SOJUST - American University of Iraq, Sulaimani

A M E R I C A N U N I V E R S I T Y O F I R AQ – S U L A I M A N I
Compiled and edited by Marie LaBrosse
Between two ranges of Kurdish mountains
The ground shows its love for this world through the trees
Without hate, ages they have lived together
We are not as friendly as they are
Looking at nature
Selfishness exists
The forest has taken all the water, the desert all the dryness
The mountain the height, the ocean the depth
We are not that different.
ix Visiting Artists
xi Organizers’ Bios
xii Acknowledgements
xiv Event Rundown
1 Introduction
10 If You See Fatima and There is a Woman,
Honor is Killing | Jamil Amin | Marie LaBrosse | Soran Azad
17 A Conversation with Chris Merrill
22 Ghazal | Chris Merril
25 Universe | Kamali | Paiman Ismail
28 Women Within Woman | Nawal al-Sa’adawi | Umniyah Nadhir
31 A Conversation with Heather Raffo
Nietzsche | Kajal Ahmad | Darya Ali
9 Parts of Desire, 10 Years of Alchemy | Cyrille Cartier
Separation from Earth | Kajal Ahmad | Darya Ali
A Woman With A Whisper Said | Kajal Ahmad | Darya Ali
The Sweet Memorial | Hemn | Paiman Ismail
The Wisest Speech | Ahmed Matar | Mohammed Khaluq
Jillian Armenante | Interview
Jamshid | Bakhtyar Ali | Berzy Majlis
Poetry for the Censors | Ahmed Matar | Mohammed Khaluq
Cry | Hama Jaza | Hakar Dlshad
Untitled (Excerpt from Now A Girl Is My Homeland)
Sherko Bekas | Vania Mustafa
Name | Sherko Bekas | Vania Mustafa
74 Advertisement for The Arranged
The Arranged Excerpt | Mahdi Murad
The Core of the Universe | Abdulla Pashew | Bahra Salih
Beauty does not burn | Hemn | Paiman Ismail
Mahdi Murad | Interview
The Story of a Grosbeak | Kakay Falah | Ako Abdullah
Untitled (Excerpt from Now A Girl Is My Homeland)
Sherko Bekas | Vania Mustafa
106 The Commandments | Ahmed Matar | Mohammed Khaluq
Neil Shea | Interview
Nature Has Gone | Mohammed Khaluq
The Earth’s Commanders | Ahmed Matar | Mohammed Khaluq
Untitled (Sword and Pen) | Haji Qadiri Koye | Dina Dara
Stories and Storytellers
If I Return to Kirkuk | Sheikh Raza Talabani | Dlpak Ali Soma Abdullah | Marie LaBrosse
Black Days | Hama Jaza | Hakar Dlshad
Fear | Abdulla Pashew | Bahra Salih
Daughter Rojgar | Hama Jaza | Hakar Dlshad
Michael Galinsky | Interview
Community and Memory Photo Essay
Sudden Sorrow | Hama Jaza | Hakar Dlshad
During the Bombarding | Abdulla Pashew | Bahra Salih
Blindfolded | Faiaq Bekas | Dina Dara
Yesterday and Today | Kakay Falah | Ako Abdullah
Radcliffe Roye | Interview
The Right Man | Ahmed Matar | Mohammed Khaluq
The Laugher | Heinrich Böll | Shayan Rabathi
JILLIAN ARMENANTE is an award-winning actress,
playwright, director, and producer. In addition to
Broadway roles, her most recent film acting credits include World War Z, The Dark Knight Rises, A
Mighty Heart, and Girl Interrupted. Her many television credits include Grey’s Anatomy, Six Feet Under, ER, Northern
Exposure and Desperate Housewives. She played the role of Donna on
Judging Amy for six years, winning a People’s Voice Award. Her work
as a playwright has won her consistent critical acclaim and awards in
Los Angeles for the past ten years.
MICHAEL GALINSKY has produced six award-winning
feature films and dozens of shorts. His latest book
of photos was be published by Steidl-Miles in 2013.
Galinsky is a contributing editor for International
Documentary magazine, writing articles about filmmaking and distribution. Raised in Chapel Hill, Galinsky graduated
Phi Beta Kappa in Religious Studies from New York University.
CHRIS MERRILL has published four collections of poetry and translations, five books of non-fiction, and
several edited volumes. His
work has been translated into twenty-five languages,
his journalism appears in many publications, and his
awards include a knighthood in arts and letters from the French government. He now directs the International Writing Program at The
University of Iowa. He serves on the U.S. National Commission for
UNESCO, he has conducted cultural diplomacy missions in over thirty
countries for the U.S. State Department, and in April 2012 President
Obama appointed Merrill to the National Council on the Humanities.
HEATHER RAFFO is the solo performer and writer
of the Off- Broadway hit, 9 Parts of Desire, which
details the lives of nine Iraqi women. For her creation and performance of 9 Parts of Desire, Raffo
garnered many awards including a Lucille Lortel
Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn and the Marian Seldes-Garson
Kanin playwriting awards, and the Helen Hayes, Outer Critics Circle.
and Drama League nominations for outstanding performance. Her
play has had international productions/translations in Brazil, Greece,
Sweden, Turkey, Malta, France, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Scotland, England,
and Canada. Raffo served as the 2010–2011 Artist in Residence at
Vassar College, sponsored by the Mellon Foundation. She enjoys an
ongoing residency in the Department of Performing Arts at Georgetown University. She received her BA in English from the University
of Michigan and her MFA in Performance from the University of San
MARIE LABROSSE served as a Senior Lecturer and then as the Founding Chair of the English Department at the American University of
Iraq, Sulaimani from 2011 to 2013. During those years she instituted
the annual translation workshop and hosted bi-lingual readings with
prominent Kurdish poets. In the spring of 2014, she returned to AUIS
to teach translation and work on manuscripts for Abdulla Pashew and
Kajal Ahmad, two renown Kurdish poets. This book was compiled
and edited by her.
PETER FRIEDRICH served as a Senior Lecturer at the American
RADCLIFFE ROYE ’s work is widely sought after for
exhibitions all over the world. He was asked to take
over the New Yorker Instagram feed when Hurricane
Sandy ravaged the eastern shores in October 2012.
Since then, Radcliffe has been asked by several universities to lecture
photography students on the rise of Instagram and the changing face
of photojournalism. He has worked with numerous publications from
Vogue to New York Newsday.
University of Iraq, Sulaimani from 2008 to 2013. During those years,
he directed Shakespeare Iraq as well as many drama and film productions, several of them original student work or Iraqi premieres. In
2013, he received the Contribution to the Field Award, given by the
American Conservatory Theater. He is currently a visiting lecturer
at UNC Chapel Hill.
NEIL SHEA is an award-winning journalist who has
covered Iraq for over a decade. He has contributed
to National Geographic Magazine, The American
Scholar, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic Monthly, and The
Christian Science Monitor, among others. His work
has earned him the gold and silver Lowell Thomas award as well as recognition as a finalist for the National Magazine Award and the Overseas Press Club Award. He teaches journalism at Boston University.
I would like to take a moment to say thank you to all the staff, faculty,
and students at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, for their
incredible support and all the selfless work they provided the students
and the artists during the tremendous experience.
SoJust was a remarkable project that came together with input
from many creative minds in a short time frame. As our ideas grew,
and our needs changed, every member of the staff found ways to respond and assist. The demands were great, but the outcome was far
greater. We could not have hosted this festival without the support
of our community.
Specifically, much gratitude to the tireless Communications Office.
To Kyle Long, for asking all around him to think bigger. To Kaitlin
Taylor, for documenting and disseminating the best moments of the
festival. To Bzhar Boskani, for organizing alongside us and giving so
generously of his time and connections. They provided many of the
pictures for this book and became our co-planners. Thank you so
Many thanks, as well, to Rebaz Nawzad, Director of the Transportation and Facilities Management Department, and his entire staff
on whom we relied on so frequently. I am so grateful to the Academic
Preparatory Program instructors and Undergraduate professors who
saw fit to donate their class time to these visiting artists and the
topics of the festival. Many of them dedicated their time and energy
beyond class time, specifically Zak Sitter, Elizabeth O’Sullivan, Loren
Higbee, Cyrille Cartier, and Sasa Kralj. Zak and Liz, were of invaluable
help with the drama productions in the lead-up months and for all the
peace they brought to those final days of the festival. Loren, Cyrille,
and Sasa, contributed their time as ad hoc additions to the organizing
committee, as photographers, as writers and proofreaders in the final
stages of this book.
The patience and expertise of Korak Agha and the Conference
Room IT Staff were also priceless. Ranj Sarraj, a member of our university’s IT Office, was the perfect guide when he joined the Community and Memory Workshop as a participant and chaperone. Kay
Henderson gave much of her time and energy to the cast and crew of 9
Parts of Desire as they pushed themselves theatrically and personally.
To Steve Malott, Chief Financial Officer, and Thanasi Moulakis, former
President, I am grateful for their thoughtful, over-arching support.
The University of Sulaimani graciously gave us the use of their
theater for play rehearsals and performances for the duration of the
And, most importantly, much gratitude to the U.S. Department
of State, for underwriting the entire event. Their contribution was
the catalyst for all the various events to come together under one
banner. Their support allowed for American and Iraqi artists to have
substantive cross-cultural conversations about justice, representation, imagination, and creative expression. A great thank you for their
participation in the vision of the university as a gathering place for
expanding dialogue between regional and international artists
—Marie LaBrosse
A special thank you to all our photographers for the photographs used
in this publication in order of appearance:
AUIS Communications Office and student interns (1, 4-5, 8, 48-49,
127 (bottom), 110, 129). Student participants in the Poet’s Eye workshop including Shad Farhad Fatah (16-24). Student participants in
Community and Memory workshop (140-152). Neil Shea (20, 112, 119122). Aws and Ahmed Taha, student interns with AUIS’ Drama Department for their pictures of the performances of The Arranged and
9 Parts of Desire (2-3, 30-45, 74-96). Sasa Kralj (38 bottom). Cyrille
Cartier (58-61). Marie LaBrosse (112-117). Nuha Othman, photojournalism student, (125-127)
Written by undergraduate Mahdi Murad and performed by a cast
of Academic Preparatory Program students, this play explored the
social and religious issues around arranged and forced marriage. After
the performance, in celebration of the world premiere and the first
student-written, student-acted AUIS play, we hosted a conversation
with the author and the cast.
Actress, playwright, and director Jillian Armenante introduced students to improvisation and the craft of character through the lens of
commedia dell’arte. Together, Armenante and the workshop’s students experimented with extemporaneous storytelling and character
building through physicality.
Through 9 Parts of Desire, Heather Raffo turned her personal narrative
of an Iraqi-American woman into a much broader, more inclusive artistic piece. In this workshop, she invited the young women of AUIS
to begin viewing their personal narratives from an artistic standpoint.
English translations were completed and presented by Soran Azad, a
student in the Academic Preparatory Program, and Marie LaBrosse,
undergraduate faculty member.
Neil Shea, a journalist and professor, brought students out from the
university into the ruins of a castle built 500 years ago. He asked
them to think critically about how they see the world and how they
make sense of what they see. What details do we observe and what
do they mean? How do our assumptions betray us? Do we know what
it is we see?
Photojournalism professor Sasa Kralj organized an installation of
work at Cultural Café, a local bookstore and center of intellectual
gatherings. In that impromptu gallery, students gathered for an open
mic night to read and share pieces they had written during festival
events or as part of their ongoing work as writers.
Written by Heather Raffo, an Iraqi-American, and performed by
a group of undergraduate women, this play showcases individual
women, Iraqi and Iraqi-American, as they confront issues of identity, desire, persecution, and war. After opening night, in celebration
of the Iraqi premiere, we welcomed the author and cast to discuss the
process of writing and acting in the play.
Both Michael Galinsky and Radcliffe Roye hold community at the
center in the way they conceive and construct their photography and
films. In this workshop, they invited students to begin viewing their
own surroundings through the lens of community and the memories
within that community. The workshop began in Sulaimani and culminated in Halabja, the site of the 1988 chemical bombings.
On the festival’s opening night, Jamal Khambar, a Sulaimani poet, read
a selection of poems focused on women and honor in regional society.
Local directors and filmmakers gathered on a panel to discuss, in
Kurdish with simultaneous translation, how the local, developing
culture of filmmaking is addressing, including, or speaking to issues
of social justice.
Side by side, Michael Gallinsky and Radcliffe Roye displayed the work
they had produced throughout the festival. Using traditional methods
as well as new media such as Roye’s Instagram feed, the two artists
discussed their approach, their contrasting techniques, and the subject matter they had encountered in Iraq’s Kurdish region.
The visiting artists, including journalists, photographers, filmmakers,
actors, playwrights, and poets, convened to discuss how art can and
does foster social justice. Does the imagination have limitations? Are
certain stories reserved for certain storytellers? Can art contribute to
cross-cultural understanding?
With Chris Merrill, poet, translator, and director of the International
Writing Program at the University of Iowa, students traveled into the
countryside to discuss the power of the image. Having written about
an object or scene from one perspective, Merrill asked students to
reverse their stance and consider the same image. After a picnic lunch,
students shared their writing, reading to each other.
The artists visited classrooms in both the Academic Preparatory Program and the Undergraduate Program. They gave over a dozen guest
lectures, discussions, and workshops.
This book chronicles The Art of Social Justice (SoJust), a weeklong
arts festival that brought six American artists of various media to
the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS). Backed by the
US State Department, SoJust was designed to encourage our students
to question and communicate to others how they see their world, in
all its complexity. As AUIS has grown, more students have set out to
put their academic skills into conversation with the beauty and challenges of their world. One student has written and produced a play
portraying arranged marriage, and another has started a poetry club
(attended by Engineering and IT students alike) that aims to re-​see
the world we think we know. Others gather to read aloud and translate
the work of a Sufi poet from a hundred years ago.
The workshops, panels, lectures, performances, classroom visits,
and readings of SoJust were to help these students find new ways
to develop as intellectuals and artists. In the following pages, you
will find the products of this festival: interviews with the visiting
artists, photo-​essays of SoJust events, student writing, and student
Mewan Said and Mahmood Jaff begin the book with their poem
reflecting on the natural world and the overlaying human, political
The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS): open windows onto the city.
realities. Mahdi Murad, an AUIS student, wrote The Arranged, a play
that studies arranged marriage from both men’s and women’s perspectives. It also examines not just how religion and culture currently
interact, but how they might. The play imagines the possible. Alongside excerpts of that play, you will see an interview with the playwright in which he reflects on the local and global context of the play.
Each spring AUIS hosts a translation workshop. During this workshop, students choose texts of any genre to translate and revise together, each student growing as a translator and an editor. In spring
2013, the fifteen students in this class represented with more than
fifteen languages. They translated over 300 pages of poems, short
stories, novels, and speeches. Through translating, they found a way
to act as cultural ambassadors, transforming the tensions they carry
into assets. Finally, they shared their work publicly at the city’s most
historical literary teashop, Cha Hanishab. This year’s annual reading
drew quite an audience: Hakar Dlshad brought Hama Jaza’s lyrics
into English; Jaza’s widow attended with her daughter to listen. Vania
Mustafa rendered a spectrum of Sherko Bekas’ political poems in
English; Mustafa’s work so moved her mother, a personal friend to
the poet, that she asked to read one of her daughter’s translations.
Even “The General of Autumn,” renowned poet Mohammed Omer
Othman, attended to hear the work of the rising generation. The
translations read that day are interspersed throughout this book.
Murad’s play and these translations demonstrate that generations of
Iraqi artists have known and explored
the connection between the arts and
social justice. Only weeks before the
festival, the poet featured in some of
the first pages, Jamal Ghambar, ran
for office in the city of Sulaimani.
Khambar, at the time of the festival,
was a lawyer by day and poet by night,
famous as well for his ability to perform classical poems. When I asked a
Student playwright Mahdi Murad.
student what she thought of this, she
replied, “Kurdish poets were never only poets. There is this long history of poets being active intellectuals, deeply involved with society,
which explains why they are always important to the people. After
all, what is politics? It is everything that’s concerned with the city.”
In interviews, the visiting artists pick up this thread, responding
to questions about the role of art in social justice and the power of
the imagination. Neil Shea, an award-​winning journalist and adjunct
professor of journalism at Boston University, says,
The imagination allows us to see the past and the future: not
necessarily as they are or as they will be, but imagination provides
a window into both from the moment we inhabit. That’s really the
importance of imagination in documentary work; I’m not saying
we’re inventing the future or reimagining the past—but we have to
be able to imagine how something was or how something might be
if we’re going to ask questions that have any depth.
