Learning to read

I have been studying Dari for a year now and I finally reached a functional level that allows me to ask to change the dynamo of the generator, check with the plumber that the sewage finally works properly and converse with taxi drivers – mostly about God and religion, conversations that – beyond the language barrier, often leave me with questions that I am not capable to answer.

I have learnt the alphabet since the very beginning, but it has only need a week since I started reading out loud.

It made me feel like a little girl again and Sister Fidalma came to mind – she was the incredibly old nun who gave me reading tuitions when I was in school. When I was little, it took me a very long time before I learnt to read properly. My first oculist got my prescriptions wrong and, despite huge baby-pink specs, I could hardly see anything and the letters on the page would hopelessly blur.

It is funny to think now that my first active relationship with books was one of effort and frustration and it makes me happy to look back and see how much things have changed.

Learning to read as an adult is turning into a funding moment in my personal development. It is a humbling experience where I have to look at myself and my limits without filters or excuses: there is no bluff and there is no hiding. Reading out loud a syllable after the other is embarrassing – I have the impression to blush every time I finish reading a word; making banal mistakes is frustrating, but reaching the end of a sentence – exhausted after barely five words – is a priceless and unforgettable pleasure.

Sayed, my fantastic teacher, has found the right balance with me: he pulls my leg and encourages me at the same time, he helps me laugh at my efforts and not to take myself too seriously.

There is so much that we take as a given, we hardly question our abilities and all those things we believe we are entitled to.

Starting from scratch again is reminding me of the importance of humility, of the satisfaction of small steps, and of the genuine joy of simple achievements.

The Pain of Others

I wrote this bulletin a while ago, after coming back from a trip to Kashmir. I think it sums up the how and why I do what I do.

***

Srinagar_01

I have come back from Srinagar a week ago and the voices and details of the city are still vividly present in my memory. The Dal lake, the snow-capped mountains, the windstorm that shook my last night in the city and got mingled with the lamenting voices of women praying to fight their fear.

Srinagar is not leaving me, I would like perhaps some distance, but it has decided to stay with me. The Kashmir of the almost forgotten conflict has crept under my skin.

Agha Shahid Ali, the poet who more than anyone else gave voice to the unique mixture of beauty and brutality that seems to be the essence of the Valley, has been my guide. I have looked at his Valley through the lens of his words. And Srinagar inevitably became also for me the city of daughters: where almost every man has a police record – if not as a suspect, as a spy: it seems, in fact, that there are some 170 thousand spies for a population of 10 million people – and where women make life go on, in silence, away from indiscreet gazes and the clamours of public domain.

And so it is that also the apparent quiet that surrounds Srinagar, the renewed presence of tourists, the rhetoric of the regained stability acquire a new meaning through the verses of

Agha Shahid Ali, who quotes Tacitus: solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant – they make a desolation and call it peace.

It is not the first time that I experience this kind of desolation. It hit me in Palestine, in refugee camps in Iraq and Tunisia, in the slums of Pakistan.

But it seems that this desolation has now come back to claim a long overdue credit.

Of years of stories that I listened to, collected and preserved in my memory. Of tales of lives and places that I visited, felt and shared through my writings.

How can I do justice to so much richness and pain?

How to give proper credit to those who tell you that they feel guilty to be happy when their country is under an oppression that seems to have no end?

How do to sail in this big sea? Where is the compass that leads the path so as to preserve a sensitive eye and yet avoid pitiful sympathy? How can one tell about the power of human dignity without risking the objectifying gaze of the anthropologist who looks for truths?

Questions multiply and answers seem to slip away.

Hitting the road is the only solution I know: the source of more questions that animate the quest for more answers.

The road and a desire for care, dedication and attention – in my words and politics – towards the people and places that have told and continue telling me these stories.

Il dolore degli altri

Ho scritto questo bollettino qualche tempo fa, di ritorno da un viaggio in Kashmir. Racconta in qualche modo quello il perché e il come di quello che faccio.

***

Sono tornata da Srinagar da una settimana, ma le voci, le sfumature, i dettagli della città sono ancora presenti e vividi nella memoria. Il lago Dal, le montagne innevate all’orizzonte, la tempesta di vento che ha scosso la mia ultima notte in città inframmezzata dalle voci lamentose delle donne in preghiera per sconfiggere la paura.

