Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Great News Starts with a Crazy Sentence

I would love to know the very first sentence that ultimately led to Theja's cultural tour of the United States through the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program. I imagine that the words were
un-spectacular, spoken over dinner in between other words that were used to compliment the spice on the chicken and to plan for a meeting the next day. I also can't remember the first sentence that Brian and I exchanged about the possibility of going to Nagaland, though I can guarantee that it had nothing to do with how to pack our suitcases. I remember very clearly, however, the first time that Brian floated the idea of bringing Naga filmmakers back to the United States. We were sitting around the fire in Theja and Angel's kitchen on the last night of our trip. At the moment this photo was taken, everything was imaginary.

Now, as I sit in my own kitchen in Rochester, I am THRILLED to announce that, in less than three weeks, we will be standing at JFK Airport awaiting the arrival of five Naga filmmakers: Ms. Sesino Yhoshu, Ms. Sophy Lasuh, Mr. Myingthungo Lotha, Mr. Liyo Kikon, and Mr. Kele Yhoshu. Our itinerary includes a whirlwind tour of New York City, Rochester, and the Adirondack mountains. We will be going to film studios, art museums, music festivals, and movie screenings. Our hope is that they will be able to develop as many artistic relationships and gain as many new experiences here as Brian and I did there.

Theja wrote this week to confirm that all five visas had been granted. Only hours later, he sent another email with the title "CRAZY THOUGHTS". It starts, "Just thinking out loud, what do you think about the possibility of Rattle & Hum [Music Society] inviting a few artists from Rochester to come to Nagaland and just paint for one whole week?...How about another possibility of having a few young filmmakers from your city come to participate with other Naga filmmakers during Glocal this year?"
As of July 29th, 2011, these are only sentences. :)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

One to One Hundred

As each week passes, I worry that Nagaland is moving back to the other side of the world again. When we were there, the days overflowed with conversations about future artistic collaborations and promises to stay in touch. Since then, our days have been defined by holiday travels and preparations for the new semester. I wonder and worry, how much silent time can pass before friends turn back into strangers?

Last night, I received an unexpected email that suggested this will not be the case. It starts, “Helo sis! Its meh Ajungala frm Nagaland. Ope u remember meh. u n bro brain used to visit AO tribe….” When I opened the attached photos (below), the space between Rochester and Kisama collapsed.

Again, I am reminded of the warmth of Naga people. In the United States, it seems that we have well-defined categories to describe the proximity between our selves and others: strangers, acquaintances, and friends, for example. In Nagaland, it does not take long before you are addressed as a sister or brother. We met Ajungala only once but our conversation developed as if we had known each other much longer. In my experience, this intimacy between strangers--the assumption that we share common ground unless proven otherwise--seemed to be the norm and not the exception. Kids, as I mentioned in a previous post, called us aunt and uncle from the start.

It was a great privilege (thank you again to the U.S. State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Arts & Cultural Council for Greater Rochester, the University of Rochester, Nazareth College, the Rattle and Hum Music Society, and Nagaland University) to also see my inbox recently fill with subject lines that read, “Happy New Year from India!”, “Happy New Year from Tajikistan!”, “Happy New Year from Palestine!”, “Happy New Year from Nagaland” and, in return, “Happy New Year from America!”

Our relationships with distant countries do not have to be dependent on economic interests or military presence. Artistic exchanges can be at least as powerful. As musicians, visual artists, filmmakers, curators, dancers, writers, patrons, advocates, and administrators, we have the potential to dramatically change our global community. If there is not a path in place, we can make it. And it may be easier than we think. This whole visit to Nagaland, and everything that is growing out it, started with one person (Theja) believing that it can be done. One by one, he is literally turning hundreds of strangers into brothers and sisters.