Shea points to imagination as a tool that, far from being idle, is a vital
element of social justice. It allows us to tell stories that can free us
for movement, to think about the past and future, “in dimensions,
in non-​linear ways that help you ask better questions.” Shea adds.
Christopher Merrill, poet, translator, journalist, and director of Iowa’s
Theater seats ready with programs, waiting for the audience.
International Writing Program, emphasizes the importance of stories:
often, the two go hand in hand. It can be whimsy for whimsy’s purpose or a tool that frees one from the confines of conventional thinking or it may be pure play. And play for the sake of play is equally as
powerful.” Art for art’s sake, play for play’s sake, is often dismissed:
it’s pointless. Armenante, describing imagination’s potential on the
most personal level, defends it:
Art and literature are some of the
sturdiest vehicles of the imagination
invented by humankind. We are storytellers by nature, and the more imaginative the story, the further afield it
I spent weeks in the hospital watching my father die of cancer. In
takes us, the better. We read fiction to
those weeks I spent hours landing planes in World War II with him.
inhabit the interior lives of others; we
He’d shout commands and I’d jump. I got over the initial, “Daddy,
fall in love with paintings that offer
we’re not really there . . .” My dad didn’t even fly planes in World
new angles of vision on the world; we
memorize poems composed long ago
because they tell us something central
about our lives.
(left to right) Vania Mustafa and
Darya Ali read translations at
Sulaimani’s historical literary
teashop, Cha Hanishab.
Instinctually, when we tell a story, we attempt to see our world, others,
and ourselves more clearly.
Imagination is a struggle for clear and even transformative sight.
The poem or the painting, these outgrowths of the imagination gift
us to ourselves. Merrill’s thoughts reminded me of Hayden Carruth’s
“The Impossible Indispensability of the Ars Poetica”:
The poem is a gift, a bestowal.
The poem is for us what instinct is for animals, a continuing and
unthought corroboration of essence
(Though thought, ours and the animals’, is still useful).
Why otherwise is the earliest always the most important, the
The Iliad, the Odyssey, the book of Genesis,
These were acts of Love, I mean deeply felt gestures, which
bestow upon us
What we are.
Jillian Armenante, an actress, producer, director, and writer, adds,
“Imagination is a form of expression just like survival—and very
War II, but once I decided to accept that convention and live in the
house of the imagination, our reality changed, and we had a great
time. It was wonderful in a situation that was pretty horrible.
In the most sorrowful human moment, play can feel like salvation.
Living in the house of the imagination can enlarge our ability to see.
This book is one more chance to live in that house and see art at work.
Our gratitude to the artists for joining us in Iraq, to the students for
engaging in the festival with such honesty and courage, to the faculty
and administration for their support, and to the US State Department
for believing in the arts and in education.
Marie LaBrosse, September 2013
The second annual translation workshop, celebrating the conclusion of the workshop’s
annual reading, poses for a photograph with local poet Muhammad Omar Othman.
Jamal Khambar inaugurates the festival with a
reading in the AUIS conference hall.
Jamal Amin, known as Jamal Khambar, was born in Sulaimani in 1962.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in law at the University of Baghdad
in 1984 and was employed as a lawyer for eleven years in the north
of Iraq. He migrated to Australia in 2002 and gained Australian citizenship in 2004. He has organized and spoken at meetings about
Iraqi law and poetry around the world, including Adelaide, Sydney,
Melbourne, Stockholm, Goteborg, Malme, Rotterdam, the Hague, and
Copenhagen. He has been employed in the sector of social security,
the Department of Human Services, in the Australian government.
Jamal is a member of the Kurdish Union of Writers, the Multicultural
Writers Association of Australia, the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization, Amnesty International Australia, and the Kurdistan Bar
Association. Since the 1980’s, he has published four collections of
poetry. In addition to this, he has translated four books into Kurdish,
including a long interview with Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.
He recently returned to the KRG to continue his activities in publishing and law. Now, Jamal is a renowned Kurdish and Australian
poet—and proud to be both.
Translated by Marie LaBrosse and Soran Azad
Three notes before we begin:
1. Maria was a girl who, as published in the media, was killed over
honor in Sweden.
2. Fatima, Fatima Shahindal, was killed for the same reason a few years
before Maria.
3. Briefly, toward the end of the poem, the poet slips into the voice of
the women-​killers. That “we” is not the “we” of the rest of the poem.
If you see Fatima, tell her
They are still here, the women-​killers, still here with knives,
Tell her still
This darkness, this killing devours us, all our seasons.
Tell Fatima
This atmosphere changes from one song to another,
One sea flies to another,
One garden gives rain to another.
Yet still the women killers with knives and daggers of
Are here . . . at the door to our homes
They wait! Maria,
I gave my own heart one night to God
So that you would not disappear
I presented my own head, like a flower,
To the river of an epic poem, full of life
So that you would not return to the tents of Adam.
Now we, in any way that appears,
With our honor, we will be recognized.
If we run to the lovers’ refuge,
The lovers will cry out:
They are coming . . . they are coming . . . the tribe of honor is
Take up your flowers!
Go inside . . . bar the doors and the windows.
The knife is coming . . . the dagger is coming . . . honor is coming!
Go inside.
Don’t open the door, even for the clouds.
Don’t open the window, even for the rain.
Daggers are falling like rain, honor has begun to storm,
Don’t open the sky, even for God . . . go inside!
Every twilight, a door will open for new love
And every evening, we will light a candle for
The innocent woman. Every 8th of March,
We will dress in the clothing of fairness. Tell her, to Fatima
Say, after her death, we lit our epic poems on fire,
We pounded on the gates of our books,
We filled the vessel of our imagination with
Before the many mirrors of speech, we spit
On our dishonored image.
Tell her, with fury, to Fatima say,
After her death, what didn’t we do.
Translated by Marie LaBrosse and Soran Azad
This grievous breath is for the pain of those women
who are being killed in deserts of honor
Wherever honor is
There, you will be killed!
You are killed
And we rain flowers down on your killers.
You have been hung and
We clap for your murderers, we applaud!
You, soaked with blood,
You wander, village by village, city by city,
Telling the story of the gun and the knife and
The nights of killing.
You knock on the door of justice.
Through the broken window of our homeland,
You look at your own death.
No one answers—not at the door, not at the window!
You will be killed and
We wait for the naked sword of honor:
We have sacrificed love to receive it.
—Those springs
That write the history of water
—Those ashes
That burned themselves with the fire of silence
—Those gulls
That sing songs for the sea.
—Those martyrs
Who their graves, our homeland swears.
—Those strangers
Whose skin and voice has become pale.
All of them came to
Greet the corpse,
The corpse there
That every day honor kills.
The corpse that is always afraid
Of how we throw it to the desert of tribes
Of how we hang it from the tree of illusions!
The corpse there
That every day honor kills,
The corpse that hangs over our shoulders,
Always dripping the abused blood!
The corpse
There. the corpse.
How strange and ferocious we are!
Father and
Brother and
Husband: how black-​hearted we are!
Image and meaning are interwoven. In the mountains outside Sulaimani, Chris Merrill encouraged students to see precisely, to examine
what meaning arose from their surroundings. Merrill invited students
to see poetry as close observation of their immediate world, a way to
contemplate and articulate insistent questions.
What were your impressions traveling from Erbil to Sulaimani? Arriving in Sulaimani?
My travels began that day in Baghdad, where violence was on the
rise, and so the open spaces, green valleys, and tall mountains came
as a relief. I thought of a drive that I used to make in the Sawtooth
Mountains, in Idaho, on my way to day hikes near Redfish Lake. And
then I thought of my practice, when I was reporting on the war in the
Balkans, to spend some time in Zurich before flying home. There I
would go for long runs around the lake, visit the cathedral to see the
stained glass windows painted by Marc Chagall, try to recover from
the stress of the war. It gave me perspective about what I was witnessing. I felt the same about my stay in Kurdistan.
While you were here, what interactions with students
caught your attention?
I loved the questions posed by the students in the classes I attended.
And our excursion into the mountains for a picnic and a creative
writing workshop was a blessing. The beauty of the setting, its history recited in stories, the poems written by the students—these fed
my spirit.
What images from your time in Sulaimani have become definitional?
Neil Shea catching a snake on the steps of the university, then realizing that it was a viper.
Does the imagination have limits? Is it necessary for artists
to be immersed in the world? Ali Samer seeks solitude at the top of a hill to consider the landscape around him and write.
“There are limits to imagination,” is how Robert Hass concludes his
poem, “Heroic Simile”; and while it is true that the imagination of
individual artists is constrained by talent and experience, history suggests that in a larger sense there are no limits to what human beings
can imagine, for good or ill. What was once unimaginable—the Final
Solution, say—may in the course of time seem inevitable. It is the
obligation of writers everywhere to bear witness to the complexities
of their age, in whatever form seems congenial to their temperament.
What Whitman and Dickinson illustrate is that there is no right or
wrong way for an artist to engage their moment in history. Whitman drew inspiration from his immersion in the world; Dickinson
rarely left her house; each produced poems that profoundly shaped
American literature—which is to say: our conception of ourselves as
a people. I am leery of artists who prescribe for others how to do their
work. The ways of the imagination are endlessly mysterious: what
works for one writer may not work for another, or even for that same
writer, if circumstances change—as they always do.
How do you define social justice and is it a part,
conscious or not, of the art you create?
William Stafford said that “justice will take us millions of intricate
moves.” Poetry enacts some of those moves, inspiring reflection on
decisions that individuals make, sometimes in the service of justice,
sometimes to satisfy their whims, desires, or needs. Lady Macbeth,
for example, must have believed that her machinations served some
larger purpose than her quest for power, and it was Shakespeare’s
genius to present her in such a light that we still understand her alltoo-human course of action. This does not absolve her, of course;
rather, it offers the audience insight, points of correspondence, and,
finally, catharsis, which as Aristotle taught is central to tragedy—and
probably crucial to our survival as a species.
What contribution I might make in the service of justice, then, as a
poet and writer, depends upon the decisions I take word by word, line
by line. I subscribe to Octavio Paz’s notion that a writer’s morality is
a function of his behavior toward the language; insofar as I strive to
be as truthful as possible, in everything I write, perhaps something
will endure. But I keep in mind at every turn the concluding stanzas
of W. S. Merwin’s elegy for John Berryman:
I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
The effects of my work in cultural diplomacy are likewise difficult
to assess. As director of the International Writing Program, which
hosts a residency, a summer writing camp, and a variety of projects,
and in my travels for the State Department to places of strategic interest, where I lecture, teach creative writing workshops, and meet
with cultural figures and government officials, I seek to connect to a
wide variety of people, hoping to find those points of correspondence
that I associate with the best literature.
that what you write is really
any good you at all and he said you can’t
you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
Many of our student-artists will not go on to lives dedicated only to
writing or photography or theater. They will be IT professionals or
bank tellers or school teachers. As someone who has a full administrative and diplomatic life, could you describe how you sustain your
writing, translation, and journalism? if you have to be sure don’t write.
There is no pleasure like discovering and assembling your materials,
then watching them take shape on the page. Hence I find myself, at
all hours of the day and night, trying to write a line or two, which I
pray will catch fire. “Feeling oppressed?” Stafford writes. “Get up at 5
a.m.” The fact is that you can always find time to write, if you really
want to write.
Finally, what do you think you changed while here and how do you
think you were changed from your time here?
It would be foolhardy for me to imagine that I changed anything
during my visit to Sulaimani. I can only hope to have said or done
something that will resonate. I do know that I was changed, however,
for Kurdistan is now in my blood, as this new poem may suggest:
Analysis of a poem written on a window overlooking Sulaimani
and its surrounding mountains.
A picnic in a valley, in Kurdistan,
And students writing praise songs to Kurdistan.
A mother calls her children angled livers,
And dark-eyed Evin means love in Kurdistan.
A plague of vipers side-winding toward admissions
At the University of Kurdistan.
The magpie flies, at daybreak, along the river,
Over the red poppies of Kurdistan.
Oilmen and engineers, police and militias,
Converge on the capital of Kurdistan.
Leah Hariri (left), Muhammad Khaluq ,and Mustafa Furat (right) listen to their fellow poets
share their work.
I free your neck, a father tells his son
At nightfall. All’s forgiven in Kurdistan.
What lies between a nation and a country?
Ask the blind tea-seller in Kurdistan.
Today they bombed markets and mosques in Baghdad,
Falluja, and Ramadi. Spared Kurdistan.
Nor did I want my life to end that night
Driving through the mountains of Kurdistan.
Thistles, and hollyhocks, and river willows—
And then the call of a bird native to Kurdistan!
This river will run dry before the pasha
Lets Christopher return to Kurdistan.
Mewan Nahro (left) and Mahmood Shawkat (right) as they brainstorm and begin
to write a poem together.
Translated by Paiman Ismail
Hakar Dlshad reclines on the hillside as he reads his writing to his fellow poets.
Universe, be honest
For God’s sake, be honest
Tell me without lies and misdirection,
Is my moon more beautiful or yours?
My moon is tall and lanky
Her height is the redbud tree’s,
Her eyes are the fawn’s,
Sapping lovers’ consciousness and endurance.
How can your moon give such sweet speech,
Stare so engagingly,
Give such joy to a broken-hearted lover,
Turn such an old man’s heart young again?
Darya Ali pauses mid-poem to smile for the camera.
Playwrights and poets, directors and actors, visiting and local artists,
faculty and students contemplated the myriad definitions of womanhood. Gender and equality are vital concerns for artists of all generations, in all genres, and across nationalities.
Translated by Umniyah Nadhir
When his eyes moved she realized he can see her. And for the first
time, she was seen by eyes other than hers. Only while facing the mirror, she was seen by her own black eyes. In the street, in the tram, in
the college, she sees eyes that can see her, can’t identify her amongst
the crowd, and she becomes lost amongst the identical bodies; and
nothing can find her but her hand when it touches her body, and realize that she has her own body. And her eyes running on lines over
the white canvas, the motion of her hands become invisible, her lines
become clear and isolated from the world within their own borders
and their own sharp curves; with her sharp will that cuts through
other wills to uncover the body and pull off the mask and remove the
white name-​sticker with the fake name from the blue file.
She saw his eyes examining her face like she examines it in the
mirror; and goes through the long narrow tunnel within her soul. One
more second is enough for him to arrive to the end. She turned her
face away. She was scared of arriving at the end, she felt the danger
of arriving, and realizes the impossibility of going back. That she will
magically become another person who isn’t Bahia Shaheen; that she
will become her real-​self.
She didn’t know exactly who her real self was, but she knew for
sure it wasn’t Bahia Shaheen; the medical student, the good girl, this
pale tan girl who is standing hesitant in front of the door.
The word hesitant here is uncertain, and untrue. The truth is she
never hesitated. She was always dragged by her mysterious need to
keep moving forward non-​stop; to arrive at the dangerous end. She
knew she was going, it’s her destiny. She is not walking back and
forth; she is forcefully pushed by her curiosity to know her fate; and
her fear of knowing pushes her back.
If she was the real Bahia Shaheen, she would have turned around,
taken a step back, and entered the morgue; and today would become
like yesterday, like tomorrow, and she would fall into the spiral of
unchanging days, ordinary life, and ordinary faces. But she wasn’t
Bahia Shaheen. She was a different person, Satanic, not born of her
mother and father. Her faces match the ones she sees in the mirror,
but sharper; the eyes are darker, the nose is higher, the tan skin wasn’t
pale, but it’s flaming with blood.
She didn’t like Bahia Shaheen, she saw her flaws easily, she hated
her obedient polite voice, and suffocated with her calm peaceful look
that doesn’t see things, but reflects on them like a mirror, she hated
that nose that is never high enough, and she hated the paleness that
had no certain reason, like the paleness when the blood escapes out
of the fear that humans try to hide.
Bahia Shaheen would hide that fear behind that pale skin. But
Bahia’s skin couldn’t deceive her. She knew her real depths, and she
knew how scared she was and she knew what scared her.
Bahia Shaheen was scared of her real self, of this other woman
living inside her, this satanic one who moves and sees things with all
her might of seeing, and her nose had this weird sharp height, sharp
like a sword, it cuts the universe in two to walk forward, forward with
no mercy nor hesitation, to reach the end, the end of end, even if it
was the vast crushing edge itself.
But Bahia Shaheen hesitates, stops in the middle, she fears endings, for an end for her is an end, it is the scary high pinnacle, it is
the hanging point in the emptiness nothing behind or in front of it,
the vast pinnacle right before cessation of being.