Srinagar non mi lascia, forse vorrei una tregua e invece resta con me.

Il Kashmir del conflitto di cui non si parla mi si è infilato sotto la pelle.

Srinagar_01Agha Shahid Ali, il poeta che più di ogni altro ha dato voce alla mescolanza unica di bellezza e brutalità che sembra essere l’essenza del paese, mi ha fatto da guida: ho visto i suoi luoghi attraverso la lente delle sue parole e Srinagar è diventata inevitabilmente anche per me la città delle figlie, dove quasi tutti gli uomini sono schedati dalla polizia se non come sospettati allora come spie – sembrano ce ne siano cento settanta mila in un paese dove gli abitanti sono dieci milioni – e dove le donne portano avanti la vita, in silenzio, fuori dagli sguardi indiscreti e dai clamori della dimensione pubblica.

Ed è così che anche la calma apparente che avvolge Srinagar, la rinnovata presenza di turisti, la retorica della riconquistata stabilità prendono significato dai versi di Agha Shahid Ali, che cita Tacito: solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant – portano desolazione e la chiamano pace.

Non è la prima volta che faccio esperienza di questa desolazione, mi ha colpito in Palestina, nei campi di sfollati in Iraq e in Tunisia, negli slum del Pakistan.

Ma sembra che questa volta sia tornata a chiedere il conto.

Di anni di storie ascoltate, raccolte e conservate nella memoria. Di vite raccontate, di posti visti, sentiti e condivisi attraverso le parole.

Come fare giustizia a tanta ricchezza e tanto dolore?

Come dare il giusto credito a chi ti dice che si sente in colpa ad essere felice quando il proprio paese è vittima di un’oppressione che non sembra avere via d’uscita?

Come si naviga in questo mare? Dove è la bussola che guida il mio percorso in modo da conservare la delicatezza dello sguardo ed evitare un morboso senso di pena? Come si racconta la potenza della dignità umana senza l’atteggiamento oggettivante di un antropologo a caccia di verità?

Le domande si moltiplicano e le risposte sembrano sfuggire.

La strada è l’unica soluzione che conosco: la fonte di altre domande che porta al desiderio di cercare altre risposte.

La strada e un desiderio di cura, di dedizione e di attenzione – nella politica e nelle parole – per le persone e i luoghi che mi hanno raccontato e continuano a raccontarmi queste storie.

Mountains, Mines and Memories: The Idea of Kurdistan

Ty Mayfield reviewed Picnic in a Minefield for War on the Rocks.picnic-cover

Here is a teaser:

Recchia is an Italian academic who left Europe for a position at the University of Kurdistan Hawler (UKH) in Erbil, Iraq in the hopes of expanding her professional horizons as an educator. In the course of two years, Recchia experiences life in many different circles. She transitions between guest, traveler, teacher, and mentor with an ease that disarms those who might stand in her way. It is from the unique perspectives of both her professional work at the UKH and her personal interactions with locals that Kurdistan is made real for the reader. Through Recchia’s travels, the soldiers, diplomats, journalists and humanitarian aid workers that usually narrate our collective Iraq experience, are illuminated for the reader from a new perspective. She reports their actions, thoughts and intentions in the insightful and articulate observations of a self-aware and humble narrator.

Recchia set out for Iraqi Kurdistan in search of herself. Along the way it is fair to say she found an entire group of people in search of themselves, their own identities, and perhaps, their own nation. These two arcs, one individual and one collective, intersect in Picnic in a Minefield and provide a compelling narrative that gives insight into the permanence of resistance, the pace of change, and the promise of a Kurdistan.
***
You can read the full review here.

Khaakbaad

L’autunno a Kabul è una stagione preziosa. Mentre scrivo, vedo nel giardino le ultime rose: quelle ancora fiorite sono rosa e rosse; i tre alberi di mele cotogne carichi di frutti che stanno pian piano maturando; la pergola con i pochi grappoli d’uva che hanno resistito alla grandinata dell’altro giorno; e le macchie rosso sangue dei frutti del melograno, piccoli quest’anno, ma pieni di succo.

