This is the second part of the article I wrote on the whole Circle process, which can be read here. However, in this post, I will be discussing the Circle I facilitated about two weeks ago, and how wonderful and enlightening of an experience it was.
Planning and Preparing the Circle
When my professors (my class was actually taught by not only one but two professors) initially informed us about Circles and how we had to, at some point during the semester, plan and facilitate our very own Circle, I was quite nervous. And after we conducted the Circle training (about a month ago), I got even more nervous and anxious! Fortunately, my professors were very flexible about what type of Circle we wanted to conduct as well as the topic we wanted to focus on; so I, being a strong advocate of Pashtuns, especially women, decided to do my Circle with a group of Pashtun women in my community.
Initially, I wanted to do my Circle with about eight to 10 women, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I ended up with five women, including myself, which actually ended up being great; because I realized that the smaller the group, the more we were able to talk for as long as we wanted (bearing guidelines and values in mind). This allowed us to take more than one turn with the talking piece and share as much detail as possible pertaining to the questions and issues addressed.
The women who were involved in my Circle were women that I knew quite well personally, and actually consider them my close friends. I admit I was quite anxious to see how the Circle would pan out; especially considering that none of the four Pashtun women in my Circle had ever done something like this before. Fortunately, I had already done the Circle training, so I knew what the process entailed, and because I was acting as the Keeper of the Circle, the pressure was on to make it as smooth and comfortable, for everyone involved, as possible. No doubt the Circle process is quite a unique experience and I came to realize soon enough that the women were just as nervous as I was about the whole thing.
I decided to conduct the Circle at my home, on a Friday evening, because it seemed to work out the best in everyone’s schedule. I’d also ordered food – Afghan/Pashtun food in particular – as well as other snacks and sweets. I learned that before starting any Circle, it’s important to get acquainted through delicious sustenance. And, although our situation was slightly different, for we all already knew each other personally, food is always a great way to break the ice and create a rather fun and safe atmosphere, where people could socialize and mingle; hence feeling more comfortable and at ease.
For my centerpiece, I decided to use a beautiful Afghan rug and placed on top of it were incense candles, Pashtun-style bangles and jewellery, a collection of poems by the great Ghani Khan (a very famous Pashtun poet and artist), a beautiful marble stone, a little ship made completely out of shells (that I bought on my Pakistan trip last year), and a little Dervish statue that my sis-in-law got me when she went to Turkey last year. I felt the items on the centerpiece were quite relevant to the theme of the Circle as it encompassed almost everything that related to Pashtuns, and especially to all of us as women.
For the talking piece, I decided to use the beautiful marble stone, mainly because it felt nice and smooth, and fit perfectly in the palm of our hands.
I opened the Circle with a poem I wrote called “Sleeping Lions,” which was inspired by the late Afghan revolutionary, Mena Keshwar Kamal.
The poem reads as follows:
O’ flowers of Pakhtunkhwa
Let loose your silken hair
So that the sun may cast her glow
Upon your ever dancing curls
Unveil your expressive eyes
From the remnants of your blue cloth
And paint them black with kohl
Paint also your mouth, a deep, deep red
And apply blush to your agile cheeks
So that they will redden,
Like the brush of a lover’s passion
Oh! Do not shy away
For beautifying yourself is not a sin,
Nor your birth a crime
So why lock yourselves in cages of cloth?
Discard those odious blue garments
Spit on them,
And then burn them
For your womanhood will no longer be hidden
In the bounds of man-made malevolence
Let the torrential rains wash away
All these scars of yesternight
For today, you are reborn
Into the bold and graceful woman,
That you were meant to become
Unleash your censored forte
And let the venom of rebellion
Seep through every thought, every action, every word
For silence will no longer be your sanctuary
You are like a sleeping lioness
That, once awoken,
Will play a wonderful role
In every social revolution…
Roar, roar against those who try to oppress you
And let your voices be heard,
Echoing through the great mountains of Kalaam,
It shall be ingrained into the minds of those
Who scorn you!
