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Yellow Submarine to Taliwood: 28/09/21

Hellen Rose and George Gittoes established the Yellow House Jalalabad – a community centre for production and education around art, film, performance, music and dance – over twenty years ago. They have since grown a vibrant art-making community in Afghanistan over their decades in the country, working at a grassroots level to share knowledge and culture with and amongst the local population.

In this second entry of a series of diary entries, the pair document their return to the community in western Afghanistan after the Taliban assumption of power in the country earlier this year.

This morning we re-found the place where the 115-year-old Sufi Syed Baba G taught. 

He died in 2012 and his permanent resting place is in his old home, his bedroom. Two of his young students, brothers, sang the poetry of Rakman Baba.

Then in the late afternoon, inspired by the songs, we went to the Shrine of this great Sufi Poet, who wrote in Pashto, Abdur Rahman Baba.

Once I arrived at the large marble shrine, with my long hair and “look,” I was immediately taken for a visiting Baba. I attracted a small crowd of children from the madrassa and their teachers.  I explained to them that when I was a kid, in primary school, there was a day when I was hit by the realisation that everyone will die, including me.  I wrote a poem about it called “Clouds.”  I recited it to them and they loved it.

Why wonder where to wander
When the wind is your master
And life is not yours
To make you it’s loser

I was too young to realise I had written a Sufi poem. But once in high school, I soon began studying Islamic art and discovered the great Sufi poets like Rumi and Attar.

Earlier, in the morning, I had read a page from my Blood Mystic book to the young Sufis at Baba G’s grave. It is the page “Transitory States.” The teachers want me to come back and read more to the students in their madrassa and answer questions. I sensed the presence of my old, now dead, friend Baba G. I had promised him I would keep returning whenever I was in Peshawar. 

There was a protest demonstration in the old city [of Peshawar] when we driving back from the Rahman Baba shrine, which brought traffic almost to a standstill. It gave me time to think about this period in Peshawar, and how things have gone.

When I first came to Peshawar in 2007, to make a documentary, I did not know what it would be but slowly discovered that the local Pashto film industry was being attacked – video stores bombed and burnt. This grew into [the film] Miscreants of Taliwood.

This time I have discovered that everyone here wants to change the world’s perception of the Tribal Belt, Khyber Paktonkhwar, as a dangerous and forbidden place. My friend, Khuram, persuaded us to begin making tourism videos. We have been putting them out on social media and enjoying the response – getting over 100,000 views on each. If tourists from around the world began coming here to experience what we know to be an amazing and culturally rich place, it could be transformative. The same goes for Afghanistan.  Now that we have about eight tourism videos, which have been made in Peshawar, sister city of Jalalabad, we have something positive to show the Taliban.  I will be able to suggest to the Taliban that what Afghanistan needs the most is tourism. Perhaps with tourism will come trade and international acceptance?

I was planning to go to them with the simple plea to keep and protect our Yellow House but our willingness to help bring tourism to Afghanistan will gain almost certain support. I am sure they will be enthusiastic about the idea.

This approach will mess with the heads of a lot of people in the West who want to see Afghanistan as a permanently failed and inaccessible state.  We will prove art and tourism can achieve more than military intervention.

G

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