La percezione del cambiamento è quotidiana, annunciata in modo teatrale da mezzora di grandine. Chissà perché solo una all’anno, la terza da quando sono qui, veloce e violenta segna il passaggio da una stagione all’altra.

La temperatura si abbassa, le giornate si accorciano, mi ostino a dormire ancora con la finestra aperta e ad uscire senza calzini – anche perché mi sono dimenticata le scarpe in Italia, ma questa è un’altra storia.

Con l’autunno arrivano anche le tempeste di sabbia, che qui hanno anche un nome tutto loro, khaakbaad, che letteralmente significa vento di polvere. Anche queste improvvise e passeggere – coprono tutto di una coltre marroncina, una tosse, uno starnuto e vanno via. Poi tornano, ma il passaggio è sempre breve e mai annunciato.

Mi domando perché finisco sempre per andare a vivere in paesi in cui le tempeste di sabbia sono una parte integrante del paesaggio e della conversazione.

Sono passati esattamente sei anni dal primo bollettino che ho spedito, era il 14 ottobre del 2008, e allora come adesso scrivo di tempeste di sabbia. Buffo.

Sei anni fa, raccontavo così le mie prime impressioni di Erbil:

Montagne e deserto… una combinazione incredibile e mozzafiato che non smette mai di sorprendere: le montagne si alzano all’improvviso sempre un po’ inafferrabili attraverso la foschia. L’aria infatti non è mai limpida; una sabbia del colore e della finezza della cipria copre ogni cosa e rende l’aria quasi palpabile (e i miei capelli della consistenza della paglia…)”

Montagne, deserto e tempeste di sabbia: strani elementi ricorrenti che danno forma e colore a tutti questi anni di viaggi, simboli inaspettati delle mie nomadi geografie dell’affetto.

Khaakbaad

Autumn in Kabul feels very special.

As I write I see in the garden the last blooming roses, the ones that are left are red and pink. The three quince trees are full of ripening fruits; the grapes that survived the hailstorm are waiting to be picked; and the blood-red pomegranates, which are smaller this year, are full of juice.

In this time of the year you can feel the changes day after day. The season begins quite theatrically announced by a hailstorm that lasts just about half an hour. I wonder why hailstorms only happen once a year – it is the third since I arrived, they are quick and violent and they visibly mark the passage between the seasons.

After the storm, in fact, temperature drops, days become shorter, yet I still insist in sleeping with an open window and wear no socks – well, also because I forgot my shoes in Italy, but that’s a different story…

Autumn brings with dust storms, which here have their own name: khaakbaad that literally means wind of dust. Even these storms are sudden and transient – they cover everything in a brownish coat, trigger a cough, a sneeze and then go. But they come back, once again sudden, and always unannounced.

I wonder why I always end up living in places where dust storms are an integral part of the landscape and the conversation.

It is exactly six years since I sent out my first bulletin, it was the 14th of October 2008, then like now I wrote about sand storms. Funny.

Six years ago, in that first bulletin, I wrote about my first impressions of Erbil:

Here is all mountains and desert: an incredible and breathtaking combination that keeps surprising me. Mountains rise all of a sudden, a bit blurred in the murky air. The sky is never clear: there is always a fine and powdery sand that covers everything, making air almost palpable – and my hair feeling like straw.”

Mountains, deserts and dust storms: strange recurring elements that give shape and colour to all these years of travels, unexpected symbols of my nomadic geographies of affection.

Enciclopedia delle Donne

Tempo fa, Malavika Velayanikal ha scritto di me per l’Enciclopedia delle Donne. Molto è cambiato, il viaggio si è allungato, ma parte della storia resta.

Photo Credit: Selvaprakash L.

Photo Credit: Selvaprakash L.