In the middle she would stand, she knew she was standing still,
but she was safe in that middle point. The middle point on the rope
which is pulled forcefully, where the pulling forces are equals. The
zero point; her power equals zero and her resistance equals zero. She
is the perfect calm point, the perfect unthreatened peace, in other
words, it’s the death’s point.
Bahia Shaheen didn’t know she was standing in the abdomen of
death itself, and she was inevitably dead. Her mind was unable to realize this truth. Ironically, she thought she could survive or she could
stay away from danger by not moving towards the dangerous life. Her
mind was unable to realize that she is in the middle of danger, and
her movement would be a step towards surviving, towards life, but
she didn’t know how to save herself, why would she save herself, in
other words, she didn’t know the point of her life.
While you were here, what interactions with students caught
your attention?
The pervasive sense of suspicion: how difficult these young female
students’ lives will be after university. Where will they ever feel at
home? How pervasive is suspicion even on its own. Gossip. The family. People will talk.
How do you define social justice and is it a part,
conscious or not, of the art you create?
Social justice is why I create. For me, social justice is supporting the
profound and demanding complexity of what it means to be human.
The arts do this unlike anything else I know. It continues to be key for artists of all nationalities to just be able
to get in a room together in a safe place and get to work. I think the
initial goal is to create opportunity for that to happen and I think
that the funding and the importance of things like that should come
from the assumption that the artists really are the bearers of how
one can best delve into the complex issues of what’s at stake with
humanity, and how we communicate through that because we are the
I think with the artists that came from American for this conference we’re all different, we all brought something different, we all
communicate differently. So the students had access to using each
of us in a different way should they have wanted to. The next step is
making it even more collaborative. So less ‘we’re coming’ and more
‘what are we jointly creating?’ That’s just about time and organization.
That couldn’t have happened this time.
As we go into the future it’s about jointly collaborating so that we
actually are influenced by each other and letting this kind of conference grow, continue to grow more of the same, letting us build on the
momentum. I think it’s very important for Iraqi artists to be brought
to the US and very important for Americans to be influenced by Iraqis
as well as Iraqis to be influenced by American artists.
started to happen. Once we have a decade of that under our belt then
we’re probably having very different kinds of conversations with each
other than the ones our politicians are having.
Is feminism essential to your view of what social justice is?
It is. Because we’re talking about rights people are born with, the essential humanity people are born with. Women are born equal to men
and men are born equal to women. We have a whole slew of problems
that need to be addressed through NGOs, human rights organizations,
and social justice organizations. And if the assumption the world over
was just that men are as valuable as women and women are as valuable
as men, I think we’d have a lot less problems. It would be so much
easier for men to live in a world where women were valued equally.
Men would have so much more available to them.
My dream is to start a women’s playwright exchange. Where Iraqi
female playwrights and American female playwrights gather and work
I also would love something like the writing workshop. A week
long one of those with American and Iraqi students so that sense of
narrative and storytelling is being heard and processed by women of
the same age but who grew up in different countries. It doesn’t have
to be America and Iraq, it could easily expand to other cultures.
The women in our one-​​day workshop would be surprised at how
many similarities there were with what American women would say
and vice versa and then absolutely shocked with the things that were
deeply different.
How do you see relations between Iraq and the US evolving?
There’s one thing that gives me hope about that. And that is for the
first time last year ever the artists of both countries started having
exchanges. That give me hope because in 10 years time, the span of
this play, I had yet to meet an Iraqi theater artist in America or in
Europe. And that finally happened last year. So finally that change
Translated by Darya Ali
Nietzsche said, “Females are all cats,
And if they reproduce too much, they become cows!”
If fate had allowed me
To join the solitude of that mad man
I would have said to him, “You, even you, were too naïve
To fathom your opposite sex.”
Give me one night of your life
And I will show you how I can turn you
from a wise man into a fool
Turn the shadows of your doubts
into the sources of belief
And I will change the sources of your belief
Into the doubts of a skeptical man.
Give me one night
But let there be a conscious sun
Not a sleepy and an ignorant moon,
So that I can give you truth in a kiss,
Turn you from a philosopher into philosophy.
Heather Raffo’s return to Iraq and the
Iraqi cast’s life-​changing journey
By Cyrille Cartier
Anticipation is tangible at the American University of Iraq-​Sulaimani
days before the performance. A play . . . An all women cast . . . A premiere . . . In English but about Iraqi women . . . Written by an American. No, an Iraqi . . . Wait, American or Iraqi? Both. What?
A few minutes before the beginning of the premier, actually stealing minutes into a small delay, the actors are absorbed into a near
meditative zone to dispel nervousness and fear. Around them moves
the crew and a few individuals making sure every detail, lighting,
program is in place.
Botan Muhammad tunes his oud and encourages one of the actors,
Sahar Jamal, to relax, sing freely as he will follow her in the opening
scene. Another actor drinks soda while three others rehearse their
lines. It’s the only time the five actors will be on stage together until
the very end of the play.
Outside a steady buzzing sound grows louder, creating a pressure
for the doors to release inward.
Heather Raffo gets shuffled through the crowd to access the theater hall before everybody. Once in, she slowly walks down the stairs
as if savoring the moment or trying not to disturb the tentative calm
among the actors and crew. She cautiously places one leg in front of
the other while scanning the hall, past the rows of about 300 empty
red chairs. The actors look up from the stage, recognize her and burst
into cries speeding her down the stairs and onto the stage. For most
of them, it’s the first time they see her in person.
They huddle around her, nervous, excited, boosting their collective
and individual energies like a sports team before a tough final match.
“We want to make you proud,” 20-​year-​old Minatullah Amer tells
“Don’t make me proud. Make yourselves proud.”
From the front row Jillian Armenante yells out, “break a leg, ladies,
break a leg.” Jillian, another guest of the festival, was with the actors
for the last rehearsals to fine-​tune their performance and give them
the encouragement they need.
The curtain closes and actor Kazho Muhsin, also 20, sticks her
head back out and gives Heather and Jillian a last thumbs-​up. Someone yells out: “the house is open.” Buzz, hum and chatter cascade
down the steps and spread onto chairs waiting for the show to begin.
Full Circle
Students gather, excited for the premiere of 9 Parts of Desire.
Jillian Armenante (left) and Heather Raffo (right) peruse the program before the curtain rises.
For Heather this is a full circle. The last time she was in the place of
her father’s origin was nearly 20 years go. Her emotional and intellectual collision with Iraq gave birth to 9 Parts of Desire, the play that
continues to mesmerize audiences in the country where her mother
is from—​the United States—​and around the world for more than a
decade since its début. Now Heather has come back to see the Iraqi
premiere of her play with five Iraqi women college students as the
star line-​up.
During her 1993 trip Heather was about the same age as the actors themselves. She’d been traveling around Europe and called her
father to ask if he could put her in contact with relatives in Iraq—​the
opportunity to see them was too great to pass up. Soon after, she was
on a bus from Amman, Jordan, with a cousin heading through the
desert toward Baghdad.
A month-​long stay stretched those few words of Arabic she mustered though much of the younger generation spoke English. “The
American relative”—​as she was lovingly nicknamed—​bathed in hospitality and discovered part of her identity that reinforced the uniqueness from her peers back home: a blonde Midwesterner with Iraqi
lineage deeply affected by American foreign policy in Iraq.
“The first gulf war was a pivotal moment in my growing up because
Kazho Muhsin, portraying a famous and irreverent Baghdad artist, begins listing the types of
bombs that fell on her character’s house, killing her.
Kazho Mushin (left), Sahar Jamal (center), and Botan Muhammad (right), warm up for the
premiere, which began with a traditional Iraqi song, sung by Sahar and accompanied by
Botan on his Iraqi oud, similar to a lute or a guitar.
I was 20 and I was experiencing war for the first time, obviously in
America and from that vantage point, but with this huge concern for
the life of my family that was living in Iraq.”
After that 1993 trip she started research and conducted hundreds
of interviews with men, women, young and old, all connected to Iraq.
And then she began writing.
Characters in the play tell stories of a divorcée looking for love, a
9-​year-​old who collects bullets from her rooftop and differentiates
between the various sounds of weapons, a mother who lost her daughter in an American bomb raid—​the Amiriya shelter bombing, a woman
selling looted wares with insight into the systematic plundering of
Baghdad’s institutions, a doctor treating unusual diseases linked to
depleted uranium, an American isolated from her Iraqi family just
before the war, a Mullaya, an exiled politically-​active intellectual and
an artist who painted on the suffering of women in a country led by
one of her other frequent painting subjects: Saddam Hussein.
Her American audiences, who hid in fiction, confronted the reality
of Iraq on the stage. Her sources’ reality infused into fiction on the
same stage. Truths speak through fiction.
For Heather it was a journey to find herself, to give voice to the
unheard, “a love letter to my family; a way of keeping them alive by
keeping them present,” all in one.
Twenty years later in Sulaimani, on the premiere night, Lea Hariri,
18, wears a platinum blonde wig covering her black hair. Fiction and
reality in this play are two sides of the same coin for her as well.
In one of the scenes her character in the US talks to her aunt,
who barely speaks English, in Baghdad during the war. From across
the seas, Lea, aka Heather, repeats endlessly “I love you.” Three little words rhythmically pounding with emotions. Looking at fleeting
images of family members projected on the wall she calls out their
names, all 47 of them, as if the utterance of each is a prayer in itself.
She cries. The character cries. They both cry. Lea does not fake
the tears streaming down her face. Years do not matter. 1991 is like
2003. Heather’s 1991 is Lea’s 2003.
“If you’re from here, your age is not the number of years you’ve
lived because you were born here, because of the things that we saw,”
Lea says in an interview following the performance. “I will never forget
the things I witnessed during the war and every time I go travel to
Heather Raffo, Minatullah Amer, Mina Bassam, Kazho Muhsin, Lea Hariri, and Sahar Jamal,
talk with the audience following a performance. Leah is responding to a question from Banu,
the daughter of faculty member Bilal Wahab, who asked, “How would you feel if the people
you lost in the play were dead in real life?” Lea answered, “The family of the character is
my family. When my character’s family died, I remembered the deaths of my own family
members. This was my real life.”
forget about the war, I can’t. I can’t get these images out of my mind.
It’s not the war that was the problem, it was the people, it was how
people treated each other.”
After the second performance, in a talk-​back after the play, a 9-​
year-​old from the audience, obviously affected by Lea’s portrayal of
a child of the same age, questions her: “How would you really feel if
you really lost a family member?”
“We actually did lose family members,” Lea responds. “That’s why
I was crying.” Her co-​stars nod or utter an agreement. “All of us did.
At some point or another,” Minatullah adds.
In an interview Minatullah further elaborates her relationship to
the character that most resembles the playwright: “I can relate to her
in a way, even though she is an American and has not seen what is
going on. Most of the time when I was a teenager, I was living in my
house but I didn’t know what was happening around me.” She only left
the house to go to school, her parents trying to protect her, keep her
out of the reach of the apocalypse outside. But she heard explosions,
nearly died in one, and her brother was kidnapped and later released.
Her bubble was ridden with holes. And it all made an impact on her
young psyche. “There is that moment and even now because I’m in
Sulaimani and my parents are still in Baghdad, I feel that same worry
and I carry a burden on my shoulders thinking: Are they safe? Are
they all right? And that’s how the American Invasion was. She was
just kind of far away, did not know what was going on and she cannot
do anything about it.”
Back in 2003, all Heather could do was to keep writing. The helplessness in 1991 ebbed into her life before the war but this time she
was armed with a play. As the second Desert Storm got on the way,
the nascent 9 Parts of Desire hit its own frontlines in United States.
“When I first had a draft, nobody in America wanted to pick up this
play. It could not be done. It had to be done in Edinburgh in Scotland
and then it was done in London.”
Rejection letters from American theatre companies piled up as
a result of the sensitivity of the issues until finally one producer in
2004 said yes. The show that was up in New York City before the
American elections, was sold out for nine ​months straight. “Americans were ready for heart-​felt conversations about the human cost
of the war on all sides. This was their outlet; they didn’t have this
outlet anywhere else.”
And the play kept going from theatre to theatre, country to country; proof of the audience’s curiosity, desire to see, attempt to understand, Iraq.
Understanding Iraq is an ongoing journey. A recent trip to a college
campus a mere two hours away from New York City where Heather is
based, reminded her of the work yet to be done.
Heather Raffo (center), the play’s author, embraces Minatullah Amer (left) and Lea Hariri
(right) after the Iraqi premiere of her play.
“Close your eyes,” she’d told the students in Pennsylvania in a
workshop she was conducting. “Tell me what an Iraqi woman is. See
her. What’s she wearing? What’s she doing? What do her hands look
like? Put her somewhere.” Most of them had the same image: an older
woman wearing a full black abbaya in a market surrounded by children.
This took place only two weeks prior to her arrival in Sulaimani.
Some of the real Iraqi women, the 18 to 22-​year-​olds studying at
AUIS, the theatre stars-​to-​be, could not be further from the imagined
reality of their Pennsylvania peers.
The Iraqi Stage
In February 2013 the drama teacher at the AUIS, Peter Friedrich, decided to stage the play. In conversations with the chair of the English
Department at the university, Marie LaBrosse, the Art of Social Justice, a festival, was conceived. Heather, along with other artists, was
invited to attend. The play and a workshop she conducted became an
integral part of the festival.
Disregarding jetlag, Heather starts her workshop on turning personal narrative into art within hours of her arrival for women students
at the university. She shares with them the experience from Pennsylvania. “Why do they see us that way? Why does the media portray us
that way?” ask several students.
“You should tell your story,” she encourages them. “I know that the
world might be very interested in learning about what an Iraqi woman
narrator point-​of-​view is on the nature of happiness and what might
be available to them in their 20s. What do they think? What do they
want? What do they feel? The world outside of here is interested in
learning from you. I think that’s pretty cool.”
The workshop participants, all women, are the future potential
shakers and shapers of culture and society. Eyes wide open and ears
perked up, they soaked in the power of art, the power of theatre,
wisdom that Heather unselfishly shared. “So what is needed is a humanizing experience. Theatre is like an event. Theatre is so vulnerable
and so intimate that it changes people just by being in the room.”
Absorbing words isn’t living them. The women replied with enthusiasm and admiration but voiced depressing weaknesses and fears.
Their dreams and ambitions are constrained by the society itself and
the expectations for them to be dutiful daughters and, later, successful
wives and mothers, not independent, strong and disobedient creatures. University choice and even participation in this workshop or
the play are a struggle for dreams—​dreams that depend on the acceptance and permission of their family, dreams that can only be fulfilled
if the other duties are not negated. Restraint is the favored emotion.
So much social pressure hangs on the women’s shoulders from an
early age, that the ballast is too heavy for sailing even on calm seas.
“I get up in the morning so I can be happy but I don’t get there,”
shares one participant. “Happiness is when you feel ‘if I die now, it’s
“Happiness is meant to last for four seconds . . . if it lasts longer
it gets boring,” suggests another woman.
One participant says she feels her life is blowing by. She sacrifices
having fun with her peers at university and at home with her family
for good grades and a chance at a lucrative career. But her fear is that
she might discover she does not want that. The thought already depresses her. Another talks about the difficulty of balancing between
being active on campus and not going home every weekend to her
family. She feels her family’s disappointment each time she manages
to see them.
Heather listens. She needs to turn this ballast into an active substance. She wants her participants to appropriate that active substance and make a move. She suggests an exercise for their intimate
world, for their journals: “One of the things I like to do is to take out
limitations, to expand the world in some extreme magical-​ness, to
look at it from a different perspective.” After a while the women start
imagining what their life and dreams would look like without the constraints. One, who had stopped writing in her journal, who overloaded
even that tiny intimate space of her freedom with the heaviness she
could not deposit anywhere else, says she feels a sense of relief.
Writing can help to liberate the mind and help them find small
ways to achieve what might seem impossible on a greater scale,
Heather advises the group further.
“I stopped dreaming,” confides another woman to Heather, later
during her trip.
The woman is about 20 years older than the college students.
Heather interprets her words to mean: “‘Yeah I had those dreams
and I don’t allow myself to dream anymore’ because, the implication
is, none of them can come true. I felt that even in the most positive
young 20-​year-​old young college student I talked to.”
Heather’s optimistic expectations prior to her arrival—​after all
she was aware that AUIS is a liberal arts college where men and women
learn together—​went through another check-​up and ended with one
more layer of self-​discovery.
