“Do you know how to play Justin Bieber songs?”
In 43 days of travel throughout Central and South Asia, this was the question we got asked the most. In case you were wondering, the answer is no. Della Mae, the all female bluegrass band I perform with plays traditional and original americana, roots, indie and bluegrass. We were chosen along with 12 other bands to represent the United States in a program called American Music Abroad. In six weeks we traveled from Pakistan to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Most of these places I had not given a second (or really a first) thought to in my entire life. Everything I knew was based on news stories of violence in Pakistan or gross hilarity in the film “Borat”. So, you might say I was terribly uneducated.
Our mission while abroad was to teach workshops in schools, collaborate with local musicians, partake in community outreach and perform concerts for the general populous. In return we would receive a lifetimes worth of education in shared humanity. Instead of talking politics we played music and within that music was the emotional language that we all speak. I think of it as building many small bridges, as opposed to a few politicians hammering away at one large complicated bridge.
In the weeks of reflection since I've been home, I find I keep going back to the children. While in Pakistan we were able to work with a program called “Lettuce Be Kids”. LBK is designed to give street children a place to be a kid for just a moment. They create art, play music, eat a meal and sometimes get a bath. These children are mostly Afgani refugees, picking recyclables off the street for less than a dollar a day. We met the group in a park, played music for them and coaxed the bravest ones into touching and even strumming our instruments. Amazingly, the little girls, who normally shrink away from visitors stayed in the circle while the boys drifted away in small groups. When our interpreter told them we thought they were beautiful, they hid their heads beneath their shawls and giggled. My heart still aches for these children. They sat and sang “This Little Light of Mine” with expressions of rapt interest. You could tell that they desired to learn and love and be loved back.
When people ask about the trip I look at them with an expression that says “How much time do you have?” The experience cannot be boiled down to the two minute version. There are so many problems that we must face together, and it seems so hopeless sometimes. What I learned is that we are more alike than we could ever imagine. If you can at least hold that kernel of knowledge in your heart, you will start to see the lines between countries disappear.
Our concert at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA Wednesday Jan 23rd will benefit LBK entirely. Right now the LBK program has no permanent residence. They are working toward renting a space to turn into a wonderful area where kids can play, take a bath, receive medical help and just be a KID! Please look them up online and see for yourself how amazing these children are and consider making a donation to their cause. Anything helps!