Francesca Recchia ha attraversato mezzo mondo, spinta dalla passione per la conoscenza. Forzando sia letteralmente che figurativamente molti confini, i suoi vagabondaggi l’hanno portata in posti insoliti e spesso pericolosi.
Francesca ha sempre infranto convenzioni e stereotipi – come quando, da adolescente, è stata la prima rappresentante d’istituto di sinistra, interrompendo la lunga tradizione politica di destra del liceo di Avezzano, in centro Italia; oppure quando, molti anni più tardi, ha fatto conoscere agli studenti della University of Kurdistan Hawler, in nord Iraq, le potenzialità del pensiero critico e di forme alternative di dialogo. Lascia il suo paese d’origine subito dopo gli anni “molto” politici del liceo. Non è stata solo la scelta di laurearsi in Conservazione dei Beni Culturali a spingerla a Venezia, dalla parte opposta dell’Italia; trasferirsi a Venezia è stato perciò per lei un modo di ricominciare da zero: «dove nessuno mi conosceva e io potevo davvero capire chi fossi e che cosa volessi». Questa è per lei una costante: «Mi sento sempre un po’ fuori posto, cerco continuamente cose diverse e finisco sempre per essere un po’ più fuori posto, ma un po’ più contenta di prima».
In ambito accademico la sua irrequietezza ha acquisito nel tempo significati diversi: non è mai stata capace di dedicarsi ad una sola disciplina, di studiare con un solo professore o in una sola università – «intellettualmente non sono monogama», dice.
Nei primi anni di università hanno cominciato a prendere forma le sue convinzioni intellettuali: l’idea che la conoscenza non sia unidirezionale e che l’intelligenza sia un prodotto collettivo, ha giocato nel tempo un ruolo importante. Un’idea potente che, in realtà, non molti accademici condividono. Per la tesi di laurea (1999) ha mescolato arte e sociologia, scrivendo sull’arte contemporanea e i suoi devianti: l’esplorazione della linea sottile fra il genio e la follia non ha raccolto il consenso di tutti i professori. La sua relatrice, Giuliana Chiaretti, è stata la sola a sostenerla e ad incoraggiare il suo approccio interdisciplinare.
Il Master in Studi Visivi al Goldsmiths College di Londra le ha cambiato la vita grazie all’incontro con Sarat Maharaj, un professore sudafricano di origini indiane.
Qui, ancora una volta, ha rotto gli schemi organizzando un gruppo di discussione alternativo aperto a tutti, in cui artisti e critici potevano incontrarsi, cosa fino a quel momento piuttosto rara. Francesca, in questa fase del suo percorso intellettuale, ha cominciato a mettere in discussione le dinamiche di produzione della conoscenza ed è così che gli Studi Postcoloniali e Subalterni hanno colpito la sua attenzione.
Quando Londra sembrava praticamente perfetta per lei, ha deciso di spostarsi di nuovo: l’Italia era nel bel mezzo della “fuga dei cervelli” e tornare le è sembrato un dovere morale.
Con una borsa di studio consegue il dottorato di ricerca in Letterature, Culture e Storie dei Paesi Anglofoni presso l’Università L’Orientale di Napoli. Dopo le ondate di migrazioni successive alla seconda guerra mondiale, l’idea di Europa è cambiata e il “noi” e gli “altri” hanno preso all’interno dei suoi confini una nuova forma.
Francesca ha subito il fascino della trasformazione di questa idea di alterità e ha deciso di scriverne per la sua tesi, utilizzando la città di Londra come caso studio.
Infrangere i muri dell’arroganza intellettuale non rende la vita semplice a nessuno, e così è stato anche per lei. Con i suoi professori di Napoli ha sempre avuto difficoltà ma “fortunatamente” Sarat Maharaj è tornato nella sua vita, invitandola a lavorare per Documenta 11, la prestigiosa mostra che segna ogni cinque anni i paradigmi dell’arte contemporanea. Da lì ha cominciato a lavorare con multiplicity, un gruppo interdisciplinare di ricerca con cui ha condiviso, dice: «l’interesse per come cambiano le città e per il modo in cui le persone e i luoghi interagiscono». A Documenta, il gruppo di cui faceva parte aveva un mantra – Sbatti contro il muro e impara ad abbracciare il tuo destino – questo è stato da allora un motto che ha continuato ad accompagnarla visto che l’unico modo in cui riesce ad imparare è sempre per la strada più difficile. Ha viaggiato con diversi gruppi di ricercatori trovando opportunità per fare lezioni, studiare ed esplorare posti quali il Pakistan, la Palestina, il Kashmir, l’Oman, la Tunisia oltre a diversi paesi europei, sempre esercitando la sua non comune abilità di interpretare patterns insoliti, di unire punti di disegni invisibili.
«Mi ha insegnato l’umiltà intellettuale e la consapevolezza che la curiosità non ha mai fine!», dice di lei Sir Peter Hall, uno dei padri fondatori dell’urbanistica europea. Con lui Francesca ha completato il post-dottorato alla Bartlett School of Planning della University College of London.
Grazie alla collaborazione nel 2008 con TU Delft, in Olanda, con il gruppo Urban Body – che si interessa di sviluppo urbano mettendo al centro della prospettiva di ricerca il corpo umano – Francesca Recchia è arrivata a Bombay, in India, dopo analoghe esperienze a Pechino e Madrid.
«Credo che l’intelligenza e la conoscenza siano processi condivisi, le mie lezioni non sono quasi mai frontali, ma fondate sulla discussione».
Lezioni e conferenze nel tempo l’hanno portata a Venezia, Milano, Delft, in India, in Pakistan, in Palestina… Francesca ha sempre pensato all’insegnamento come ad un’attività politica – un’azione politica intesa nel senso della possibilità di produrre cambiamento anche se fino a quel momento la sua esperienza sembrava mettere in discussione le sue idee: «Ero a disagio, mi sembrava di essere pagata per prestare un servizio.» Per lei, insegnare l’importanza del pensiero critico, del dialogo, della discussione, dell’apprendimento democratico è sempre stato tanto rilevante quanto trasmettere i contenuti.
Il Kurdistan iracheno è in una fase di transizione verso la democrazia e la missione della University of Kurdistan Hawler è quella di combinare tradizioni locali e pensiero contemporaneo: cercavano un docente di sociologia urbana e a Francesca Recchia questa è sembrata una occasione perfetta: l’esperienza di quei due anni sta diventando un libro che testimonia la ricchezza di quell’incontro.
Francesca è tornata in India a luglio del 2010 dove ha lavorato per un periodo alla trasformazione radicale di un villaggio rurale prima di rimettersi di nuovo in viaggio. Il mondo è lì che chiama e lei è sempre pronta a rispondere.