Student projections of themselves were superficial and high-​heels,
tight jeans or the latest fashion trends juxtaposed maladroitly with the
inner maladies: “What was heartbreaking for me was hearing all these
20-​year-​old dreams and then hearing further to those initial dreams,
the levels of responsibility and constraints when they enter the working, post-​university world,” says Heather in a conversation following
her trip to Iraq. “The responsibility to be married, to have children
and to look after that environment is huge, and the responsibility of
the perception of fidelity and virginity and worthiness as a woman.”
Clichés are reinforced. One young smart woman misses the opportunity to do an internship in Beirut, Lebanon, and a semester-​long
study abroad program in the United States. Her parents forbade the
trips because society would see her as being too open, too free, too
difficult to control. The opportunities could ruin her reputation and
make it difficult for her to reintegrate in society upon her return.
The formula is simple: Reintegration = getting married = leading a
happy life.
Heather gazes off into a distance. She takes her time and is then
betrayed by the slight tremor in her voice when she finally lets out:
“These women are choosing between love for family and the ability
to pursue who they are.”
“Constraints of perception are weighing heavily on all of them; responsibility and perception. And that always came back to being female.”
(from left to right) Peter Friedrich, Huda Hamid, Jillian Armenante, and Heather Raffo chat
before curtain.
On stage, in front of her colleagues, teachers, families and friends,
Minatullah impersonates her character Huda, an exiled political and
The Iraqi cast of 9 Parts of Desire, (left to right) Lea Hariri, Sahar Jamal, Minatullah
Amer, Mina Bassam, and Kazho Muhsin, pose with support team members (left to right)
Ahmed Taha, Botan Muhammad, and Blnd Jaff.
intellectual woman. Wild, in a leather jacket, she rebels against the
world, banging an air-​guitar and taking a swig of pretend whisky.
Kazho, in one of the following scenes screams out “Whore!” in a
dramatic moment of her character’s monologue about society’s perception of her. Fear of a backlash is tangible.
But the audience releases the tension. They applaud. They connect
with her character and approve of their performance.
It was not an easy journey to get there. For the women cast, the
topics and lines are not just another theatre role. The lines between
themselves and their characters blur. They themselves become their
characters. Their stories blend. In the patriarchal society burdened
with layers of suppressed and overt violence, each word, each gesture
counts. The women would forever be associated with those roles.
“The characters in the play are all outspoken saying words or ideas
that would be considered too provocative and daring,” Lea explains. “A
woman should stay silent. She should obey the man, the male figures
in her family.”
Minatullah only needs to look at her mom, a university professor
in Baghdad, to see to what extent women’s liberties have been curtailed since 2003 and with the growing religious influence.
“Before the war I think they (women) had more liberty walking the
streets, wearing whatever they wanted to, speaking in public spaces.”
But now, Minatullah says, “It’s a constant struggle for her to actually
not wear hijab, and to be independent, have a leadership role as a
professor in her college.”
But confronting some of the social taboos, claiming the material
for themselves and daring to become the women on stage, is an act
of liberation that makes them stronger in their convictions to make
positive change.
The transformative power of theatre started during the first readings of the script in February 2013, in a drama class lead by their mentor and director, Friedrich, and assistant director Elizabeth O’Sullivan.
It was not just a reading of the text. It was a shake to the core of the
stars-​to-​be, who buried seeds of doubt, questioning and challenging
of the times and events passed, under layers of survival. The play
touched a sensitive chord that yelled out in unison in the certitude
that they had to do the play.
“At the end of reading of the play we were in tears and speechless,”
Minatullah recalls.
It was obvious to all in the team, and to Heather when she arrived,
that everything about the play still reverberates, regardless of the
10 years passed, and resonates, waking up what was asleep in their
young souls.
For nearly four months Friedrich, O’Sullivan, and the other members of the crew, Zak Sitter and Kay Henderson, worked individually
with the women on their characters.
Speaking about her character, 20-​year-​old Kazho says, “For myself
I think she gave me a lot of strength. She gave me a lot of courage. She
made me more powerful I guess because she was able to show me, not
only by playing her role and shouting and saying those words but also
I think she was a great woman. She chose to stay in this country.” As if
taking ownership of her character—​words she repeats in the interview
several times: “I fear it here and I love it here.”
“History is repeating itself with us in Iraq. What happened in the
past is what’s going to happen in future unless we do something,” adds
22-​year-​old Sahar empowered by success, days after the play. Sahar
is practical, though. Her success is skin-​deep. She says with awe as
if realizing for the first time: “Oh my god I could die at any moment
and I haven’t done anything.”
The journey of the play—​both its content and working through the
material, absorbing it as part of her—​is “very motivating,” she says.
Nine Parts of Desire doesn’t overtly address or even name the concepts of feminism, equality, identity, but is all of them. The underlying theme of peace and freedom unites those complex layers at play
within and between the characters. But because it is theatre and, by
nature, the audience is involved in and interacting with the material—​
as opposed to passive observers or even voyeurs—​the conversation
is at a deeper level.
When Friendship is Political
University walls might appear sometimes as a shelter from the myopic, aggressive, imposing world surrounding it, yet often they are just
a paper-​like membrane unable to filter out contamination.
Mina Bassam, another star from the play, sticks out at AUIS, in
Sulaimani and in Iraq. Her tastes and her expressions of identity put
her at odds with most everyone as she fights for acceptance against
tides of resistance, of prejudices and even racism in all of her surroundings, both inside and outside the porous university walls.
She doesn’t wear high heels and does not follow the majority’s
fashion. She enjoys heavy metal music and, after she finished with the
play, she dyed her hair bright red. “I’m Iraqi and I live in a community
where women are not allowed to do anything,” vents the 21-​year-​old.
“They’re like ‘Why are you being so weird? Why do you have that hair
color? Why are you dressed like that?’ People judge and people don’t
allow you to do what you like.”
But style and looks are but one frontline for the second-​year college
student. The invisible, the inner, more essential yields even harsher
confrontations when sensed or expressed. Mina is originally Kurdish
and grew up in Baghdad. Able to speak Kurdish and Arabic, enriched
with a capacity to connect with Kurds and Arabs, she makes friends
regardless of their perceived or projected ethnic origins. At the university and even among family members, lack of understanding batters
her with words that hurt: “‘Why you talk about them like you’re part of
them? Why you act like you’re an Arab and not a Kurd,’” Mina recalls.
Distortions, malevolent or just plain idiotic misconceptions and
reinterpretations of history, oppress her. She fights as best she can:
“What happened was not because of Arabs. What happened was because of Saddam. And some people till now live with that idea that
they were hurt. I just think that they need to move on.”
Showing the breadth of her understanding even toward those who
judge her, Mina is refreshingly oriented toward the future: “I think
it would be better and nicer if people would learn how to get along
without thinking about these things because we have bigger problems
to think about.”
Lea tried to ignore her mixed heritage (Kurd and Arab) most of her
life. She left her family and childhood in Baghdad to attend university
in Sulaimani. Alone, she was suddenly exposed. “Choose sides!” a
demand by those who are uncomfortable with her multi-​dimensional
identity. She had to re-​examine, re-​evaluate, argue within and without. Now her complex identity is an element of pride. It also gives her
a sort of mission, an opportunity to be proactive, to teach her peers
about and empower them with understanding and accepting people
who are perceived as different.
Her chin held high, Lea says: “People won’t realize that if you’re
an Arab who’s a racist toward Kurds or a Kurd who’s a racist toward
Kazho Muhsin as Layal, seen on the screen of Radcliffe Roye’s mobile phone. Roye uses a
mobile phone as a prime tool for his photographic projects, concentrating on portraits.
Lea Hariri as “The American,” the character in the play that most closely resembles Heather
Raffo, the playwright, captured by photographer Radcliffe Roye for his mobile phone
portraiture project.
Arabs and you don’t talk to the other part you might not find your
soul mate or your best friend. Why not give them a chance? Why not
give yourself a chance to know the other people?”
Alchemy of the Theatre
As an old proverb says: one cannot teach anything that a pupil does
not already possess within; the transformative power of the theatre
at AUIS found and nourished all who participated.
“They (actors) are in a unique position to inspire and educate
because of the nature that they are meant to be vulnerable. They
are meant to be exposing. They are meant to be revealing of human
nature all the while being inspiring,” Heather explains. “Theatre is
also meant to be live, so it’s meant to be a two-​way conversation. So
all those things together demand that an audience member is sitting
there, their heart and mind exposed and in a live conversation with
actresses whose hearts and minds are exposed having a pretty intense
deeply revealing human conversation.”
To Heather the key is in merely having the “artistic process” that
allows the women actors to discover themselves and to help break
down the barriers they may not have been aware they lived within.
The process is what opened the space for conversation. As a result the
catharsis of theatre was profound. “When you are dealing with a society that is fighting itself from within and over issues that date back
to decades, that’s what the play is about,” clarifies Heather, “because
its essential structure is about our common humanity.”
“Now for sure they will arrest me,” Lea echoes the written word from
her character’s father.
At that moment, all innocence is lost.
Lea’s gift in communicating the initiation of a 9-​year-​old straight
into an adult, often sinister, and always politicized world, brought the
play to life for everyone in the theatre hall.
Other actors, like a great team of relay runners, take over the attentive audience and bring them further and deeper into conversations
as if acting was a birthmark. The audience laughs when they should
and even when the actors don’t expect them to, maybe searching for
a bit of relief from severity or tears. When Kazho tells a joke that
she herself had a hard time finding funny, they laugh; when Mina
impersonates with confidence a character that is supposed to be unattractive and says: “I’m 38 and this is how I look,” they laugh again.
During the play, laughter comes in small, prescribed doses. Tears
rain. At the end of this premiere, primordial night, like it should be
in life, smiles, laughs, and congratulations dry those tears into fading
streaks on the cheeks. Much praised and thus relieved, the actors
physically cross an invisible boundary and meet the audience for embraces. A few search out for Heather in the crowd, still sitting, as if
mesmerized, as others stand about.
Minatullah asks her: “How did you feel?”
Heather: “I cried through the whole thing.”
“Are you proud?” Lea adds.
“I’m destroyed.” Heather voices her overwhelming inner journey
with the play, the characters, actors, audience, youth and with Iraq.
“It’s profound and it’s heart-​wrenching. It’s two-​fold it’s how I
am from the outside looking in and how I am deeply from the inside
feeling my way through it.”
The Two Way Mirror
The actors face a thick, loaded silence and attention that swells the
theatre space during most of the play.
Heather feels the bated breath of the whole theatre during a particular scene when the 9-​year-​old character discovers her father’s
diary in which he recounts how his daughter had exposed him. The girl
had unwittingly repeated to her schoolteacher what he’d told her in
private: that at least the stars of Babylon were out of reach of Saddam.
Nine Parts of Desire celebrated its tenth year of success in Iraq. As a
birthday present it returned from exile in which it was conceived and
became a “citizen” of Iraq. Not just metaphorically. With its début
in Sulaimani, it added to the cultural weaving of Iraqi society forever. It empowered, provoked, enthused, questioned, and enriched
the team, actors and audience. Almost symbolically, the cast of young
women, Kurdish, Arab, and mixed, at the American University of Iraq,
Sulaimani—​with its conundrum of a name—​turned the play from
being an ambassador in distant lands with a base in the United States,
into mediation center of Iraq, for Iraqis, in Iraq.
Until now Heather was, by her own admittance, a cultural bridge: a
voice of Iraqi women in times of war, to an audience from the worlds
that sent their soldiers to fight there. She was bringing information
for those who had none or a distorted little. “So perhaps the big
growth for me in coming to Iraq and seeing the play was in reverse to
that. I realized, I thought maybe I would be this cultural bridge from
America back to Iraq but I was a cultural bridge from Iraqi to Iraqi.”
As desires are so often muted yet so crucial in conditioning of actions, Heather’s play and the nine women characters interwoven with
her life and now with the young actors, become a vehicle for what many
Iraqis think about all the time—​how to reconcile the past and the future,
how to balance the inner and the outer, how to try to reach each other
and enrich all—​providing a sorely needed boost of encouragement.
“I just want everyone to listen to each other because I believe this
is the only way that we can solve our problems to improve the community, to improve the culture, to improve the education, to improve
ourselves,” says one of the actors, Sahar, adding: “I just feel like I’m
not the same Sahar that I used to be maybe four months ago.”
Heather wants to keep the fire burning. She wants to come again
and work with Iraqi women artists. She wants to bring them over to
her other home as well and continue to provide the stage for cultural
conversations she embodies on identity, freedom, reconciliation and
“It continues to be key for artists of all nationalities to just be
able to get in a room together in a safe place and get to work. I think
the initial goal is to create opportunity for that to happen and I think
that the funding and the importance of things like that should come
from the assumption that the artists really are the bearers of how
one can best delve into the complex issues of what’s at stake with
humanity, and how we communicate through that because we are the
communicators.” For Heather it is a vision and the strategy to follow
up on: “What the next step is making it even more collaborative. So
less ‘We’re coming’ and more: ‘What are we jointly creating?’”
Translated Darya Ali
When I exploded
Like the horizon, my hair
Became a belt around the Earth’s waist!
For the frozen poles of the south,
I turned myself into a pair of socks,
For the chills in the North, from threads of my soul
I wove hats and turbans.
Homeland was sick of me
And wanted to tear me off like an old coat,
But I hung myself on the mercy of its beard,
From earth I was thrown off into the arms of the universe.
In the sky I became a star
And now I have my own place and my own passion
And I am denser with lives than Earth.
Translated Darya Ali
From pupils of a wounded eye
A pain with a whisper said,
“I am a woman
Tonight a woman is in labor.
If she dies, I will die.”
From the mirror of her broken looks
I see the picture of the man
Who is in the arms of a fantasy,
To the morning, instead of him,
I cry my heart out!
Tonight is the night of romance.
I am looking at the measurements of my lover’s hands.
He looks at my baffled tear
That falls down with the rattles of my ankle chains,
When he dances,
I dance.
Tonight is my engagement night
They dress me in white.
Tonight my daughter is sick
In her tiny hands
With love, she squeezes my heart.
I am a green homeland
For years my beauty has been written of—
Break your pens
No one like myself
Will record my history
Nor write the novel of my anguish!
If you come
Into the frames of the old room
Don’t look for me,
I am now the sky’s cloud
I rain love and poetry.
* * *
With a glance he asks me,
“Where is your black hair,
When did it fall off?”
My tongue of silence quickly said,
“One evening I sold it and
With it, bought a book for you!”
Life passes by.
Without you, wolves will eat me.
Without me,
You won’t be able to bring the sun down,
The twisters of the world will rattle you.
May I not be lost
May you lost be lost.
Translated by Paiman Ismail
Translated by Mohammed Khaluq
Slavery does not exist anymore, lovely Kurdish girl
Stand up, wake up, the night is passed
Break the door, tear the scarf, run to school
The solution to all Kurdish issues is education, only education
It is the wise mother who sends her brave son to the fortification
I said, you understand, Zna* does not reach the sea.
Your gold earrings are not useful, wear my advice:
Your ears, dear, need the simple poem of Hemn
Sultans are dogs.
Sultans are dogs.
Nightfall to dawn, you can curse them,
But the throne won’t tremble,
And the door won’t break down.
Sultans are dogs.
That trash.
Their faces won’t get sweaty if they’re cursed,
So respect the reasons behind cursing.
Sultans are dogs.
It’s futile:
Those prostitutes won’t feel shame
Even if you call them bitches.
Sultans are dogs.
By these words, you aren’t insulting the Sultans.
You are insulting the dogs.
Zna: Is a water source which gives water for a short time in spring, and it dries out very
quickly. It is called a blind water source in Kurdish.
Shut your mouths.
You who sleep on a sign of victory
And awaken when a penitent man wakes.
Hear the wisest speech:
Sultans are paper dolls
Sitting upon paper thrones.
Under them oil was poured.
Instead of cursing them,
Light the matchstick.
How did you start performing?
I’m the last of five kids, and we’re Italian, so I think it was kind of
survival. Growing up, my family made me completely learn Jimmy
Cagney monologues from 1920’s movies or they’d make me imitate
Natalie Woods crying or lip sync Frank Sinatra—​and if I could do
it perfectly, they would take me to the Yankees game. In a family of
chemical engineers, it’s a wonder I turned into a performer.
Also, my mom bestowed upon me a love of cinema. When she was
little, her brothers were all off to war, she was the only surviving girl
and 1940’s Hollywood was really booming, and I think that became a
lovely escape for her—​she watched all the movies—​and my uncles, GIs
in Bora Bora, would make sure she got signed autographs. And then
when I was in high school, I was the lead in some play and I rocked
it—​and my Dad said, “You can do acting if you want.” I said, “Really?”
