Tuesday, September 24, 2013

You try to touch
but it’s never enough.

Love wants
on your hot breath
the icy chill of truth hanging in the air.

Friction of skin on skin
Hope unravels
between fingers made raw.

Should     should
what if

You pull the reigns
as struggle sinks you
deeper into the comfort
of your own darkness.

You’ve been here before.
I’ve been here before.

My heart cracks
in the shape of this well-worn path
above a cavern of cool air
that knows all too well

The oldest love story of all time.

You are not my mistletoe
dangling in mid air
singing sweet songs

what if
(should should)

I release you
to your tarnished mirror
while I wait

in the certainty of myself.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Bread Bellies

My mom used to make Afghan bread when I was a child. My family consumed a lot of bread, especially my dad, who seemed unable to eat regular food without the accompaniment of a bread basket. We certainly broke all the rules of the now-popular low-carb diet. My dad, always inventing building projects, often talked about how he could build a tandoor oven in the yard, and was delighted with the advent of wood fired pizzas, marveling at the hot oven fire at the restaurants, exclaiming, “This is exactly how they made bread in Afghanistan!” I don't know if my mom made bread because my dad asked her to, or if she would have anyway. She often recalls how she was "so good" back in those days, and how she did lots of things she doesn't do anymore, as if the day she stopped baking bread marks a moment of melancholy independence.

She always used whole-wheat flour instead of white. (I later discovered, on a trip to Afghanistan, that the bread seemed to be made with white flour). I would watch her make the dough in a large metal bowl measuring two feet in diameter. Maybe this is why I tend to cook in large quantities even though I'm often only cooking for one or two. She would sprinkle the wooden cutting board with brown flour. The sound of her hand wiping across the floured board always pleased my ears and my OCD tendencies of wanting everything to be even and balanced. When I make pie, on those rare occasions, I always enjoy spreading my own flour and watching it sink evenly into the pores of the wood.

She kneaded the elastic dough under her strong hands. You see, even though my mom was beautiful, she was no prissy woman. She mowed the lawn (two lots on a hilly slope, which by city standards was more like four lots) and did all the household chores.

My favorite part of the bread making process was when she would separate the dough into separate balls that would sink into the wooden board as soft mounds. Then, she would take her pinky and poke each mound in the center so each looked like a little belly. I'm really not sure what the purpose of the belly button was – if they were a result of counting the loaves, or if they served another function. But, in my weird little mind those little bellies were very exciting (and still are). After she left the dough to rise, she would roll each mound out into a long oval shape, squishing the belly with the weight of her rolling pin. Dipping her fingers in water, she then pressed them into the dough from top to bottom making parallel indentations similar to the crop rows I would see in our rural town.

The oven was hot, and like a brave fire woman withstanding the heat for the good of her family, she would put loaf after loaf into the oven. They were not loaves in the traditional sense of the word, as they were flat. I always wondered why our bread was so flat and thick compared to the "French" bread we would buy from Safeway. My sister, older than I, loved hollowing out the French loaf, eating the white, soft, squishy interior with glee, leaving only the crispy exterior, much to my dismay.

At the very end of her baking session, when almost all the loaves were done, my mom would make me a small mini loaf, about the size of my grown-up hand. But before putting it in the oven she would brush it with a healthy dose of butter, explaining to me that this is what made it tasty – something her mom also did for her.

It was like a special confidential ritual – a secret – that I was allowed the buttery baby bread, unbeknownst to my sister or my dad. Who knows, maybe she did this for my sister as well and I choose not to remember. She certainly didn't do it for my dad. Even though I didn’t taste a significant difference between that buttery bread and the regular bread, I never revealed this to my mom, as this isn’t what made it tasty anyway. In that moment, I was truly special, eating my baby bread born from a dough belly, made especially for me by my mother.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Drawings with Friends: Collaboration with Chad Crowe

I'm really excited to start a new project called Drawings with Friends. I'm not sure I can even call it a "project" because it's very loose in form without many rules other than to have fun. For the first drawing, I collaborated with illustrator, Chad Crowe who has an amazing sense of humor combined with an acute sense of politics. He lives in Portland and I live in LA so scanning and printing were necessary parts of the process. This is the final result:

Drawing collaboration between Chad Crowe and Gazelle Samizay
My Little Pony, Chad Crowe and Gazelle Samizay, 2013. 
Watercolor, pen and pencil.

Conversation between Chad and Gazelle
I always have great conversations with Chad. Perhaps it's that we're both Geminis, or, that we both grew up in Pullman, WA? Whatever it is, we seem to have a particular synergy that always ends in laughter. I decided to post this Q & A between us because it explains some of the underlying meaning of the work as well as the insights we gleaned from the process.

G What should the title be? What were you thinking when you made the drawing?

