Rachel Dratch and More Support the Afghan Women’s Writing Project
At the organization’s fundraiser, female actors and comedians joined together to fight the subjugation of Afghan women.
Many of us know that women in Afghanistan struggle simply to survive in a country where hostility and violence has become part of everyday life. Simply living takes courage; writing stories of dreams, lost loved ones, and persecution can cost these women their lives.
As I headed to the Afghan Women’s Writing Project poetry event on January 22, 2012, the air was frigid after an icy mix of snow and rain. The Brooklyn avenues were darkened and deserted.
When I finally arrived at the Magic Futurebox Theater, I took a seat in the spacious yet damp and grey venue. In a fair world, this event would have been held in a Broadway theater filled with throngs of deep-pocketed supporters. But even though the 50 or so attendees in the factory-turned-performing space thrust their hands into pockets or gloves for warmth, we were heartened simply to know that an organization like this exists.
Even in the brutal January cold, there are people out there who care enough to listen to a small group of actresses and comedians read these infinitely brave women’s stories. One of those comedians was former Saturday Night Live star and author, Rachel Dratch. “Lynn [the event coordinator] is from my hometown,” Dratch told me as she shivered in a pink hoodie on one of the theater’s battered couches. “When she told me about this, I was hooked. I was already a bit aware of the hardships faced by Afghan women, but it’s nice to know there are resources out there for them.”
Though this funny lady’s forte is a good comedy skit, she’s impressively unafraid to make the leap out of her comfort zone and try new things. “My book, Girl Walks into a Bar, comes out this March,” Dratch said. “It’s an autobiography. It focuses a lot on my life when my career started to slow down a bit. I went on dates, had a midlife crisis, experienced a few calamities, and even did a little dog sitting. And then –surprise! –I got pregnant. I’m getting used to these new experiences. I’m reading poems today by Afghan women. This is serious and much unlike anything I’ve ever done before.”
Not that the audience could tell that the calm and collected-looking Dratch was rushing to perfect her lines before the event. Injecting a bit of her usual comedy into an otherwise somber reading, she greeted the audience with, “Afghan women write in cold, windowless rooms. Today, we’re replicating these conditions.”
But this reading was most definitely worth the layers and gloves: funds raised by the event will go to providing Afghan women with needed Internet access, secure spaces to write, and laptops. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project reports that every year, it takes $2,500 to give one woman the resources she needs to tell her story.
And these stories will simultaneously fill you with hope and break your heart.
One of the first standout pieces was “The Blue Cage,” performed by Stephanie Masucci. Arifa, a young Afghan woman, wrote:
“Who am I under the blue burqa?
I want to fly from this blue cage.
I want to feel love and peace.
I want to take a pen and write dreams of freedom on the world walls.”
Writer Chrissie Gruebel’s reading of “Hope for Afghan Women” was a tear jerking call to change. Zahra A. wrote:
“This is my hope:
A country without war
Where women are counted as human beings,
Where peace lies in the soul of every Afghan,
Where peace in parents’ hearts allows their children education,
And where children do not fear being blown up by a bomb on their way home.”
Later, the second to last piece, titled “Sack of Winds,” told the tale of a young woman’s crushed dreams. As performed by actress Tracy Mull, Norwan writes: “I run after the winds/ in the blank deserts/ find nothing/ but dead wishes.”
These sentiments stood in contrast to “My Dreams,” which told a tale of rebirth and achievement despite crushing odds. Transformed into a song by Roopa Singh, the last performance of the afternoon left us with a sense of Afghan women’s immeasurable strength. Farahnaz wrote:
“I flew higher and higher again.
I was very close to the sun,
And it was trying to destroy my wings again,
But the shine of my wings destroyed the sun.
There was no sun left this time to fire up my wings and
Take me far from my dreams.
Like me, my wishes are also shining in the sky.
I am full of confidence that my dreams are coming true.”
After this unforgettable experience came to a close, I was left more convinced than ever that with a lot of effort and some time, we can help make these women’s dreams come true.
To find out how you can help the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, visit the organization’s Get Involved tab.
Diana Denza is a regular contributor to BettyConfidential.