So, your Dad was supportive from the beginning?
Yeah, and in a family of non-​artists that was kind of a surprise. And
then I went to Seattle and my friends and I had a 2800 square foot
loft and we vowed to do world premieres only. We just committed
to doing 12–20 plays a year. Then I was brought to LA with a play,
an adaptation of Irving’s Cider House Rules. And that sort of set in
my mind—​you talk about the art of social justice—​that in the age
of shows like Baywatch, I wanted to be a character actor. I wanted to
do television or film that had favorable impact on the world without misrepresenting others or raising my daughters with images that
weren’t healthy. I said no to seventy-​five percent of the auditions that
came in. I did shows about reproductive rights for women. Shows I
did actually affected policy. I tried to choose roles that I feel push
the world towards a positive light in terms of cultures, gender, and
political issues.
Not to trash the pharmaceutical companies, they do a lot of good
in the world.
What were your expectations and first impressions of Iraq?
What was a role you took that translated into policy?
Judging Amy. My role was as a comic sidekick, but the show did affect
policy in the juvenile justice system. This is ten years ago or so, but it
is amazing when art does affect other realms of the world, including
I think it was a collective happenstance: when you get that many
well-​meaning people trying to participate in something, in entertainment, it can also affect change. I try and live by that with the jobs
I take: if there’s something that threatens my equal rights, I go out
and make a film about it. I’ve done lots of things that are important
stories to tell, which is difficult as an actress in Los Angeles because
a lot of the roles aren’t favorable to women or they are sensationalist.
It’s interesting to participate in commercial art; when you’re an actor
and you work in a television show, you are paid by the advertisements
they sell, so it can be a tricky dance. But you can also do a lot of good
in the world.
The pharmaceutical companies paid for my house, for sure,
Jillian Armenante, looking up, leads students in the daily closing exercise of the drama class.
With their hands joined, they create a well of experience.
Instantly, when Peter asked me to come, I said, “Yeah!” I had no reservations. But the reactions of those around me were cautious and
negative and fearful. I believe that the US culture has been steeped
in fear for so long that it’s becoming a fear-​based culture. And fear
is a method of control—​that’s always been true—​since the Middle
Ages: stained glass to get people to behave, but it’s interesting when
I sit here and look at images, even simple images, they’re all steeped
in fear: of death, aging, etc. I try not to live my life based in fear, so
when others thrust their fear upon me, it makes me want to propel
forward even more.
When I arrived, I found Sulaimani—​this may sound silly, but I
found it wholly unremarkable in terms of the human condition and
physical space, which I loved.
And I don’t mean unremarkable—​I mean it wasn’t different from
my city. The people weren’t fundamentally different from me, my
family, my friends.
Before they break apart, each student remarks on what she or he will remember from that
session, the communal well.
What stood out?
It was lovely to see actors invested to the core with such high stakes,
but in a way that was very personal and not outwardly showy. The
acting that I witnessed in Sulaimani, on every level, was personal and
connected and for its own sake, rather than having moments occur for
the sake of others. In the camera class, everything was so grounded.
And internal. Unlike a lot of my experiences in the world where actors
are very external. I don’t mean introvert/extrovert.
I mean there are two kinds of performers: those who perform
seamlessly without effort and those whose effort is the performance.
Those who say, “Watch me! Watch me!” The actors I worked with
in Sulaimani were the first kind, rather than those who want us to
see their brush strokes. It was a privilege to watch their process—​
their thought and presentational process. There was nothing taken
for granted. They were in the moment. They took risks. It was lovely
to see.
How did your trip to Halabja relate to your on-​going projects?
This play I’m working on now in Los Angeles, “We Are Proud to Present,” written by Jackie Drury, is a meta-​play where actors in a room
discuss how to tell the story of the Herero genocide in Africa during
the Second Reich. It’s an important story to tell because it is unknown. The Third Reich went on and perpetrated further genocide in a
more documented manner later, but it’s little known that eighty-​eight
percent of an African tribe was eliminated from the face of the earth
by the Second Reich. That play opens on June 8. In fact, it’s one of
the reasons it was so important for me to get to Halabja. I wanted to
ground the play in familiar territory.
You know, it’s tricky, I’ve been to a lot of the genocide museums
around the world and I lost several friends in the world trade center
and the thought of lots of people dying in one moment is always
horrible—​even Pompeii of natural causes. When something that
global happens, it always distills to a personal thing for me. I think
what left me the biggest impact from the Halabja museum was Omed,
our guide through the museum. I took in each image and tried to pay
respect as much as I could to as many names on the wall. I didn’t
realize until I was almost through the exhibit, watching the film that
they had made, that Omed points and says, “That’s me.” And it was
him, in 1988, sobbing and talking to reporters, and wearing the white
piece of cloth that had been draped over the six family members that
had been killed.
The two of us hugged, and were watery eyed. He was one of the
people who said, “Please tell my story—​please tell my story.” But
the fact that he worked there, among photos and videos of his own
personal tragedy for years and years and years left me with chagrin.
Where did this interest in documenting and responding to genocide
artistically come from?
I remember as a child staring at Picasso’s Guernica and realizing the
impact that art can have. The perfect example of art for social justice.
The fact that years and years, decades and decades, after an event
occurred and art was created, a twelve year old girl could see a nostril flare on a horse and know that Hitler did this heinous crime on a
whole village—​that’s what sparked my awareness. Yes, I’m interested
in genocide because of that moment. I pass the story on with an ounce
of hope for prevention.
What is the value of telling stories about these world events?
We live in hope that we can work toward the light. A thousand people
can see a play and if it has universal value, it becomes personal and
that personal story can blast it back out to another thousand in an
interpretive manner and those thousand people can be witnessed by
one who will then blast that out—​like me seeing Guernica as a child.
There’s usually a personal message behind what I write. I wrote a
play called “Inflagrante Deflicto,” an amalgamated epic, a Brönte parody, that was also a comedy. I wrote it at a time when I was in love and
my love was denied by society as something actual. The play was my
way of expressing through my art the fact that my relationship was
forbidden by society. The fact that it was a comedy and that it was
funny and that people were howling with laughter doesn’t take away
from the seriousness of the underlying issue. In fact, sometimes when
there are broad strokes represented with small strokes and honesty it
can be very effective. Whether you’re swashbuckling or fencing, the
death is just as lethal.
What did you change while in Sulaimani and how were you changed?
That is a huge question. I don’t know. I think the change that I effected was in relationships. And in geographical accessibility. Some
of the actors I met, I said, “Find me if you ever come out my way, I
don’t care if it’s five years or twenty five years.” I sort of feel like that’s
what’s necessary for change in the world: to know that geography, be
it political or cultural, is manmade—​boundaries are manmade. So on
a one-​to-​one level, I feel that I was changed in that I saw: aside from a
really long airplane flight, there was no real difference in relationships
between humans, in future potential, and understanding. I don’t know
that anything I did tangibly changed anything. But perhaps spiritually, in me anyway, I felt the potential and the ability of growth in the
human understanding and the human condition.
Translated by Berzy Majlis
No one knows precisely which day the wind took Jamshid. His first
flight starts from a private prison in Kirkuk on a cold winter night.
On that night, a guard puts Jamshid in front of him so that he can
take him to the frightening interrogation, rooms in which Jamshid
had spent months living under constant physical abuse and threats.
But, in order for him to go from his cell to the interrogation room,
he would have to pass through a large cemetery. At the time of the
transfer, something happens that stays clearly in Jamshid’s memory
and which he later tells to everyone with unbelievable joy. At the
time he, along with an Arab Asaish, step by step passing through the
cemetery, a high-​ranking officer wearing a long coat, in a little far
away room on the same cemetery, needs the keys that are clustered
in the hand of Jamshid’s companion and guard. The officer furiously
demands the guard go back and open the door for him. . . . The Arab
Asaish, by Jamshid’s description, a keen round man with curly hair,
tells him, “Stay right here and do not move; I will be back soon.” Jamshid stays still and does not move. . . . No one knows what happened
next, but it is obvious that a sudden strong wind blew. For the first
time that wind elevated Jamshid Khan from the earth. What Jamshid
recalls from his memory is that he started feeling a great amount
of dizziness, an enormous sense of fear overwhelmed him, a feeling
like a piece of straw blowing with the wind that raises him above
the prison walls. At first, the wind raises him in a straight vertical
direction. When he reaches the top of the Northern Asaish agency’s
ceiling, like a man lying on his back, smoothly the wind levels him,
picks him up again, and flips him upside down. Then to the direction
of south it played him up and down. Jamshid encounters a great level
of headache and unsteadiness; he does not know what happened and
what happens next. He hears several shots from below, out of fear,
closes his eyes and a dreadful thought of abrupt elevation that might
rip him piece to piece covers his entire body with shivers. . . . But the
wind takes him distances. Jamshid only remembers the city he saw
from above, the lights, the machine’s lamps and the chained lights
of the big big streets, but fear did not let him focus on anything. In
a huge gust, the wind at a fast velocity maneuvers him toward the
deepest levels in the sky, and at the very highest position in the sky,
he loses consciousness.
In the midst of the sky, the time he spent and how far he traveled
is unknown. Could the wind and the storm drive him directly toward
our own city, or is that from every corner of the world hurricanes,
whirlwinds, and tornados flow into the city, or Khani unconsciously
travel in the sky then fall down to earth? That is a question that no
one can answer. But it is obvious that Jamshid, after a long flight from
prison, lands unconsciously on the roof of a mechanic’s shop, and at
dawn an apprentice finds him.
Jamshid recalls he was still a communist when he flew across the
sky; but the moment he touched the ground, he swayed from being
a communist. A wind that takes Jamshid from north to south makes
him forget who he was. . . . Most other times when the wind took
Jamshid, the moment he reached earth something important changed
in him. A deep crazy interest builds in him. Time after time and after
every fall, part of his memories drifts and becomes vague and vaguer.
I can say it in a way, the effort to write about this man’s life who
forgets his memory, who he is and was, sometimes seems worthless
the way I see it.
One late afternoon, Jamshid arrives at the house of Hissam Khan,
my grandfather. Hissam Khan is perplexed by this skinny and thin lad
who is merely a layer of skin dried over a few thin bones. Along with
that, Jamshid’s return, after having disappeared for several months,
has gladdened my grandfather’s heart. Because at that time as the
Ba’athists’ savagery grew to greater and greater heights, no one would
ever hope that a prisoner would be released from their prisons. Those
who are captured by the Ba’athists rarely make it out of prison alive,
especially if they are communists. At first, Hissam Khan thought that
the Ba’athists have not got anything on his little son and therefore
they released him. But when Jamshid says that the wind has carried
him along with itself and starts telling his airy story in details, my
grandfather, a curious and a doubtful man, becomes distressed that
his son has either broken out of prison or has lost his mind.
On the same day, Jamshid Khan, out of fear of falling into the
hands of the Ba’athists again, goes into hiding once more. A week
from that day, I along with Sma’il Adib Khan, became a companion
to Jamshid. . . . Our job was to not let the “wind” take Jamshid along
with itself.
Translated by Mohammed Khaluq
Translated by Hakar Dlshad
I thought to write poetry that
Wouldn’t waste the censors’ time,
Wouldn’t exhaust caliphs’ hearts,
Wouldn’t intimidate the media
To broadcast,
And would be without fear
In every reader’s hands.
I readied all my pens,
Put the papers in front of me,
And assembled all the views.
Then, composed,
I put my signature,
And left the page white.
I checked the text carefully.
I saw some mistakes.
I rubbed at the white paper,
And waived my signature.
Why is that forest crying?
Maybe a young tree died
Maybe last nights’ winter gale
Kidnapped a beautiful beloved girl
Maybe it heard the news that many ducks in mated pairs were killed
But, it doesn’t know
From tomorrow on
It will be left behind
When the village of love
After a thousand years
From its peak
Translated by Vania Mustafa
Translated by Vania Mustafa
It hasn’t been long since a girl became my homeland
Instead of the river
I sit beside the rim of her body
Instead of on moss and beside the waterfall
I sit under her lovelocks
For Layla Qasm, a Kurdish freedom fighter caught
by the Ba’ath regime and hung
Ever since I
Met that cloudy girl,
Ever since the rain of her hair hit me,
I became a poet of water and,
Now and then, dampened, I write and
I become a rippling torrent!
A lake married a horizon
In the arms
Of the third season
In the sunrise
In between two mountains
They gave birth to a girl . . .
They looked for names
Every mountain gathered.
Every bird, tree, and hill gathered. Together,
They named her: Layla.
Written by undergraduate Mahdi Murad, starring students from the
Academic Preparatory Program, The Arranged showcased what AUIS
students are capable of: literary expression, artistic social concern,
community production, and powerful visions for the future.
an excerpt of the play by Mahdi Murad
Dramatis Personae
ALI: Fifty years old. Father of Sana and husband of Hamin. Wears
traditional Kurdish clothes (Jly kurdy) and a traditional Kurdish hat
(Klaw Jamadani). Has a big moustache, which he is definitely proud
of. Intends to take Rahma as his second wife.
HAMZA: Sixty-​two years old. Father of Baker, husband of Rabi, and
brother of Rahma. Like his best friend Ali, he wears Jly kurdy and a
Klaw Jamani, but he has an even bigger mustache.
MULLAH OMAR: Fifty-​five years old. Thin, with a thick beard and
a small moustache. Wears traditional mullah’s clothes and cap.
HAMIN: Forty-​five years old. Ali’s wife and Sana’s mother. Wears
black traditional Kurdish clothes and headscarf.
RABI: Fifty-​two years old. Hamza’s wife and Baker’s mother. Wears
black traditional clothes and headscarf.
RAHMA: Twenty-​seven years old. Hamza’s sister. Wears a red
Maksi (long traditional dress), and a loose white headscarf. War has
made her a widow. She lives in Hamza’s house and must obey him.
Ali, Hamza’s best friend, wants to take her as his second wife.
GRANDFATHER: Eighty years old. Ali’s father. Dresses as he likes
and is as loud as he wants.
BAKER: Thirty years old. Wishes to marry Sana, who has been
promised to him by her father, Ali.
SANA: Fifteen years old. Has been promised by Ali to marry Baker
since before she was born.
HAMZA: You are both making me crazy! When I say se just nod
your heads. That means you agree. Yek, du, se.
(they nod)
* * *
RABI: What do you want to say?
HAMZA: Rabi, you come here. Rahma you come as well, but bring a
glass of water with you.
Rabi comes and sits next to Hamza. Rahma brings water to
him and sits next to Rabi.
HAMZA: I forget.
HAMZA: Hey both of you. I want to discuss something important.
Both of you always talk when you should listen. So this time I mean
this absolutely. Don’t talk. Listen.
RABI: Yes pyawaka.
Oh khwaya gian, I am tired already. Rahma, my sister, tomorrow,
before lunchtime, Mullah Omar will come and engage you to Ali.
We’ve already made all the arrangements. Nothing left. And I warn
you, my sister, whatever Mullah asks you, all you should say is, “My
brother has my words. I agree whatever he agrees on.” That’s all.
HAMZA: Don’t say yes, just listen.
RABI: It is always this way Rahma khan. It takes generations to
change minds.
RAHMA: Fine, we are listening.
HAMZA: Don’t say fine! Don’t say anything.
RABI: Okay.
HAMZA: Hey! I am really getting angry now. Are you going to be
quiet? Answer me.
RAHMA: If we answer you we are not being quiet.
RAHMA: No, it needs to happen more quickly than that. Men
built Faruq tower in five years. Men built Jaff tower in three years.
But men cannot build their own minds, their own morality, in 100
years! Why is that? Explain that to me!
RABI: Then we should pray for that, Rahma khan for that day to
come sooner as it has been said, Paty zulm la asturida apchret—​The
rope of injustice will be cut in its strength crest.
Rabi and Rahma hug each other and start crying.
Rabi laughs and covers her mouth
Scene Seven
The next day. Sana and Hamin pretend everything is just fine and normal. Ali greets them and looks at them for a moment. Then, he sits in a
corner of the room and reclines on a pillow.
Sana offers him a glass of water.
ALI: (Looks closely at Sana while he drinks the water) Your eyes are
telling me that you have something to say. Is that right?
Halo Abdulhadi, who plays the character of Ali, points his finger at his disobeying daughter.
SANA: (Politely) Yes, Father. Mother said you had something to tell
me today, but she wouldn’t tell me what it was. Please father. I’ve
been going crazy trying to guess! Will you please tell me now?
