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.