucks and horses and yaks. Without ever being ‘embedded’, but sharing the hunger, fear and weariness of Afghans, from the Iranian border to the Wakhan border with China, deep in snow, armed with a notebook and a Leica, all set for the privacy of each meeting. Following the complex security geography and codes of behaviour that all Afghans know very well.
I wanted to see things as an Afghan sees, to feel people’s fear, to be as vulnerable as they were.
Kabul, at night, in winter. Its archipelagos of illegal villages, without sewers or electricity, where children get up at 4 in the morning and walk long distances to fetch water in heavy water cans. The Sufi ceremonies, the magic rituals that make up for the lack of medicine, the villages full of opium addicts because there is noth- ing else to kill the pain. Brides sold for debts; the male hammams, or bathhouses; the 21st century Afghan warrior body-cult in gyms; the new epidemic of self-immolation; the anti-personnel mines that continue to increase exponentially instead of decreasing.
What do we know about all this? What do we know about the clandestine Shiah rites, or the death threats nailed at night by the Taliban, on the doors of those who dare to send their daughters to school? Who talks about the survivors of kidnappings – the country’s most thriving industry? What do we know about the juvenile prisons where female adolescents are incarcerated after escaping from forced marriages?
Or the shelters, where these young women seek refuge from the revenge of their clans or their own families? I tell these stories and more, in images, sounds and words.
Who cares about the Kuchis, the last nomads, the very lowest of the low: without pasturelands, reduced to miserable existences, living in the cities in squalid hovels or tents, where half the newborn babies do not survive the winter? But all Afghans are in danger of becoming Kuchis, a displaced and dispossessed people, perched on their bundled belongings, waiting for an escape that never comes.
Yet, in spite of all the horror and misery, the fear and degradation, the Afghan people still laugh and play passionately, make music, and dance and sing joyously. Here is the smiling barber who interpreted Osama bin Laden in a TV series.
Here a small neighbourhood theatre full of serious-looking Afghan men who are betting on the outcome of a ‘battle royal’ between opposing armies of baby chicks.
The families of Taliban who are fighting on the frontlines, the village chiefs who are now repentant killers, the children who had to behead a hostage as their initiation rite, the nomad girls working as prostitutes, the hopeless fight of the Kirghizians on the arid mountains of the North.
And the female continent. Women: their dreams, sexuality, emotional geography, expectations, their fight against depression and their striving for self-fulfilment in a repressive tribal context.
In the ‘bright garden’ of Afghanistan, I followed its paths instinctively, finding centres of hope in the most hopeless places, in the darkest depths of despair.
Ultimately, I found a world which breaks down our own narrow-minded prejudices and taboos.
The images evoke stories, and stories hint at the look, the looks, the encounters, the light, the landscape in which Monika Bulaj’s Leica, as a magic eye, expands and lets all the emotions and the details of this world that never stops surprising us with its treasures and its dizzy and great contradictions get through.
The story words flow along with pictures, they cross and overlap. Each detail speaks of something.
The images in the pictures present themselves, to be met, to be touched, while Monika weaves the fabric that wraps the onlooker into the Asian embrace, in the Afghanistan hug, in its dust, in its light, in the chain of ancient and contemporary fates awaiting its people, crushed between beauty and terror.
The show holds the whole trip in a bit more than an hour. Such a distillate has been obtained through a long work of image, music, film, sound, and word gathering. It is reportage in action, showing the Afghanistan country in a very different way with respect to what we are told by the media.
Festivaletteratura Mantova, Teatro Bibiena