Picnic in a Minefield

picnic-coverIn 2014 Western efforts at engaging the Middle East—diplomacy, occupation, sanctions, bribery, adjusted trade policy, ill-considered cultural engagement and, worst of all, war, collapsed in the ruins of Syria and Iraq.
Ignorance of the locale’s complex braid of culture, peoples, language, and faith among leaders and populations in the English-speaking world compounded the failed attempts at influence.
Brutal death-cults fill the vacuum left by these bankrupt Imperial efforts. Leaving death, desperation, and trails of blood in their wake, they stalk villages and byways under the conceit of establishing a “new Caliphate.”
Just in time, intrepid traveler, teacher, scholar, and journalist Francesca Recchia brings hope for enlightenment, nuanced discussion, and moral clarity with her stunning new memoir, Picnic in a Minefield.
The book details her experiences living, working, and traveling among the Kurds of northern Iraq. This timely book offers a first-hand account of life, living, and lives-lived in area of the globe that perpetually dominates the West’s concerns and discourse.
Recchia’s unique style and points-of-view illuminate Kurdish culture and the place of Kurds, who have long yearned for self-determination, amidst a cohort of nations intent on denying the mountainous Kurdish homeland its sovereignty.
Recchia recounts how living in the region affected more than her understanding of, and opinions on, Kurdish culture.
Through crisp prose and unforgettable anecdote, she shares with us the gift she received in Kurdistan: the company of the Kurdish people, liberated from an abstract prison of newsprint, brought to life in the minds and hearts of readers.
Picnic in a Minefield, by Francesca Recchia, is published by Foxhead Books.

The book is on sale now at bookstores, online retailers, and at Foxhead Books.
Foxhead Books publishes trade, electronic-books, and fine books.

Foxhead Books is an independent book publisher and a division of Potemkin Media Omnibus, Ltd., an Ohio Limited Liability Company.
CONTACT: GREG ENSLEN
140 E. BROADWAY AVE.
TIPP CITY, OH 45371
888-345-5847
INFO@FOXHEADBOOKS.COM

 

Seasons in the Garden of Fidelity

This piece was first published in Chapati Mystery

AUTUMN

Anar

Anar is the Persian for pomegranate. It is one of those fascinating words that travel in space and time: from the Middle East to India through Afghanistan, anar is a word used in Farsi, Kurdish, Dari, Urdu and Hindi.