C: I remember it was a bunch of sketches trying to figure out painting concepts for political and ideological paradigms. I was thinking about how our minds get educated in formats and how that shapes the structures for our worldview and opinions (socialism, fascism, capitalism, etc.). It was actually a horrible concept to try and create paintings about, as it was so large and abstract, but of course, it doesn't matter in the end as fine art is about people coming to their own conclusions, which is more interesting anyway. I had in mind people like Voltaire, Mussolini, Marx and Don Quixote, and was inspired by the Italian sculptor Marino Marini and his horses.

But I think the title could really be anything, as it's an experiment. What did you feel or think while you were working on it?

G: Oh wow, that's really cool to know the background. The background you explained makes a lot of sense with the image.

Is it a centaur? I remember really liking the centaur and thinking the little guy on top seemed so happy/light in comparison to the two-headed bull.

I was thinking about dualities and different paths, how one side can be dark, and the other is something else, but not necessarily light. Later, I really thought this centaur thing should be on clouds. When I added the clouds it transformed from something dark to a scene from a fairy tale or children's book.

C: Yeah, and you offer another perspective that makes complete sense and is intriguing to explore that I wasn't even thinking of. I notice, despite my humor and friendliness, that much of my humor and art is from a cynical perspective or source. Not that that's bad, of course, but just interesting, and you have taken it from something heavy, and maybe a little depressing, to something accessible and with some possibility of joy. 

G: I think it's really interesting that your work has that element of cynicism or darkness but is also hilarious--very interesting combo. 
It seems like this collaboration is opening up all sorts of angles.
I like all the little heads in your drawings :)

C: Thanks! Yes, many angles! If I was independently wealthy, all I would do is collaborations like this with you and other artists, as it is so fun and rewarding. Thanks for the kind words on my cynicism (that is a funny sentence!). No, I think you're right. Somehow humor is how I cope with my negative world view! But once I stop paying attention to the news, I bet I'll become optimistic again. News is bad for you.

G:  I feel like the image is less about the jockey and more about the creature. The guy is just there for the ride thinking he knows where he's going but totally unaware that he has no control. Instead of a royal horse he's riding a crazy and beautiful beast with lots of little heads.

Maybe it should be called "my little pony." This title might get at the idea of a dream/ideal vision (as represented by a pony) that in fact is very complicated, irrational and hard to understand and somewhat outside of our control. The only control that is there is in our minds (as evidenced by the happy jockey).
Damn how did this all get so deep?
We're crazy...this was supposed to be a FUN project ;)
We always gotta make it dark and deep...

C: Cracking up. Jesus. Yes, My Little Pony is the way to go! I think you've really deducted the intention of this. That little bastard thinks he's in control, but is along for the ride wherever that bestial thing is going to take him. He's a prisoner to this culture clydesdale that's going to go tromping all about making doing what it wants.

G: Ok, so have we settled on My Little Pony as the title?
I don't think "Our" [Little Pony] is necessary, as we all can agree My Little Pony is part of our collective consciousness.
How's that for some academic bull speak!?

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Forfeit

I played
your silly games
following rules
I never wrote.

Swept up
diving in
my heels burrowing into the soft ground

yet guided by your flock
sinking and gulping for air
Your sweet perfume
a foul stench.

You looked out for me
through the openings of your mask
twisting truths
like needles in my sides.

You said

I cannot do myself justice.

I am
my own justice
Like a ripple in the pond
the reflection forcing its way to you.

I gave you
the benefit of the doubt

But I forfeit
this exercise in hypocrisy
encircling me in lines
I never drew.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

I opened my arms
and the stars of the universe
came rushing in

igniting my heart

yet unable to dry
the cool blue waters
from our palace of dreams.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I broke up
and in my heart of sadness
Love could not find its way
tangled in a confusion of
fury, sadness and want

Shrouded by fear, clinging
knowingly yet blindly
to its false reflection hope.

Sweep the fractured glass
granules of sand

My spirit is free

So that it may greet you
In the middle of the ocean
the salt of my tears feeding its vastness
Entwined in the rapture of your love.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Red, Red Milk....

The other day my relatives were talking about “Sheer’e surkh” or Red Milk. ‘Red Milk?’ I asked. They started laughing, reminded of the ridiculous ironies of this country. “Red Milk” is actually wine imported from Italy. But instead of coming in a traditional wine bottle, it comes in a milk carton. They suspect that this makes it easier for it to be imported into the country, as the import and sale of alcohol is illegal in Afghanistan. A year ago stores were full of every type of alcohol you could imagine, but then religious constituents were angry and in order for the government to appear like it is religious, they banned the sale of alcohol. After all, this is the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. All this really means is that alcohol is still available, there are just code names for it like “red milk” or “medicine,” and it is sold at VERY high prices. I think it is permitted for foreigners to drink alcohol here, as they have it in all the foreign-geared restaurants. Apparently there is a Lebanese and Mexican restaurant in Kabul, among other ethnic cuisines. The food is about 20 USD a plate, or 1000 Afghanis. (The average Afghan makes $50 USD per month while the rent for a 3-bedroom apt. in the worst part of town without electricity is $210 USD/month!)

