In May 2010, I was given the opportunity to accompany the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization (AHRDO), an NGO that promotes human rights through arts and culture, as its staff conducted participatory theater workshops as psycho-social therapy and organized civilian war victims to take an active role in shaping the national debate over the government’s intention to negotiate with some of the insurgent factions currently battling Afghan and international forces.
Bamiyan city is not a city in the developed world sense. It has one commercial street with a rambling bazaar of small shops that sell local silver, carpets, medicine, food, and bicycle repair supplies. The tallest buildings in sight are two stories.
My party’s guesthouse is located at the very top of a hill overlooking the city. It belongs to the Shohada Organization, which was founded by Dr. Sima Samar, current chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and long-time defender of the rights of Afghanistan’s women.
The guesthouse is surrounded by high fences, and satellite antennas stick up from its roof. Only the first floor belongs to the Shohada Organization, the second is occupied by the Bamiyan provincial office of the AIHRC. From the hill, I can see the cliffs where the Bamiyan Buddha statues once stood, before they were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.
Shohada employees help my party unload the minibus and move inside to a hall of hostel-style guest rooms.
More AHRDO staff are waiting in the women’s guest room. Bisharat introduces me to theater trainers Zamon and Zahra, and Zahra’s two young children, Jawad, 6, and Parisa, 10.
While the group discusses transportation to Yakawlang, I lie down on one of the beds. Aziza pulls a blanket over me. I’m still tired, and I don’t want to be foggy-headed later.
When I wake up, Parisa and Zamon are sitting on the bed opposite mine, studying a sketchbook. Zamon chuckles as he hands me a drawing of a princess in an ornate gown holding a sparkling scepter. “She only draws girls.”
Later, Parisa taps me on the side and hands me the drawing. “For You” she has written on it.
Bisharat decides he and I should take the next public bus to Yakawlang. The rest our party will stay behind and we’ll meet up with them again on our way back.
I gather my things and we head to the bus stop. The bus is the same type I arrived in, but older and creakier. To my surprise, the seatbelts work. I buckle up and zip my jacket. The sun is setting and the temperature dropping rapidly in the highland region of central Afghansitan. The driver adjusts his mirrors and off we go.