ALI: Yes, my daughter. As you know I love you more than anyone
else since you are the only daughter I have from two wives. So, I
want the best for you.
SANA: Thank you father. I know you love me, and I always feel great
about that. Father, what is that best thing you want it to do for me?
ALI: My daughter, I know this is the first time you hear this, because I wanted you to know about it when you were old enough to
understand things. Now, I understand it is the right time to tell you.
SANA: Yes father, it is the right time. Please tell me.
ALI: Before I tell you, I need you to promise me to respect my decision and say no words negatively toward my will. Okay?
Halo Abdulhadi, portraying Sana’s father Ali, reclines in his living room.
SANA: Of course, Father. Have I ever disrespected you and your
ALI: No, my daughter. That is why I love you and always want the
best for you.
SANA: (Smiling and pretending that her mother didn’t tell anything) I
am listening! I am listening! Tell me about the plan. What do you
want to do for me? What gift have you prepared? Because I know
you love me so much, I know it must be something more wonderful
than I can even imagine.
(standing, left to right) In character: Zainab Hamid, Diako Radha, Ali Suheil, Heeran Sherko,
and (kneeling) Halo Abdulhadi.
ALI: Yes, you’re right, I don’t think you can imagine it. My lovely
daughter, when I married my second wife, Kak Hamza made a great
offer to me. He presented his sister to me without asking me for
anything. So, I wanted to respect him and our traditions as a man.
Your mother was pregnant at that time. Therefore, I promised him
to give a daughter to his son if your mother gave birth to a girl. So,
everything went the way I wanted. You were born and now you are
a beautiful, wise, and mature girl—​a girl who I want to give to Kak
Hamza’s son.
SANA: Father, I am speechless.
ALI: So you are happy?
SANA: Happy? What daughter would not be happy? You have given
me the gift every daughter prays for!
ALI: El Hamdulilah, I am so glad!
SANA: I have dreamed of this day all my life!
ALI: Ah, yes! Really?
Sana, played by Heeran Sherko, threatens suicide at the prospect of an unhappy arranged marriage. What her father doesn’t know is that she has replaced the kerosene with apple juice.
SANA: To be in this situation—​to be forced to marry not just any
man, but a man twenty years older. But not only that, a man who
everyone says is a horrible man. A man who will always beat me and
hurt me and make me unhappy every day for the rest of my life!
ALI: What do you mean? What are you saying? Are you crazy?
SANA: You present this horrible life to me for your own selfish
reasons. But afterwards, in order to try to make yourself feel better,
you talk about tradition!
ALI: Sana, shut up your mouth! You are not too old to be beaten.
You will respect your father and respect our way of living.
Hamin and Ali (left to right: Zhikal Hiwa and Halo Abdulhadi), enjoy a feast with their
neighbor and friend, Hamza (Ali Suheil).
SANA: I’m not being disrespectful. The worst disrespect is dishonesty. And if dishonesty is our tradition, we must change the tradition to save ourselves. Haven’t you ever done the same thing over
and over again, not because it was right, but because you didn’t
know anything different? That is us. And I can’t say it any more
plainly than that.
ALI: It is me who decides about your life not you. And you deserve
to be punished very badly for all of your words.
SANA: (Quickly reaches for the lamp, pours oil on herself and turns on
a lighter) Don’t take one more step toward me, father.
HAMIN: Sana, no!
SANA: Mother, I will always love you, but there is no other way.
(to father) You offered me a gift. Now I have a gift for you. It is as
traditional as well, as you know. Clearly by refusing to marry Baker,
I bring shame to my family. So I will bring you great happiness with
what I give you now. I will give you my death by fire.
(Hamza and Baker enter the house)
HAMZA: Kak Ali are you home?
Mullah Omar, played by Mohammed Badea, berates Ali and Hamza (Halo Abdulhadi and Ali
Suheil) for their small-mindedness and praises Sana (Heeran Sherko) for her clever plan.
SANA: Yes, he’s home! Come in, all of you! It is a great day! Come
share the celebration!
(to Ali) You may pretend to have honor. But I promise you this: after
today, people will talk about you and know never to trust men like
you and Hamza ever again. And you Baker—​you will never find a
wife, and that is a good thing for women everywhere.
HAMIN: Sana, did you plan all of this?
BAKER: How dare you talk to me like that?
RAHMA: But you almost burned yourself! You could have been
killed by the fire!
SANA: I’ll talk how I want to talk! El -​Hamdulilah, I am free! I am
free just for one day, my last day alive! You are right, father, it was a
wonderful gift you gave me! Look how happy I am now!
RABI: Sana, please calm down! You are confused and acting crazy.
You will get used to everything and it won’t seem bad. You must
accept life! There is no other way!
HAMZA: Shut up, woman! Can’t you see the men are in control of
this situation?
SANA: Yes, I asked Mullah Omar to come and wait outside, because
I knew father would say these terrible things about his plans.
SANA: Actually (She picks up the lamp) I replaced the oil in the lamp
with apple juice today. (She takes a drink) Would you like some,
HAMZA: Mamosta, we can explain the situation.
MULLAH OMAR: Oh yes, you can. What are the words, when you
tell women to shut up? Shut up, Hamza!
ALI: Mamosta . . .
ALI: Sana, wait! I am sorry. (He begins to cry). I am so sorry, Sana!
Please! I was wrong! I respect you! I will be a good father! I will
never beat you or your mother again! I will be kind and gentle! I
have learned from this situation and will change to a better father.
Please, take my hand . . . (He quickly knocks the lighter out of her hand).
You stupid girl. Don’t you know that women aren’t worth anything
in this world? You are only good for making babies. That’s it. If you
couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t have you in my house. Look at me when
I talk to you. You women are nothing. I control everything.
MULLAH OMAR: Shut up, Ali! (Baker tries to speak) Shut up, Baker!
Now all of you listen. And don’t say a word to me. Don’t say but,
don’t say if, don’t say maybe—​Not. One word. Just nod to tell me
you understand.
(The three men nod and look down)
And look at me when I talk to you.
(They slowly look up)
MULLAH OMAR: It is Allah who controls everything, Kak Ali.
(Everyone is surprised because they didn’t see Mullah Omar
come in)
Sana, you are a very clever girl. Thank you for asking me to wait
outside and listen to everything that these men have said. You will
have justice, I promise you.
Where do I begin? How did any of this become acceptable to
anyone? This is not religion. It is not even culture. It is madness.
And much of it is my fault. So many years ago, Rahma-​khan, I saw
in your face that you did not want to marry Ali. I ignored what I
saw in your eyes, hoping things would work with you after a while.
Please forgive my terrible mistake. But I will not make mistakes like
that today. (To. . . . the three men) All three of you leave this house.
Wait outside for me, and we will decide the best plan to save your
souls. Believe me, we will need a very good plan. (They leave) You
should begin to pray immediately.
(To Sana)
MULLAH OMAR: As I said before, Sana, you are a very clever girl.
And now, a safe and free girl. You do not need to marry anyone you
don’t believe will treat you with love, honor and respect. And to all
of you, let me tell you something. These men are going to feel great
shame, I promise you that. It may be that you will choose not to be
with them. But while it seems impossible now, I ask that you take
the time to think about forgiving them. You don’t have to promise
what to decide. I only ask that you take the time to decide properly.
I will return later and we will talk further. Xwahafiz, my sisters.
(They say goodbye to Mullah Omar. The women rush together in tears)
SANA: You know, I really thought that the end was going to be
(They all laugh)
At Grandfather’s command, the actors freeze, mid-dancing, to reveal a play within a play as
Grandfather (Abdullah Al-Azawi) reflects on the social change that he is witnessing.
HAMIN: Sana, my beautiful daughter, I don’t know what to say.
What I said to you earlier—
SANA: Those were not even your words, my dear mother. You were
in prison, and your words were not your own. Now we have the rest
of our lives to say what we think, as God wills it.
(Grandfather suddenly enters)
GRANDFATHER: Be dang bn hei be 3aqlina. Shut up stupid people.
Wait! Wait! We cannot let the story end this way; First, I don’t know
what is going on. Second, women are in charge of everything. Third,
it doesn’t matter what third is. I will now make my conclusion.
Everyday a new model comes to this society. People forget all about
their traditions. Men are acting like women. Women are acting like
men. I don’t know who is supposed to do the cooking and who is
supposed to pick up a gun. Therefor, I am sure that things are upside
down. I am getting older, and I believe that no one loves me. They are
only waiting for me to die, you think is funny? Wait, one day you will
understand, and you will be old like me, and no one cares about what
you think. And you are alone always. I wish I die soon.
Jeff McIlvenna (APP Instructor), Rachel Ramey (APP Instructor), and Geoff Gresk (Dean of
Students) make a cameo appearance during the celebratory scene as guests at the party.
Grandfather (Abdullah Al-Azawi) again pauses the revelry to discuss with the audience his
perspective on these events.
Abdullah Al-Azawi, still in the costume of the Grandfather from the play, poses after the
premier surrounded by his real-life family who have come to support him in this regionally
innovative pursuit: acting.
(Sana moves)
GRANDFATHER: Ah! Xwaya gyan mn la kwem. Oh my God.
Where am I? You are not supposed to be moving. I am completely
SANA: So am I grandfather. It has been confusing for all of us, but
this is what happens when things begin to change. Change is necessary for us now.
HAMIN: Yes, change.
GRANDFATHER: I need to change my clothes.
SANA: Walla change is beautiful.
Heeran Sherko (Sana) poses with family and friends, who, unlike the family of the play, are
proud and encouraging.
Rosalind Warfield, former Director of APP, Rachel Laribee, former Deputy Director and
current Director of APP, and Halo Abdulhadi (Ali).
Baker (Diako Radha) gets a running start for his often-repeated and highly ironic line in the
play, “Today, father? Today? !”
Dean of Students, Geoff Gresk, and Director of APP, Rachel Laribee, ham it up for the camera.
Baker (Diako Radha) mid-stride as his family looks on in frustration and amusement.
Baker (Diako Radha) triumphant and hopeful as his family laughs at him in scorn.
Cast, crew, writer, and director of The Arranged.
Hamza (Ali Suheil) finally attempts to tackle his silly son, Baker (Diako Radha) to the ground.
Translated by Bahra Salih
Translated by Paiman Ismail
Who knows
Where the core of this universe is,
This limitless and infinite universe?
You say whatever you say
But, for me,
The core of the universe,
Is woman’s bellybutton.
I saw a beautiful village girl
Spreading her prayer rug.
I said, “Oh gorgeous, your look
Is worth all the beauty of God’s garden.
Why do you think this great God
Would be so unkind as to damn you?!”
What caused you to sit down and write this play?
Several things encouraged me to sit down and write The Arranged.
First, I felt responsible toward the great meaning and value of human
beings everywhere in the world, especially in my society. I believe
that humans are the most capable and valuable creatures, and I need
to work as much as I can to help those most valuable creatures live
the kind of life that they deserve: a happy, fair, and free life. Not every
person, especially in my society has that kind of life, so I thought I
would do something to encourage people to work for improving life
among each other.
Second, the themes and plot of my play came from traveling
around the world. Everywhere I went, I found and recorded differences
between my society and others. In each country I visited, I found the
beauty of freedom, human rights, equality, and women rights; all that
was different in my community. Thus, I felt myself responsible for
bringing those beautiful sides of life from other countries to try, at
least, and apply some of them in my community as my people are as
worthy as those communities to have such life.
Third: change is what every community needs at any time. My
community needs to accept change just like other communities
around the world and have the faith to change toward a better life. I
trust my community to work hard to go toward a similar life as developed countries.
What was your writing process?
Most of the dialogue comes from the real life of my community and
me. After I observed my people’s life, especially in the rural areas, I
found that there were many customs and traditions that negatively
affect my society. I found many traditions that spoiled the real life
in my community. Thus, hoping to correct those negative customs
and traditions and providing an understanding for the people in my
community about the negative sides of those customs, I said nothing
would help me do that better than writing a play.
How much of this dialogue comes from your own experience?
Almost the entire dialogue comes from my own experience as I have
lived in the village and those places that such customs and traditions
are more common than bigger cities. However, I also relied on the
stories I have heard from my parents and elderly relatives. I also talked
to many people who were experts in understanding such customs and
traditions such as my mother and other old relatives. Every single line
of dialogue of the play is based on the true stories that have happened
somewhere in my region for sure.
What was it like recruiting actors and actresses?
At the beginning, it was difficult to convince students to audition
because they were too busy with their studies and many of them were
so afraid of being on stage. However, after I placed flyers around the
campus and announced the try-​out day, it was just unbelievable how
many students eagerly came out. After I chose the cast and read the
play through with them, they were eager to stay in the cast and even
counted the days until they could get on stage.
What was it like to watch something come off the page and into a
theatrical realm?
The Arranged cast gave me my most beloved and unforgettable moments. I was so proud. The cast helped me present the idea of my play
exactly the way I dreamt about. We all promised each other to love The
Arranged work hard to bring the best out of it. For sure, watching my
own and first ever script on the stage turned one of my best dreams in
my college life into reality. I am so proud of The Arranged and it helped
me set the cornerstone of many other projects that are in my mind for
the future that will serve everyone, especially my community.
What have you heard from audience members?
The Arranged cast blew everyone’s minds away. The audience encouraged us to continue and do other projects in the future. So many
people thanked us for the words we brought to life and for affecting
their thinking toward our society and women in a positive way.
What new projects do you have your eye on now?
My big goal and life dream is to always be in the place where humanity,
and my community, needs me. I am trying my best to offer as much
as I can to my people and humanity. In The Arranged, I focused on
the negative customs and attitudes and traditions that my community has; I hope to help my people escape from such issues. But that
doesn’t mean there aren’t customs or traditions that my community
should stick with and be proud of.
Yes, there are many positive customs and traditions that my
people should stick with and keep. Thus, I dedicate my next project
to talking about those sides of life that my community has and encourage everyone to bring the best to each community such as love,
respect, social life, collaboration, accepting each other regardless of
the differences, staying away from terror and hatred, and using the
language of peace to solve any problem rather than resorting to guns.
All of these attitudes are what I am working on to tie them together
not only in one play, but in several plays that will help my community
As a final note: I would be so selfish if I failed to mention the great
director of The Arranged, Peter Fredrich, who made The Arranged real.
Without him, we would never have stood in the position we are now.
So, I thank him on behalf of all the cast members and myself.
Translated by Ako Abdullah
So what if my owner is wealthy,
the first of the city?
So what if he has political hierarchy,
has power, or is oppressive?
Since a cage is my place,
this owner is an enemy to me.
So what if his wealth rises unusually
his earning is unlimited,
his back is thick with money
his life is far from bad luck and sorrow?
Since a cage is my place,
the ocean of my grief
has unlimited depth.
So what if my owner is wealthy,
my bed is made of goose feather’s,
my food is based on my choices, and
whatever heart wants arrives quickly.
Since a cage is my place,
this life is death to me.
So what if my cage is made of gold,
full of luck and profit,
if many jealous eyes become blind for it
many people’s necks be broken for it?
Since a cage is my place,
A prison’s neck cuff is round my neck.
So what if my voice is sweet,
full of rhythms and pleasure,
its tone high and joyful,
gifting growth to heart and mind.
Since a cage is my place,
the voice and melody are misplaced.
I am a bird of wilderness and the steppe,
only familiar with celebration and travel.
I am a sparrow of the backyard of paradise.
I tend to fly and be free,
but a cage is my place.
How can this be possible?!
I am imprisoned, and want to be free,
I want to be out of this cage,
I need to clean my mind, and
travel all nights.
Even though a cage is my place,
the heart still hopes to become free.
Translated by Vania Mustafa
Rozana is a clear sky
In a dusty homeland
Beauty without guilt
In a homeland full of guilt
Her body is free
In a forbidden map
In front of Rosana, I lined them up.
But when the magic of beauty
Saw her eyes,
The tongue couldn’t help them and
In revenge they went dark!
Rosana is now my homeland
In this new homeland I have become
A cheerful violin
I rise and fall:
I play the trees!
Rozana is an opened window for me
Under the moonlight when the homeland
Had closed all windows on me
At a time when I had put all
My suitcases of sorrow, survival and my loneliness
One on top of another and,
Weary, weary, they stayed home.
The suitcase that I didn’t dream of
That I didn’t see, was a suitcase for traveling and adventure
But now
Rosana is a world for me
In her eyes
I see a new city
Every day, to travel
I go out!
Until now any poems
Said for the beauty of the eye,
Light, light, I collected them.