As you might already know, I have been sick for the past few days, and I kept having to delay my trip to Herat. Finally on Saturday I was well enough to go. The problem was my previous ticket was cancelled and I had to find a new ticket. So my cousin Mustafa and my cousin’s husband Emal took me to see if we could find a ticket. You can’t buy any tickets from the airport directly because they won’t let you close to the airport unless you have an airplane ticket for security reasons. I was a bit nervous because it was 8 am and the flight usually leaves at 11 am and I still didn’t have a ticket. First we drove to the Kam air office, but their flight had left at 7 am. Then we drove to Ariana. Mustafa asked the man at their office and he said they had a flight at 10 am but it was already booked. But no doesn’t mean no here. He called my uncle to get some advice and my uncle told him to mention a particular person’s name. Mustafa went back in there and “name-dropped” and the same man that said the tickets were sold-out issued a ticket on the spot. As I’ve heard so many times here, “This is Afghanistan.” It’s all about who you know, who’s cousin you are, who your dad is, etc etc. Of course money doesn’t hurt either. If you’re willing to pay double, all of a sudden things start to happen.

So we got a ticket and headed to the airport which has two outer parking lots. Before entering the first parking lot you have to be searched. I entered the search room which is for women exclusively and recognized the woman that had searched me when I was here in October. She was the one that was super sweet and took pictures with us. I asked her if she recognized me and she said yes and I apologized for not bringing her the pictures. Last time she asked that I print the pictures we took and give them to her. I didn’t think I would be back here so soon and that I would also run into her again so I didn’t. Plus my sister has them. So she will have to print them for next time.

After being searched we were allowed in the first parking lot. As we waited outside in the first parking lot, Emal entertained me with stories about the Taliban. I don’t know if “entertain” is the right word, or “disgusted” or “shocked” is better. He told me that under the Taliban women weren’t even allowed to show their fingernails. I wouldn’t have been able to go outside with what I was wearing that day which was a long baggy top, baggy pants and scarf. At that time he was a taxi driver and one day while he was waiting in the car he saw a young girl walking with a burqa on. She scratched her side which raised her burqa by an inch, revealing her foot. A nearby Talib saw this and in order to punish her for her “indecency” he took a piece of wood which was wrapped in chain and started beating her on the street. The girl started crying and screaming at the top of her lungs, but it didn’t make a difference. The Talib kept beating her until she was forced to crawl under a car to escape him. Emal said that day he cried. He looked all around him and all the men that were watching cried because they knew they couldn’t do anything about it.

Emal also described the Taliban’s “jails.” One of the drivers that currently works for my dad had been captured and locked up by the Taliban because he was from Panjshir and was not Pashtun. When the Taliban locked people up they stuck them in metal shipping containers about 10’x10’ with about 20 other people. If you died in there, you died, and if you came out alive you came out alive. But the containers were under the hot sun with no windows and no bathrooms. The driver said that if it had been even 5 more minutes when he got out he would have been dead.

After about an hour of story telling I was finally allowed through the gate. As I mentioned only people with tickets are allowed to pass through. My cousin Mustafa had an old baggage claim ticket that he used to pass through. Since lost luggage is so common here, people often have to come back to pick up their lost luggage using their claim ticket. I was glad Mustafa was with me keeping me company because we sat in the next parking lot for another hour or two. I started to feel sick from the heat. By this point it was well past the scheduled departure time of the flight. I’m discovering flights rarely fly on time here. Sometimes they fly and sometimes they don’t. Here there is a lot of waiting and uncertainty.

Next I was allowed into the airport and Mustafa and I parted ways. Since I am a woman they let me go to the front of the line. Everyone was pretty nice, showing me where to go. I was searched again by the tall woman that had searched my sister last time. She was really mean I remember and wanted to give her a piece of my mind on behalf of my sister but thankfully I’m not so stupid. She seemed to be in a better mood today. She’s very tall and intimidating with short hair and black eyeliner.

Next I entered the waiting room. Near the “gate” door (there aren’t gates here, you just walk on the tarmac) there was a section reserved for women. However, it was already filled with men so I took a seat at the edge of an empty row a few rows back. After I sat down I noticed a family in another row and wondered if I should sit with them, but out of principal I didn’t. I should sit wherever I like and men should learn how to mind their own business.
We finally boarded the plane and the steward was trying to seat everyone in their assigned seats but by the end he threw his hands up in the air. Everyone wanted to pick their own seats and everything was getting confused. I noticed 3 women wearing burqas scoot up the aisle. Damn, I thought. As if a plane is not claustrophobic and hot as it is.

Next to me a small skinny man in a suit started talking to me. He works for the environmental protection agency in Herat. Basically they try to protect any forests that have survived the war. I found out that he was an English major and he would ask me questions in English and I would respond in Farsi. Finally, he said, I’m trying to practice my English but you’ll only respond in Farsi. I said, yah, cause I’m trying to practice my Farsi! Finally I spoke English with him. The man sitting on the other side of him was kind of shy, maybe because I was a woman. Finally he warmed up and by the end of the flight he gave me his biscuits that the flight had provided insisting I should take them since I was a traveler.