Living in A City of Danger & Destiny

by - 2:48 AM

What is it like to wake up in a city rife with danger and yet inlaid with destiny? This is my second week. Despite the evident daily risks, I have such a strong conviction that I am meant to be here. This brazen sense of purpose far outweighs the fear of the terrors that abound – even to the point that I somehow feel at home. A friend in Peru responded to my decision to come here with these glorious words: “You can take risks because God doesn’t take chances.” That about sums up the way I see things now, more so than ever. It is not a fatalistic manner of surviving, but a faith-filled way of living – which, even in the worst of times, injects vigour to the spirit.

One of the most beautiful things I experienced this week occurred on my first day back at work – Saturday. I had a senior student who came to my piano studio with nervous anticipation all over his face. He greeted me – “Teacher Janielle” – and gestured to a friend he brought along, who had a silver flute in his hand. He promptly announced that they spent their weekend until late in the evening composing a piece for piano and flute as a gift specially for me. It was titled simply, “For Janielle”, and they even had a notated score of it… oh my goodness, how beautifully they played! I could hardly believe my ears. What a precious moment it was. My heart soared with sheer wonder that such beautiful hearts exist in this hard place.

I say that because the stark reality that confronts us is searingly painful. One of our students recently lost three of his brothers in a bombing that occurred close to a major university in town. Three young men. How do you live, breathe, study, work, and thrive in such a smouldering reality? I choose the word ‘smouldering’ because people are almost only allowed to feel grief, anger, fear, hate, frustration, despair in a barely suppressed manner. It remains stifled, because what can one do when justice cannot possibly be done this side of heaven? When it is often too dangerous to voice out what you think or feel? With this in mind, one can appreciate what a miracle it is to be interacting with such open-hearted ones!

At lunchtime, I invited the budding composers to my studio to play the piece again. This time, I asked if I could join in and add to it. I felt immeasurably blessed that even though it is only my second week, I already have such memorable moments of music-making with my students. Throughout the week I had different jam sessions and extra lessons with a few students who loved making their own music. One of them had a huge passion for arranging Afghan folk melodies and popular music of the past into piano solo pieces. It was an absolutely delight for me to improvise with such ones, who had an endless stream of musical ideas and such expansive hearts to be the first ones in their nation to compose for the piano. He even told me that he wants to be the first Afghan to write a symphony! Wouldn’t that be absolutely awe-some. Even though before I came I had no clue about the students and whether or not they had experience in making their own music, I somehow had the confidence that I would find them at this very time in history. Indeed, I thank God I have. This is definitely one of the key reasons I believed in coming here: to make new music, for a new era, through the hands and voices of a new generation.

One thing I was especially grateful for this week was the way that food tastes so much better when you are cooking by emergency lamp… all because the electricity had gone out for hours on end and night has fallen. It sounds silly, but it made me so, so, so happy – and it’s not a word I use often – to savor my curried stir-fry dinner seated on the carpet, leaning on a pillow against the wall, wrapped in a thick blanket, and reading a book by a yellow emergency light.

Fun times throughout the week cooking by emergency light. It's quite therapeutic after a long day...
The very next morning, unfortunately, the electricity and water was still out. I soon discovered it was because a prominent electric tower had been blasted by a major terrorist network in the country. It was a scheme to further destabilize the city in view of upcoming ‘peace talks’. It would take a few days or who knows longer, to fix it. For now, we survive on emergency lamps, power banks and generators (for those who have the luxury of owning one – which I don’t).

I do not feel fear, I only feel for those who are living in the dark with much less than I have, and with nothing more to cling on to. I do feel annoyed that such inconveniences will happen often – and I dread that it happens more in the winter. I was told that it is during winter that the terrorist network scales up such troubles for the country’s inhabitants. And winter here can be bitterly cold. I do not dare imagine how I will survive. However, I consider it a miracle that I am even psyching myself up for that season. In the past, I would never have considered going to a ‘cold’ country, because I love warm, balmy weather and I’d grown up in a tropical land. I’d say I’ll go anywhere, just not to places like Russia or Mongolia. But where I am now, surrounded by towering mountains capped with snow even in the summer, I can hardly believe that my conviction to be here stands greater than my fear of the harsh winter!

I managed to snap this. I've seen some things I'd never seen anywhere else.
The past few days I have continually marveled at the way that I somehow feel so energized and refreshed from teaching in this place. I come home from a long day, and I often smile as I think about the moments in my day. I have taught in different schools and various contexts before in Australia, India, and the United Arab Emirates, but this place evokes an unusual zest for my daily work. It parallels the times I have spent with young people in schools and universities in Africa, although this is a completely different context in many ways. Strangely, I feel such an interconnection between these locations on the map. Another thing that has been a great joy for me is the times I voice-call with my African comrades in Rwanda and Uganda, now that we are much closer in time zones.

The weekend – Thursday (half day work until 12PM) and Friday – are my days of rest. But I find myself feeling like I can’t wait for it to be over so I can get back to working with my incredible kids – these beautiful and bright ones. Life becomes a potent force when you are interacting with such bold and brave hearts through your everyday work and conversations. One of the days at lunchtime this week was especially memorable when I walked out into the courtyard where students were playing and chatting. I struck up a conversation with two lovely and shy girls – one plays the oboe, the other plays the violin. Very soon, there were about 6 of them gathered around me. Two were pianists, one was a drummer, and another a violinist. It was a beautiful moment of laughter as I asked them about their stories, their best concerts, and their most influential teachers in the past. I soon found out that they are all close friends because they are part of a local orphanage. That simply melted my heart and I knew why I ‘just happened’ to have talked specially to them that day. They said they wished I could stay forever or at least five years at the school, since most foreign teachers that have come through usually stay for 2-3 years. I told them a bit about my family, my musical story, and how I came to be here. I can hardly describe the sweetness of these windows of opportunity.

I sing in the mornings and in the evenings. What I see in my mind’s eye, I sing out, I write it down and paste it on my walls, I paint it with watercolor, and I see it unraveled in daily reality and interactions. With absolute certainly, I know my home is wherever I have been invited to a story greater than my own. There lies my humble abode, my true safe house that shields the heart, mind, body, soul and spirit from bullets and bombs, lies and untruths, shackles and tyrannies, riches and poverty alike, corruption and unspoken miseries.

I've begun painting. In Afghanistan. Thanks to my creative sister Janna who got me some travel paints and an aqua brush. I relish this new venture.

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