I am sitting in my hotel room, drinking tea and listening to the Canote Brothers’ “Obama’s March to the Whitehouse,” recovering from jet lag, checking email and catching up on some administrative work for the fall. I have a couple of charts to write for tomorrow as well, since I have two concerts this week. In other words, it is a pretty typical evening in my life as a musician.
Two days ago I arrived in Kabul, where I will spend a couple of weeks collaborating and teaching at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM). This is my fourth visit to the ANIM, but my first time here in the summer season. The city is all of the shades of June green, ornamented vividly with roses blooming along the sidewalks and in the city parks. It is hot and dry, the perfect weather for open windows and dining outdoors. In the markets, carts are piled high with mangoes and watermelon. Music blares as people shop and chat.
The school day runs from 8 – 2, Saturday through Wednesday, with a half day on Thursday. Students are Afghan boys and girls, ages 9 – 21, who study academics as well as Western and Afghan music. Academic classes include languages, math, science, and Islamic studies. Music classes include theory, ear training, history, orchestration, and career development, in addition to ensembles and lessons. They are an enthusiastic and loveable bunch, eager to meet new people and try new things.
When school is dismissed, we often rehearse for collaborative concerts with ANIM faculty and students as well as other local artists. After that, and on weekends, we have time to go shopping, visit some of the beautiful outdoor places, and connect with friends. Yesterday, after school, our carful of commuters stopped unexpectedly for a “juice party” at a local market. We sat in the van and drank large mango milkshakes, topped with pistachio nuts. Later in the evening, I went out with friends to dine at a local restaurant, where we ate traditional Afghan food: bolani (potato and scallion pancakes), sweet pumpkin, and qabili palao (rice with raisons, nuts, carrots, and meat). I nearly drowned myself in watermelon juice and green tea with cardamom. Others ordered “dugh,” a salty, yoghurty, cucumbery drink that is both rich and refreshing, kind of like drinking really good musky cheese.
With so many positive aspects to the day, it is surprisingly easy to forget that one is in a war zone, in spite of the enormous military presence here. This morning, Kabul’s airport was attacked by Taliban fighters. I am staying nowhere near the airport, and probably wouldn’t have heard about the attack until much later in the day, had I not been awakened at 4:30am by a faint recorded announcement from a local military base. Other than that, all was quiet in my area, so I went back to sleep, eventually went off to work with my colleagues, and had a very normal kind of day.
I don’t intend, by any means, to make light of the very intense and complex situation here. For many Afghans, living conditions are incredibly harsh. A large percentage of the students at the ANIM are orphans or street children, who are given assistance from the government in order to attend school. Malnutrition runs rampant. And there is plenty of danger, not to mention the stress of living in a place so prone to sudden extreme acts of violence. Women and girls are especially at risk, particularly those pursuing an education or career.
But we sometimes forget to look beyond the constant barrage of violence that we are served in the daily news. We hear a lot about attacks and bombings. Meanwhile, there is plenty of day-to-day life going on here as well. And that is a truly beautiful thing.
For myself, I am grateful to be here as a musician and teacher, surrounded by people who have come to feel like family. In spite of my short visits, Kabul is home away from home, and I feel very welcome here. Stay tuned for more updates…