A central focus emerged from the festival: perspective. What do we
see? How does our identity affect what we see? How can artists shift
perspectives, their own and others’? Ahmad Matar, an Iraqi poet
translated by Mohammed Khaluq, employs irony as a tool of perspective. Neil Shea considers perspective as it relates to justice, social
progress. Sasa Kralj and his photojournalism students examine identity and representation both theoretically as students and practically
as photographers.
Translated by Mohammed Khaluq
When you go to sleep,
Remember to sleep.
Every awakening outside sleep
Is forbidden.
Take a toothbrush and a toothpaste
And wash
The words remaining among your teeth.
You cannot guarantee that the police won’t raid you,
Even when you are sleeping.
You may be snoring,
Or tending to wake up.
Let the bulb work
To stave off the accusation.
My friend,
Every action in the dark
Is a plan to topple the regime.
Respect the curfew.
Don’t leave your bedroom
To go to the bathroom, at night,
To pee.
Before you intend to pray,
Call the authorities
And explain the situation.
Don’t complain,
And take it with a patriotic spirit,
My friend,
It is dangerous to call
On any outside sources.
In your breakfast,
Don’t drink anything but a cup of milk.
A cup of coffee is a stimulant,
So avoid it.
A cup of tea is a stimulant,
So avoid it.
My friend,
Every stimulated person
Is suspected and incites intelligence
Because he has the light, awareness
To burn the homeland.
You have in your kitchen tools
That raise suspicions.
Take out the gas bottle.
Don’t forget the knives, the matchsticks
And the Kebabs’ skewers
You may cook something,
And the smell will waft.
What would you do if they catch you
Having these weapons?
How would you convince them that
You were busy preparing food
Not a coup?
Before you go out,
Leave your head inside your house
For caution.
My friend,
In the Arab countries,
Every head is in danger
Except the head of the month
Be careful at the traffic light.
Don’t stop even if the light is red
If you are near an embassy.
Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today.
May be before the nightfall
You will be taken.
Don’t die by committing a suicide.
Don’t give the soul to Azrael
In the dying time.
You don’t have the right
To choose what kind and when is the time of dying.
Be careful.
Don’t interfere in the authorities’ specialty.
Close your hearing.
Don’t listen to the horns of betrayals.
In an investigation, there is no yoke
Torture, or an insult.
In investigation, you have so much immunity that
The police officer may curse you
Because he knows you.
You may be tied to a ceiling fan
To become in the highest position.
Do you call this prestige an insult?
The sake of the investigation may force the investigator
To check your pulse from every angle
And verify.
If he checked you from you back
And hit you by a bamboo
Don’t think it’s a yoke
Torture, or insult.
My friend, hitting your back by a stick
Is a necessary step
To confirm the accusation.
What is social justice and how does your work coincide with it?
A celebration of social justice in Iraq, inviting documentary artists
from the west is importing a range of thoughts and experiences about
justice that are foreign—​though not completely. So, what is social
justice? I guess very broadly it is the idea that human beings are equal
and deserve to be treated equally and that a society must pursue its
highest sense of right. We attempt to make concepts like social justice very broad when we form institutions and write documents, like
the UN Declaration of Human Rights. So I guess social justice is the
pursuit—​I don’t know if I’m going to try to define it anymore than I
already have. My own answers are very much bound up in American
Social justice is responsibility. Social justice is a question that
hangs over each one of us every day—​it asks what will you do?
I think it’s becoming more important to me as a journalist, as a
Is there a difference between a journalist and a writer?
I don’t see a lot of difference between them. I switch back and forth
because there is confusion between the terms. Increasingly, I prefer writer to journalist, because journalist comes with a lot of baggage, pre-​conceived notions. What I try to do now is less strictly
journalism—​it’s not reporting. “Writing” is better because journalism
carries within it a sense of code or of rules—​and I do not like that.
So, we sort of evolve through these terms from “reporter” to “journalist” to “writer.” Some people are happy to dwell within one of them.
“Writer” describes more expansively what I hope to do with words.
Journalism implies, in the west, a false duality in many ways. I don’t
feel it necessary to do that in my journalism anymore.
What were your first impressions upon arriving in Sulaimani?
Most striking was that Suli was not like Baghdad when I was there.
I was constantly seeing Kurdistan and Sulaimani in comparison to
Baghdad, Ramadi, and other cities or towns that I visited during the
height of the war. That was a very strong comparison—​clearly being
the opposite of what I had seen six or seven years ago. And then I
was struck by the students: they were all intelligent, interested, even
if they were puzzled and taken aback sometimes by western behavior
and western relationships.
I began to re-​examine photography in a way I hadn’t in along time.
That was nice—​cool. One of the beauties of such experiences: you’re
exposed to what others are doing, even if it’s only in a peripheral way.
A festival like the one AUIS had is not only for the students—​and of
course it is mostly for them—​it’s also a way for documentary artists
to enrich themselves and remind themselves of what’s going on in
their world. Other ideas have been echoing in my mind since I gave
various presentations in the classroom or went on field trips with
What did you take with you from the festival?
A few concrete things that apply to my work. Interacting with Michael
and Radcliffe, I saw new possibilities for photography in my own work.
Saud Bashar, Marie LaBrosse, and Mohammad Khaluq survey the valley from the ruins of
Sirochik Castle.
The valley below Sirochik Castle, stretching into the mountains of neighboring Iran.
Travel is a kind of imagination—​a way of physically imagining
other possibilities.
What is the imagination? What is its importance?
Looking down the external walls of the castle ruins into the valley below.
One of the big lessons that we have to learn as journalists is what
do we write about and what don’t we. The beauty of being a writer
instead of a reporter, perhaps, is that you have a deeper realization of
how things inform you—​even if they don’t make it into your story
that gets published. So I can observe and note and think about and
ruminate over I can sleep with, digest, do whatever verb I want with
these things that happened, and I don’t have to write about them directly, but they can still inform my experience and my other writing.
And they will.
Imagination allows us to see the past and the future—​not necessarily
as they are or as they will be, but imagination provides a window into
both from the moment we inhabit. That’s really the importance of
imagination in terms of documentary work—​I’m not saying we’re inventing the future or reimagining the past—​but we have to be able to
imagine how something was or how something might be if we’re going
to ask questions that have any depth. It doesn’t come into play in the
way people often think of it: total fiction, abstract painting. The imagination there is turned into some kind of acid trip in some ways—​but
for documentary artists, one of its most important characteristics is
being able to divine the past and the future, to think about them in
dimensions, in non-​linear ways that help you ask better questions.
It takes imagination to consider that things can be different. Actually, maybe that’s a working definition of it: social justice is the act
of imagining that things can be better.
What is the role of travel in the life of a writer?
How do we look at other people, what stories we tell about them, how
do we learn to see things newly that are common in our every day
experience? How do we make sure we’re not becoming too acclimated
to our own surroundings? It’s easy to go to a foreign place and write
about it. I talked about this with the students and they understood
it. Everything’s new, everything’s different, everything’s exotic. Write
all that down. But then how do you begin to go deeper? It’s a process
of drafting. Even the first drafts of what I wrote about Kurdistan are
going to seem like a travel writer bopping around northern Iraq, but
then when I begin to connect those to my previous work in Iraq, begin
to connect them with further conversations—​that’s when the stories
take on depth.
Students on a writing field trip to Sirochik Castle begin the trek up through the pastures.
Mewan Nahro sits under the castle walls, contemplating
the view below, imagining the world across time.
A window to nowhere: the ruins of Sirochik.
Heather Raffo, Umniyah Nadhir, and Kaitlin Taylor, a member of AUIS’s Communications Office, rest underneath an overhang on the castle climb.
My soul climbs a mountain I know.
We ascended it not too long ago
And left my body alone besieged by walls
Where fear, like a tree, began to grow.
My soul sees
A ruined castle that once was a shield
To protect from what might come,
From what was seen.
Trees have grown on the walls
And manure covers the fallen rocks.
Shopkeepers string together prayer beads, a common accessory in the
Middle East.
My body
Is sitting strangely with no heart
Cause it flew away with my soul
They went to the mountain.
To refresh my memory, they send letters.
Light is gone. My body trembles and darts.
The only word
people care about is "My"
They don't give a damn about a flower or tree.
We cannot see a summer star.
We cover our eyes with gold.
A man in the second-hand bazaar displays a hand-woven Kurdish carpet.
Young men at leisure in the historical literary hotspot and teashop, Cha Hanishab.
A vegetable seller counts change.
Oranges, lemons, apricots, peaches, and apples
stacked by the fruit-seller for sale.
Translated by Mohammed Khaluq
God creates creation,
Yet they create termination.
God forgives our offenses,
Yet they don’t forgive our goodness.
God bestows us life
Without humiliation,
Yet if we were not slain,
They would wish our demise
On the condition that Azrael writes
An approval to take our souls
In a way that soothes the authorities’ fury.
They come by God’s authority,
But if we were to pray
To the one who authorized them,
Bullets would be scattered upon us,
And security forces would disperse
To inspect our lungs
To search for a traitor’s prayer hidden in wheat’s grains,
And to take fingerprints
From our wishes.
Tens of aircrafts had flown
To arrest our prayers.
A man in traditional Kurdish clothing sells qswan, a sour spring delicacy that is a relative of
the pistachio. The nut of the qswan is commonly used to make prayer beads.
Our God said that
The earth is the pious men’s legacy,
So we feared our God and did good deeds.
But those who dove in mortal sins
Stole our legacy
And left us with nothing but
The night brimmed over.
What comes after darkness but the morning light?
When our morning comes soon!
O tyrants,
Even the best of you would wish that he is a pebble,
Dust in a desert,
Or remnants of shit in an animal’s asshole.
From now on, be ready to reveal your wishes
Because the morning is coming.
Did you dare to think that the hour you robbed our legacy
Our rights met their demise?
They didn’t die, rather they arrived.
An image by photojournalism student Hanar Azad Mohammed, showing young men
torturing animals in the Sulaimani Zoo, is on display at the Cultural Café during a
joint event: the exhibition of student works and an Open Mic reading.
Translated by Dina Dara
With swords and pens, states are made mighty.
I have my pen, and the sword is unseen!
A visitor reads the caption under the photograph taken by Hanar Azad Mohammed
of animal torture that reveals the connection between male aggression, patriarchal
society and a culture of violence prevalent after decades of conflict in the region.
Guests at the Cultural Café converse behind the exhibited pictures of the Mantaqa
Sana’i community taken by Noor Al-Janabi, a photojournalism student.
Nuha Othman poses next to the display of her work about special education of children
with autism in Sulaimani as a part of the student exhibition of photojournalism.
(center) Sasa Kralj, explains the photojournalism class to the audience, describing the work
and dedication of his students, (left to right) Karwan Abdulrahman, Pshtewan Kamal,
Arez Hussein, Noor Al-Janabi, Zheela Hayderi, Nuha Othman, and Serood Ahmed. Their photographs served as the backdrop for the SoJust Open Mic Night in the garden of Culture Café.
hand say that people who are not part of a group should not try to
understand that group is an argument for enforcing deafness, muteness, and blindness.
Are there certain stories that certain individuals can’t tell?
During the all-artist panel, Radcliffe Roye, trying to explain the importance of empowering each individual to tell his own story, said, “A
white man can’t tell a black man’s story.”
This issue resonated with all artists involved. Neil Shea undertakes
long reporting trips to the Ilemi Triangle in East Africa. Jillian Armenante spent her summer producing a play about the Herero genocide in colonial German South-West Africa, current-day Namibia.
Mahdi Murad, a young man, wrote a play about arranged marriage in
which most of his main characters were women. Heather Raffo, an
Iraqi-American, wrote a play showcasing Iraqi women.
Post-festival, we asked the artists to reflect on that moment.
Neil Shea
We often generalize almost extensively on our personal observation
and experiences without examining them to the fullest before we do.
Even as strangers, we can observe and think and describe. We’re
never going to be able to tell completely the story of another person,
regardless of whether they belong to our group or if they’re a foreigner
or stranger. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Using Radcliffe’s argument is a case for isolationism: because I’m not black, I can’t go to
Africa and tell the story of people who live there. Well, if that’s true,
then no black American can go to Africa and tell the story either. It’s
foolishness to think that just because your skin is black you have any
idea what an African has experienced.
There is certainly something to be said for empowering people
within a group to tell their own story. To simply with the wave of a
Michael Galinsky
It’s not that certain stories can only be told by certain people. However, I do think it’s important to be aware of the colonialist structures
that exist. Using the skill sets we have, we can help create more powerful work by helping others tell their stories- rather than be concerned
with putting our spin or take on it.
Chris Merrill
Radcliffe’s comment reveals that he has no faith in the imagination—
which is to say: he does not believe in art and literature, which are
some of the sturdiest vehicles of the imagination invented by humankind. We are storytellers by nature, and the more imaginative
the story, the further afield it takes us, the better. We read fiction to
inhabit the interior lives of others; we fall in love with paintings that
offer new angles of vision on the world; we memorize poems composed long ago because they tell us something central about our lives.
It does not matter who created a work of art, only that it was created.
Radcliffe’s is an extreme view, at once foolish and dangerous. He may
think he is committed to social justice, but his comments are of a
piece with those of racists everywhere. What did Shakespeare know
about Antony and Cleopatra? Everything, because he possessed an
extraordinary imagination—what John Keats called “negative capabilities”—with which he created memorable characters from all walks
of life. We turn to writers and artists not only for solace and delight
but for their ability to enlarge our powers of empathy, to broaden
our understanding of people who live far removed from our experience. Consider Adam Johnson’s haunting novel, The Orphan Master’s
Son, which takes place in North Korea. Out of extensive research and
the power of his art Johnson has created a work of fiction which, I
would argue, offers more insight into life in the Hermit Kingdom
than anything produced by one of Kim Il Un’s sanctioned writers.
Does Radcliffe really believe that a propagandist is a better guide to a
totalitarian nightmare than a writer with a good imagination?
As it happens, I am reading the Nobel laureate J.M.G. Le Clézio’s
memoir, The African, which is a fascinating study of identity and place.
He details his complex relationship with his father, whose anti-colonialism would inform his literary work, including his masterpiece,
Desert, which is truly great novel. By Radcliffe’s standard of reasoning, Le Clézio has no right to bestow upon the world his dazzling
works of the imagination. What a pity that Radcliffe is too blind to
see the complex textures of life South Africa (to take one example)
in the pages of Nadine Gordimer, J.M. Coetze, André Brink, Breyten
Breytenbach, Athol Fugard, Alan Paton…
Jillian Armenante
Glittering generalities like, “A white man can’t tell a black man’s story.”
Right now, I’m directing a story talking about the Herero genocide.
Should I not tell that story because I’m a white chick? Should President Obama not pass laws regarding “my people”? Tom Hanks was
in the movie Philadelphia – am I upset with that? No. I’m happy the
work is happening. As long as we can’t cross lines artistically, we will
have a divide. It ghettoizes art.
Radcliffe Roye
I think that ANYONE can tell a story. ANYONE!!!! If you have the
money and the resources (which “foreigners” sometimes do over their
local counterparts) you tell the story. But there is so much that IS
MISSED when the story comes from the other. I do not think that
anyone can tell a story like the person who the story is about. For one,
there is too much that can be lost in translation. It was important
for Michael and I to encourage the students to tell THEIR stories
because only they know all the little nuances that might be missed
in translation. I can tell you through experience that reading a Pablo
Neruda poem in English and reading it in Spanish is two worlds apart.
Now I think imagination is great. But telling the story of Halabja
from your attic does not do service to the 5000 dead voices who have
their own unique story to tell. It might be a powerful story about
Halabja but I believe in talking about each tree until I get the picture
of the forest.
Heather Raffo
My first artistic expression was as an actress. So, all the muscles I
use for writing come from acting where the demand is to fully immerse oneself in another’s circumstances and make it believably your
own. So I think empathy and imagination and meticulous research as
well as neutrality all play an incredible part of the process.
Yes, I think we should tell other’s stories. We live in a global world.
The empowerment of the inner depths of human story being expressed fearlessly is imperative to our evolutionary development. I
just think we need to find a revealing balance of appropriation and
Immersion is essential to understanding, but I am also a big fan of
deeply compassionate neutrality. In my extensive research for 9 Parts
of Desire, I was able to gather the kinds of stories that Iraqi women
never talk about publicly and only rarely talk about privately (even
amongst family). I struggled with, but ultimately felt I did have the
right to tell these stories of Iraqi women. Because they were not my
own story but were stories I grew from and each story did seem to
be revealing some deeper part of myself; I was also outside the Iraqi
culture enough to actually tell the story and give it words publicly.
