The morning in Jaipur is filled with the wail of peacocks. As if sensing my yearning to see a wild peacock (they are actually all wild in Jaipur), a big blue bird flies to the roof of Jaipur Heritage Home, our B & B, to my absolute delight. How could anything be so spectacularly beautiful, yet so peculiarly proportioned, so clumsy and awkward? Is it exquisite beauty that has kept it from being eaten or simply having its neck wrung for making such a godawful noise?
Peacock on the roof at dawn
Look how high the peacock sits…
We kick-start the day over mangoes, Indian breakfast dishes and instant Nescafe coffee (which just doesn’t cut it for a Jamaican New Yorker, so, if you visit India, especially if you come from where the world’s best coffee is grown, and you live where you can find a coffee shop or cart on every corner, bring your own coffee.) Annie and I discuss the students’ portfolios that we have perused in order to to select design/production students to work with each of us.
One impresses me greatly – Suraya Suranim. She is twenty-one years old and speaks English (a rarity amongst the Afghans) and her work has great potential. As an aside, she is cute as a button with big pinchable cheeks and smiling deep-set dark eyes that are framed by the longest curly lashes imaginable. My plan is to make her my co-designer and it is no coincidence that her name means ‘starlight’ and the theme of my collection for Future Brilliance/Aayenda is the star (See earlier blog).
Suraya and Said
Suraya’s design work
We divvy up the students, having to take into consideration English skills, gender and relations in the groupings. We do not want the women to be overseen by male family members that might intimidate and limit their creative abilities. As happens to my group the following day. Where one of the women in my group is reprimanded by an unsmiling and hard-headed (he follows no instruction whatsoever of mine) fellow for my massaging her hands.
She had been rubbing her temples, a headache brought on, I imagine, by fasting during Ramadan. (Though perhaps it is the pressure of having a man from her village show up and sit down at our table to work beside her and oversee her.) I offer to get rid of her headache by pressing the muscle pad between the thumbs and the forefingers. Within the five seconds that it takes for her headache to leave, the compatriot from her village is having red-faced conniptions, barking at her in Dari, wagging his finger, shaking his head, pursing his already unsmiling lips that cover two gold teeth, then folding his arms across his chest. I ask her to translate what he has said. She shakes her head at me, smiling out of sweetness and defeat.
Luckily, my other male student, Said Sayed, is gentle, respectful, hard-working and talented to boot. (See him above in the photo with Suraya). His attention to detail is not as precise as the women who work with me, except in his appearance. He is a handsome young man who looks well-cared for, well-pressed clothing and neatly-trimmed hair. He is quite Western in his dress and I imagine that without the limitations imposed on him by his war-torn country that he would be quite cosmopolitan.
Said Sayed at work
By limitations I mean visas. American and English visas. Our founder, Sophia Swire, attempted to obtain visas to England not so long ago for a few Afghans on the team and they were turned down. There are a thousand reasons to turn down Afghans – flight risk, terrorism etc. But there are a few in this group that must get to the U.S. for the launch of the jewelry collections, Suraya being one. I can understand that the UK turned down her application; theirs is a faceless, dehumanizing process where one is little more than a DOB. Character does not come into the equation, much less letters of sponsorship and the like. It has been years since I’ve needed to apply for an American visa. I only hope that it has not gone the way of the British system that gives more consideration to foreign-born terrorists running around on their own soil but won’t give the time of day to an upstanding persons that pose no threat, neither to security nor to social services.
Dear readers, can anyone help in any way to enable one or two well-vetted Afghans to visit the United States?
Then another woman, Adina Bibi Adil, joins our design team. She speaks no English so Suraya translates for her – that we are encorporating an eight-pointed star into every design. She gets to work, her head bent low, and makes not a sound for the few hours that we sit drawing around a make-shift table. At the end, she hands me her paper; She has completed not one (as was the assignment) but a suite of jewelry with such attention to detail that I want to hug her and tell her how impressed I am. I dare not touch her however as puckerface is watching closely.