Afghanistan, coming to a stage near you

If you live in London, where there’s a series of plays on about Afghanistan over the last 150 years.

It looks interesting. (One day I’ll learn how to embed videos here. Once I’ve learnt all about remote satellite imagining, Digital Elevation Models and the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission – my pet project of the moment.)

The thing that caught my eye was the play about aid workers (a thing that caught my eye last year as well with the wonderfully titled play ‘Think Global, Fuck Local’) and this from the Guardian:

[Playwright Richard Bean’s] Afghanistan play, On the Side of the Angels, part of the Great Game season examining the country’s history from 1842 to the present, looks set to be similarly uncompromising in its challenge to conventional liberal values. The play examines the role of western NGOs in Afghanistan. It is, he says, “about the cultural imperialism debate. What are we doing there? Are we interested in democracy or should aid workers simply be trying to raise living standards? Most people in the west would like to see NGOs building girls’ schools and encouraging women’s rights, whereas these are exactly the projects to attract the ire of the Taliban and local warlords.”

The central problem of the short play concerns a dispute between rival Afghan families. A solution is brokered by a western NGO worker – but at the price of a 10-year-old girl being married off to a 50-year-old man. Nicolas Kent, artistic director of the Tricycle, says: “It takes, shall we say, a fairly acerbic view of NGOs and their policies.”

Now I’m all up for acerbic views of NGOs and welcome anything that takes the gloss off aid work to engage in serious debate, and hope this play actually does so. But a western NGO worker actually out in a village negotiating a solution? Nah, that’s just silly. They’d be sat behind a desk demanding photos of the wedding from an Afghan to send to their donor.

Alas, I won’t be able to go along and make snide remarks about how ‘I lived in Afghanistan for two years, actually, and you know, well err, really, I don’t think your portrayal of the country really does justice to the complexities of the situation, you know?’


3 Responses to “Afghanistan, coming to a stage near you”

  1. Marianne Says:

    Oi – you know how I liked to go about in villages actually poking my uninformed nose in to people’s business. This story sounds like exactly the sort of mess I could have created with my “peace-building, conflict-resolution” work in Ghor.

  2. harryrud Says:

    My bad. Though I was meaning NGO bureaucrats and not UN human rights workers such as yourself who, shockingly, go out and do stuff.

  3. Scott Bohlinger Says:

    Could this be the beginning of a aid culture getting reflexive with both itself and the wider world? Aid has to be demystified to those folks paying their tax dollars for us, though I don’t think it will do much about the dual-accountability paradox. It might also be as a kind of training video to get aid workers to take a look at themselves; aside from the realists like yourself and hopefully me there’s this whole spectrum from zealous to space cadet.

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