There is something magic and poetic to the pomegranate: it is a fruit full of symbolic meanings and is present in mythological accounts all across the world. For ancient Romans and Greeks it is the fruit of the underworld; for Christianity it represents resurrection after suffering; in Judaism it is a symbol of fertility and of the Promised Land; in the Quran it is mentioned as one of the examples of the beautiful things that God created.

In the last few years, pomegranate has been a constant presence in my life: it strangely became associated to life in a country in conflict as well as to the positive sensations of the small pleasures that make life special.

The taste of pomegranate is connected to vivid and precise memories of places and moments in time.

After her first trip to Palestine, my mother came home fascinated by the discovery of the freshly pressed pomegranate juice. Its unforgettable colour, its rich and thirst-quenching flavour. While talking, we realised that in different points in time, both my mum and I had pomegranate juice at the same stall: in East Jerusalem, in the Old City, just to the right of the Damascus Gate.

In Kurdistan pomegranate is the pride of Halabja – the city that has become the symbol of the Kurdish genocide and claims to have the best anar in the world. The flavour of the pomegranate I had there is, in fact, hard to forget. On top of a hill, in the golden light of sunset, after a visit to the cemetery where the victims of Saddam Hussain’s gas attack are buried, with Ayub who worked for the New York Times and told us about the bombs over Baghdad during the Second Gulf War.

And now in Afghanistan, where pomegranate help remember the passing of time, as one of the signs of the changing seasons. When Radio Capital journalist asked me a few days ago what will be the flavour I will miss the most once I will leave Afghanistan I answered: “Pomegranate” without even thinking. I had the first of the season – the special one from Kandahar – talking about the future with Andrea, in the garden of his house in Herat. And again under a pergola in Istalef, a little village nested on the mountains: we picked the fruit from the tree and ate it while looking over the valley suspended in time.

WINTER

Paraphrasing Marquez. Snow in the time of war.

It started to snow yesterday evening. My first snowfall in Kabul. It started slowly with small flakes that grew bigger through the night until dawn, when the city was entirely covered in white.

This morning I go out early, on my own.

There are very few people on the street. The fresh snow allows me to negotiate my path between the frozen road and the non existing footpaths. The uncertainty of my steps forces me to look down, towards the dirty mix of snow, smog and ice, in search for stability and safety.

It takes me a deep breath and a bit of self control to realise that I am missing out and to lift my eyes off the ground.

And once again the city surprises me with the poetry of its unexpected beauty. What surrounds me pays me back for these efforts.

With my nose upwards and snowflakes on the lenses of my specs: it’s all right – I tell myself – even if it takes fifteen minutes to walk five hundred meters and a bit of breathing to fight the fear of slipping and falling: it’s all right.

A boy with a green woollen hat smiles and says hello. Salaam, I reply.

It is all so beautiful.

The softened sounds: the magic of silence in a place where the noise of traffic and helicopters dominates the soundscape. The icy embroidery on the naked branches of the trees: a delicate parenthesis in a city scarred by bombs first and by the bad taste of the post war reconstruction later.

A car runs past me sloshing brown snow all over and pulls me out of my reverie. I wonder what army tanks covered in snow may look like, I wonder if the white coat may make them look less scary.

The brown slosh is a powerful coming back to my present: a reminder that is important to think of beauty in relation to its context and that is important not to forget to keep looking around.

SPRING

Quasi Fellini

Dedicated to Pierce O’ Broin

Rain, rain. A slow and cold rain. It is supposed to be spring, but it seems it has gone hiding somewhere. The dull grey sky paints an eerie atmosphere that looks like one of Giorgio De Chirico’s paintings.

Kabul is strangely beautiful in this light.

Mud softens the sound of our steps, I have the displacing feeling of looking at myself from the outside.

The camera is set on black and white.

Pierce and I walk on the street trying to avoid puddles. It feels like stepping into the Afghan version of a Fellini movie.

Quasi Amarcord. Including Nino Rota’s soundtrack.

