By Eisha Sarkar
Shortly after I started interacting with my student Muhammad Qasem Jami last October, I was flooded by friend requests from Herat on Facebook. As precaution, I would verify the connections the person had with Jami before accepting him/her as friend. That’s how I met Asef Majidi, who was working at Sakena Yacoobi’s NGO, Afghan Institute of Learning. Whereas Jami and my conversations revolved around culture, history, poetry, peace and literature, Asef and I discussed fashion, business and economics.
When I learned Jami’s sister, Fariha, is a graphic designer, I shared with him some of my artwork. We discussed our love for horses and I made a painting of Buzkashi, the Afghan national sport where rival groups of riders race each other to grab the carcass of a goat and then charge with the carcass to the goalpost. I posted the painting on Facebook and people loved it. â€œNice painting,â€ Asef wrote. â€œThanks, Asef,â€ I replied. â€œWell, there is someone in my family who paints as well. You should see her paintings,â€ he suggested and sent me a link to Rahel Majidi’s page. I browsed through her watercolours: Women’s portraits, birds, European countrysides, townscapes and Buzkashi. I sent her a friend request.
It would take another seven months before Rahela would accept me as her friend. Jami and I would have finished two courses at Pax Populi Academy and Asef would have moved to California to pursue his studies in business. I persuaded Asef to introduce me to Rahela. â€œWhat? I thought you guys were friends already. I’ll write to her,â€ he said.
That’s how I met Rahela, a 27-year-old, who was born in Herat and spent a decade in Iran till the fall of the Taliban regime when her family moved back to Afghanistan in 2002. She moved to Maryland, USA, last year. â€œI loved painting since I was a little kid .The beauty of nature motivates me and gives me the feeling to express myself. I enjoy creating something from nothing. It is satisfying and makes me feel good,â€ she wrote to me. While she did oil painting a few years ago she now prefers to use watercolors. Why did she paint ‘Buzkashi’? â€œI love my country and my culture. Buzkashi is a national sport in Afghanistan and it has been for many years. By painting it I want to represent a part of my culture to the world.â€
When I told Rahela that I would like to write about her and feature her painting on the Pax Populi blog, she requested, â€œI am working on another one on Buzkashi. Will you wait for it to be completed? Just a couple of days.â€ â€œSure,â€ I said. A day later, she shared her new painting with me. I loved it.
This is a story of how connections grow through Pax Populi. While you do teach one student at a time, that person is a gateway to a whole new set of people and their stories.