I think we always end up telling our own stories in another’s
story. Even when writing biography. Perception comes through the
lens of who and what we are. We step outside ourselves for a time. We
immerse. We research. We perhaps live with and become something
new. And perhaps rarely, perhaps often, we as artists get to merge
out of duality and the perceptions of being disconnected or over full
of our desire to empathize - and we merge more neutrally into a vast
common humanity, where boundaries are imperceptible.
So my answer is both. I both appropriate others stories. And tell
my own. And I wanted my American audience to own and appropriate the stories I told of these Iraqi women. I wanted them to feel
not for these Iraqi women, but as if they were these Iraqi women. I
wanted (and had) a 6-foot tall man from the Pentagon weep in my
arms backstage and feel like he had listened to a story that came from
his own soul. I wanted us to all feel like we were in this together and
connected beyond compassion. Rather connected because we really
are one and the same.
I think it is possible for artists from the outside to see a situation more specifically than people living in it. So it’s just true that it
happens both ways. Sometimes that’s really good to have somebody
with an outside eye but an inside heart—which is what I was—in
other instance you’ve seen works of arts where the outside eye has
completely gotten it wrong. They don’t understand those people or
whoever they’re writing about. I think it just depends on the unique
circumstance of each given thing. But yes I was most surprised to see
how the deepest relevance of this piece might be between Iraqis, not
between Iraqis and Americans.
Social justice is why I create. For me, social justice is supporting the profound and demanding complexity of what it means to be
human. The arts do this unlike anything else I know. 134
Dlpak Ali, Soma Abdullah, and Marie LaBrosse
If, in this state, I return to Kirkuk
the hair on my head, stalwart, manly, will fall.
Why should I return to that panderer, Kirkuk,
when its people are unsavory, like the water in Hamamok?
I welcome a brother’s oppression, the blame of relatives,
I will live a hundred times, lonely, poor and in pieces.
But, for sure, one day, time will revolve in my desire.
This insistence is unstable, some days disconnected, other days
intimate as a bride.
Without coin, we live poorly,
but for grateful folk, boiled wheat tastes better than long rice.
Since my father’s death six months back, I
have been debased, abject, abandoned, depleted.
Then I came to Uncle Ghafoor’s Koya, and, like Ghafoor,
my pockets filled with money and liras from Maskook.
During Community & Memory, with Michael Galinsky and Radcliffe
Roye, students explored the relationship between portrayer and portrayed, between artist and subject. Throughout the workshop, students considered how their communities remember, how human
beings memorialize. The photoessay and interviews that follow give
readers insight into this experience.
Translated by Hakar Dlshad
Rojgar, you were nine months old and chubby
Trees, trees you said while trying to walk
You started to walk and slowly, you spoke
A yellowish scream suddenly attacked you
You asked me, the helpless, a question
Father, why is my name Rojgar?
Close to ten years in mountains and valleys
You had no games and demands like other children
Dear, I named you Rojgar
Because under the hand of the evil regime
You were just a child, you don’t remember
Two times, you fell off the goat
Under harsh days and sadness
You opened your eyes to the world’s light
Scared of bombs and grenades
I took you to safe bunkers
Threatened with death
I chose the path of struggle
Rojgar, we were both prisoners of the day
Your mother and I owe you
We had a cruel and brutal enemy
That’s why I chose the harsh days
No more being a prisoner, today is Eid
Did you see how defenseless Saddam was?
Why I left you all in loneliness
You hadn’t met your own father
Don’t tell me anymore, your name is Rojgar
Your name is a memory of the city and its days
When I left, you were little
You were speaking your first words
You are not a day of a village’s dark night
You are a day, you rise after the moonlight
After a few months of the calm voice
You with your mother came into the firing woods
Herlev, Denmark
You both became Peshmargas
Better to struggle than that sorrow
You lived in a tent, under the risk
Of bombs and bombarding planes
Yet we were proud,
Happy, and lucky that we lived freely
A photographer shows the half-moon of leftover tea, sloshed
out of the cups and over the saucers.
The cameraman behind Radcliffe Roye focuses on the photograph as it is made.
The cameraman behind Radcliffe Roye brings the man, not the photograph, into focus.
Ranj Sarraj, a member of AUIS’s IT support team, listens as Michael Galinsky and Radcliffe Roye introduce
the Community and Memory Workshop.
Many cameras: a photographer shows a Kurdish man mid-portrait and (right) Ahmed Taha,
photographer, mid-photo.
Nuha Othman searching for the right frame.
A shaft of light pierces the corrugated tin roof of an alley in the Sulaimani bazaar.
A tomato-seller wheels his hand-cart through a narrow
alley in the Sulaimani bazaar.
Translated by Hakar Dlshad
Translated by Bahra Salih
Every day in this life, a new sorrow is my guest
When the night comes, I have no patience;
a black prison is my tryst
The higher the snow is,
The more it fears the sun.
The prettier the woman is,
The brighter the lamp of aging
Burns in her mirror
Each new sorrow catches the collar of my shirt
Each disaster cuts to the depths of my liver
Day by day, hunger faces and oppresses my country
Many loving Kurds in revenge they fade away
Today is confusing, days come, and days go
Meaningless, confusing, who made it and who is eating it?
New sorrows catch the collar of my shirt
Disasters cut the depth of my liver
Centuries come and centuries go, Kurdistan is careless
One with a strong back is the purpose
New sorrows catch the collar of my shirt
Disasters cut the depth of my liver
In this world
Each bears fear from something
Owl: from the masses
Thief: from dogs and the cough of the homeless
Donkey: from steepness
Wall: from the spike
Wood: from the nail
Deer: from the sound of stone and the stroking of the woods
My gallbladder is about to explode, too
I fear at the dying moment
My lungs will scream
For a little air of my mother country.
I fear they will bury me in soil
That doesn’t know my tongue,
That smells unfamiliar to my nose!
While you were here, what interactions with students caught your
It was exciting to see the students come alive in our first trip to the
market. We started out the day by talking a lot about art and social
justice. We also talked about image making and really pushing oneself
to be in the work. Radcliffe especially engaged the students in a way
that clearly pushed them outside of their work comfort zones and
we saw them light up. The work was also surprisingly developed and
strong. We continued the process into our trip to Halabja where we
had the students working with us to make photos and video.
What moments with faculty or fellow visitors seemed noteworthy to
I was blown away by seeing Heather Raffo’s “9 Parts of Desire” performed. It was a moving event and it was great to see other faculty
documenting and participating. We were so busy we didn’t get to
spend as much time with the other visitors as we might have liked.
Though we did have some very interesting and spirited debate both
at dinner and on the panel.
What images from your time in Sulaimani have become definitional?
The first trip to the market really stands out-​ as does the shooting
in Halabja. It is somewhat surreal to be present with so much pain.
Translated by Hakar Dlshad
Translated by Bahra Salih
Oh, how tired, how exhausted I am from the day’s sorrows
I am so weary of my body with the sudden sorrows of the night
Which one to carry
Which one to rescue
This one is sick and the eldest
The other one is crawling
With eyes full of pupils and mouth full words
I had two hands
The Ba’ath took one of them
And the other remains
Which one to carry
Which one to rescue
This one is my liver
The other one is the pupil of my eyes
There is not a night I don’t dream of punishments and executions
There is not a day I don’t catch sorrow from the hands of my
Sorrow becomes my guest, in the square frame of my room
So now, I bemoan my life and my existence
Yet in this strange country, they won’t let me settle
There will be a day I will be free from this lucklessness
I have decided not to listen to any news
Every wire that transfers news to my home, I will cut
Herlev, Denmark
KAKAY FALAH Translated by Dina Dara
Translated by Ako Abdullah
Talks flies around, people say that this time Kurds will be liberated.
Say what you say, but I think this talk is only lies and blindfolds.
A hundred, a thousand other times we’ve experienced politics.
Yet, many of us continue to be deceived by these rumors.
If relations between . . . and . . . give discomfort as small as a
misplaced atom,
then the Kurdish cause becomes tense once more.
When are rights given? When are they taken? It is a shame you still
don’t understand!
How can independence reach a powerless nation as this?
Ignorant people in the world should be enslaved.
Disloyalty always bricks up the confined nations.
Yesterday’s name was today.
It was this moment of my life and yours,
but how did it come and pass?
No matter if it was bitter or sweet, it passed away anyway.
It went and disappeared just like the snow of last year.
It became our memory today.
It disappeared in front of our eyes
just like bubbles and small waves on water,
just like a taken dry grass by wind,
it was taken by the last wind.
Whatever hopes there were in spring
have gone by passing days.
When it closed its curtain,
it hid itself behind.
It has gone and left today,
never to come back for you and me.
It was a bird that got free
from our hands to the sky.
The only things left
are the lessons and the memories.
What expectations did you have before arrival in Iraq? How were those
confirmed or altered?
I really did not arrive with expectations. I did wonder though how
Michael and I would be received. We being Americans or viewed as
members of the “western” culture. Would we be seen as colonizers or
Upon arriving in Sulaimani, I was intrigued by how similarly it
reminded me of Jamaica, yet I could immediately distinguish its differences. The buses, driving skills (sarcasm), dryness, temperature,
and home construction were all familiar immediately to me. I was
immediately intrigued by the way the whole country seems to move
visually. I did not get to do much architecture but the way the homes
and just random buildings were constructed showed me how artistic
the collective eyes were in the country.
The next day I then got to see people on the streets and the way
they interacted with me. I was blown away. The stares and intrigue
were almost overwhelming sometimes. Being touched, being asked
about my hair, seeing how beautiful a place like the Bazaar was, with
its colors and music.
While you were here, what interactions with students caught your
I think I was happy that the students all seemed confident. But not
only that, they all seemed ready to jump in and “BE A PART OF” whatever we were doing instead of watching from the sidelines. Most of the
students that came to the lecture that Michael and I hosted wanted
to do more, asked if there was anything else we wanted, pushed us to
engage them on a level that they felt could enhance whatever we were
trying to do there, thus making us (Michael and I) students in the
process too. I enjoyed how the students interacted in the conferences.
Some of the faculty members actually came up to me and said that I
was able to make “quiet” students engage in the conversations that
they were not able to do for a semester. Having the students engage
with me on this level really touched me.
What moments with faculty or fellow visitors seemed noteworthy to you?
I don’t know if there is a noteworthy moment with other members of
the AUIS faculty, but seeing Michael Galinsky open the minds of the
student film makers there: I could see how important being a part of
the work was to the students. It wasn’t just standing and watching
Michael work, but that they were asked for their input, both to film
and to give their opinions made the project not just ours but theirs
and they loved that.
Since returning, what pieces of these conversations have remained
with you?
I think finding out that my students are not the children of insurgents
but freedom fighters seeking Nationalism has been the conversation
piece back here. That I found a country I could fall in love with. Its
people, and their simplicity is still a talking point for me. I could not
believe how proud each person I photographed was.
What images from your time in Sulaimani have become definitional?
I don’t think that there is ONE image that stands out. ALL my portraits carry a feeling of definition for me. If there is ONE though, I
would say the family in Halabja that I photographed spoke volumes
to me.
is an important point of view but not more important than the other
or the next. It is just one of. Sometimes being too close to a story we
MIGHT begin to throw in our biased eye instead of an objective one.
My experience has enabled me to see differently and thus approach
whatever I am shooting with a different eye. Now it does not mean
that it is right. I might be off base with what I see but that is when
living in the community and trying to learn the language and culture
helps. In my experience, Artists who were able to do this, also egotistically believed that the knowledge also gave them the voice to speak
as if they are an authority on the subject. When in truth all they have
is a little piece of difference (hopefully). We are also talking about
being visible, and because OUR work might be seen by more because
for one it can be understood, IT gets seen and not the stuff that is
written in another language.
How do you define social justice and is it a part, conscious or not, of
the art you create?
Social justice is in every crevice and nook of what I do. It is defined
as social equality to me. That every group captured in my lens has the
same voice and or should be seen equally as the “dominant culture.”
I try with the work to erase discriminations and biases but mostly I
use photography to show our ignorance. I believe if people knew more
about the people I photograph then they would treat them better.
That simple.
What do you think you changed while here and how do you think you
were changed from your time here?
I think the students BELIEVE that they can BE the change. That they
don’t have to wait for a Michael or a Radcliffe to write their stories
for them. I don’t think I changed a DAMN thing to be honest, but
I believe that hearts and minds were stirred. I was inspired to keep
doing the work I do because it is all the same.
Is it necessary for artists to be immersed in the world?
NOW the only reason I think I NEED to be immersed in the WORLD,
is because I bring to the SPACE a different point of view. I believe it
Translated by Mohammed Khaluq
Translated by Shayan Rabathi
In the name of our dignified lord,
A decision is made to hang the one who assassinated my brother,
But he was short.
The executioner said, “His head is too far from the rope.
What should I do?” After deep thinking,
The Lord ordered my hanging instead;
I was taller.
When I am asked about my job, it makes me feel awkward: I turn red,
I stumble, I, who am usually known as a confident person. I envy
the people who can say: I am a brick mason. I envy the simplicity of
the confessions of hairdressers, accountants and authors, because
all these jobs could be explained by themselves and do not require
long explanations. But I am forced to answer on such questions: I
am a laugher. Such a confession requires more questions, because I
also have to answer the second question, “You make a living out of
that?” truthfully with, “Yes.” I actually make my living out of laughing,
and I am satisfied—because my laughter is commercially expressed,
wanted. I am a good, educated laugher, nobody else laughs as I do,
and nobody controls the nuances of my art. For a long time, to escape
annoying explanations, I described my job as an actor, but my mimicry
and expressions and speaking skills were so low, that this description did not seem truthful: I love the truth, and the a truth is: I am
a laugher. I am neither a clown nor a comedian, I do not amuse the
people, but I illustrate amusement: I laugh like a Roman emperor or
like a sensitive high school graduate, I am so familiar with the laughter
of the 17th century, and if it has to be, I laugh all the centuries, every
society classes, every ages: I learned to laugh, as you learned to tie
shoes. The laughter of America lies in my breast, the laughter of Africa, white, red, yellow laughter, and for an appropriate fee I let it ring
out, as the director prescribes. I have become indispensable, I laugh
melancholically, moderately, hysterically. I laugh like a tram conductor
or like a apprentice of the food industry; the laughter in the morning,
the laughter of the evening, nightly laughter and the laugher of the
twilight hour, in short: wherever and however laughter is demanded:
I will do it well. You will believe me, that such a job is exhausting,
because I also—​this is my speciality—control the infectious laughter;
that is why I become indispensable, even for comedian of the third or
fourth ranges, who tremble for their Pointe. Almost every evening, I
sit in the music halls as a claqueur to laugh infectiously at the time
of weak parts. It has to be an awesome work: my lively, wild laughter
is not allowed to be early neither be late, it has to arise at the right
moment—I explode and the whole audience roars and the Pointe is
rescued. But later I crawl tired to the cloakroom, I wear my coat and I
am happy that the evening is over. Usually, at home there are telegrams
for me “We immediately need your laughter.” The affiliation will be
on Tuesday, and a few hours later I am sitting in an overheated train
and I complain about my skills. Everyone will understand that after
finishing work or at holiday I do not have the sense of laughing: the
milker is happy to forget about the cow after milking, the brick mason
is happy when he is able to forget about the mortar and the cabinet
maker has doors at home, which do not work or drawers which are
difficult to open. Confectioners love sour cucumber, a butcher loves
marzipan, and the baker prefers sausage instead of bread; bullfighters
love the contact with the deaf, boxers become pale if their children’s
noses bleed: I understand all that, because I never laugh after work. I
am a serious man, and the people think I am a pessimist. In the first
few years of our marriage, my wife often said to me: “You should
laugh!”, but now it has become clear, that I cannot fulfil this wish. I
am happy if I am allowed to relax my strained facial muscle. Yes, even
the laughter of other people makes me nervous, because it reminds
me of my job. Because my wife has also forgotten how to laugh, we
have a quiet, peaceful marriage: every now and then, I catch her while
she is smiling, and then I also smile. We speak quietly with each
other, because I hate the noise of the music halls, and the noise of
the recording studios. People who do not know me think that I am
self-​contained. Maybe that is right, because I often use my mouth
only for laughing. I go through life with a straight face, only now and
then I allow myself a soft smile, and I often think about it whether
I have ever really laughed. I think: no. My siblings always say that I
have been a serious boy. I laugh in different ways but I do not know
my own laughter.