Below the hill of Tappeh-ye Maranjan sprawls the whole of Kabul. This is where people go to fly kites on a Friday afternoon. In a makeshift market of improvised stalls, car booths are full of colourful kites and children crouching next to torn rugs balanced between a stone and a puddle sell spools of bright red, blue, green string. There is a cart selling strawberries and one selling popcorn, a cart selling ice cream, one dates and one sunflower seed.

A group of kids with extremely long brooms pointing at the sky run around trying not to trip over the colourful strings.

– What are the brooms for?

– Look over there.

In the kite war, kids use the brooms to get hold of the falling kites – these are the kite runners, bedraggled and with broken shoes. They run and laugh and shout.

A few steps away there is a merry-go-round: a green pole with green arms and small dangling planks of wood. Boys and girls get hold of ropes and planks – when they are all ready, a man grabs one of the arms of the merry-go-round and starts running in circles. Round and round; faster and faster. Feet lift off the ground, legs get a tighter hold of the rope, a hand brushes the ground. Round and round; faster and faster.

A black, menacing cloud surprises us from behind. Rain coms fast. People start running to avoid getting soaked in the storm. We look at each other and smile with a shiver. It is time to go.

A different afternoon, a different hill. The ame black and white photos, the same persistent rain.

On Wazir Akbar Khan hill, in the north of the city, there is a swimming pool. Empty but freshly painted, it has three diving boards with bright yellow ladders: a strident contrast to the infinite shades of brown and grey of the city and the sky. Empty, but full of memories: it is rumoured that the Taliban used the highest diving board to execute political prisoners. A deadly jump with a stunning view and the city and the mountains as witnesses.

Outside the swimming pool there are reels of razor wire and a military barrack.

A girl walks past eating chips; she has a sailor’s hat and a coat of the same shade of blue as the pool.

Fellini. Amarcord. Nino Rota.

A few steps and a few puddles away, beyond the soft mud, there are the carcasses of two Soviet tanks; rusty, derelict, abandoned.

We look for the right angle for a photo.

In the background on the top the silhouettes of the diving boards, then the razor wire, the military barrack, the tanks looking over Kabul.

Untitled. Landscape with Soviet tank.

Rain becomes colder. We look at each other and smile with a shiver. It is time to go.

 

SUMMER

The eye of God. Kabul from above.

Dedicated to T.M.

Earlier this morning I sent him a photo I took last night: three dots – two yellow and one orange – in a black background. This is all my phone could record of the stunning view of Kabul I was surprised with.

Maybe you should delete it. The one in your mind’s will always be brighter.” Comes his response.

It is one of our usual early morning email exchanges. We generally talk about writing and the small, cherished details that life in Kabul offers us: they would be soon transformed into written words. Like the little bird that the guards keep at the entrance of the compound, or the policeman who stops the taxi driver to offer him dates to break the fast during Ramadan.

The last email of this morning’s thread ends with these words and no salutation: “Everything in Kabul is caged… the women, the birds, the bookstore, the city itself”. He is referring to his own writings and I can see the expression of his eyes while I read these words – very serious, concerned, almost stern and yet mixed with a glint of excitement for the new discovery – I could hear the intonation of his voice had he spoken them.

As I read his words, my eye fill with last night’s breathtaking view of Kabul. A friend invited us for dinner, she had anticipated that the rooftop terrace was what made her fall in love with her new house, she also mentioned that it would be the best place in town to spot the exact location of bombs and attacks as they may happen. I recorded the information without really making sense of it. Until last night.

We climb up the spiral stair case and an immense sky opens over our heads. We are on the seventh floor of a building in the very heart of the city: Kabul surrounds us in all her beauty.

I stand in the wind and turn on my feet, three-hundred-and-sixty degrees, the city is all around me: I feel happy and free and blessed with opportunity to experience a moment like this.

A gigantic orange moon is rising above the hills; I am surprised by the amount of little, dim lights: I was not expecting the hills to be so densely populated. The hills embrace that side of town as a crescent, they look like a necklace full of sparkling precious stones: an unintended homage to the wealth of this country.

There is something peaceful and liberating about the view. Kabul is not a city in a cage, this is a city that secretly hatches hope and the possibility of change. It is a city that is growing, aggressive and resilient, powerful in all the potentials that are yet to be revealed.