Let it be known,
That you are a champion among champions!
A brave warrior – a woman!
Whose soulful aura,
Is like a raging tempest
Waiting in the wings of tranquility,
Feed it, nurture it, and then unleash your ire
Sighs would heave, the unbidden tear would flow;
Until all the waters in Kaghan Valley are calm again
You have awoken;
Awoken from a deep and agonizing slumber at long last
– It’s time
After the opening ceremony, I made sure the women in the Circle were well aware of the standard values and guidelines required; these included respect, understanding, open-mindedness, objectivity — just to name a few — as well as explained the purpose of the talking piece. I was not surprised that the women were not aware of how the talking piece, in particular, was utilized. I guess it’s maybe because they were expecting to be involved in a discussion, but when I reminded them that they may only speak if they held the talking piece, it was nice that the women understood and managed to comply with the guidelines and values.
For guiding questions, I decided to ask about four in total (given the time constraints). They were:
- What brought you here? (I asked this question in such a way that “here” could be interpreted any way possible.)
- What empowers you as a Pashtun women living in the West? (Is there anything that disempowers you? For it’s not necessary that just because these Pashtun women are living in the West that they are empowered; there could be forces that are hindering their empowerment as well.)
- Who is that one person that has influenced you (in a positive or negative way)?
- What is one thing/item that you possess that holds special value for you?
And, finally, for the closing ceremony, I played by a song/poem written by the late Ajmal Khattak – a very prominent and famous Pashtun poet, titled, “Da Loyo Loyo Qudratuna Raba.” Here is the English translation of the beautiful song, originally sung in Pashto:
O’ the Lord of great bounties
May a wish of mine be listened
May I smoulder myself in the name of Your foggy evening
May one’s heart burning into smokes, be seen
In the name of Your violent gales and storms, I have a sigh to send
In the name of Your wavy rivers
My eyes filled with tears, and I want to shed them
May it not become a sin to open lips (speak something)
May one’s cry not exclude one from the sphere of Your religion
May I sacrifice myself in the name of the bounties of Your paradise
I am crying for the hungry fellows of THIS world
May I be protected from the scorpions of Your hell
I am crying of the scorpions of this world of mine
Here, we are dying of hunger
And there we will be the fuel of Your hell
Here, we are the food of these butchers
And there we will be the food of those hell’s snakes
Neither we could dare to commit sins, nor could we wash away our sins…
Reflection, Experience, and Lessons Learned
I feel extremely grateful to have gotten the chance to plan and facilitate my very own Circle. Indeed the Circle experience was quite enlightening and humbling. Even though I went into it feeling rather nervous and uncertain, I am happy to say that I came out of it feeling hopeful and rejuvenated, for it was even better than I had expected.
The Pashtun women in my Circle also felt at ease as the Circle progressed, when initially I could sense their reluctance, especially when I started asking questions related to “empowerment/disempowerment.” However, it was nice when one of the women in the Circle broke the ice by talking about her personal life, going as far back to her childhood, and the problems and issues she faced while growing up. This created a domino effect, which thus allowed other women to also open up and share stories and experiences that they otherwise would not have discussed, had that one woman not broken the ice.
As I mentioned earlier, even though I’ve known these women for a while and consider them to be my very close friends, I suddenly saw myself realizing things about them that I did not know about before. It was as if I was suddenly getting to know them for the very first time. The themes that were most prominent among the four women (excluding myself) were that of child abuse, sexual abuse, spousal abuse, divorce, patriarchy, and oppression. And despite their living in the West, there were still instances where some of the women felt disempowered, especially through the men in their lives.
Hence, there was a lot of personal story-telling that elicited a lot of deep emotions and sentiments. I couldn’t believe that I’d known some of these women for as long as four or five years, and yet, that night I discovered things about them that I never expected to learn. Thus, many tears were shed, for as they told me their stories, I felt like I was a part of it too. A deep sense of connection and empathy was established, and suddenly I felt as close to them as I’d ever felt before. It was almost a soulful connection – a feeling that I will never forget for as long as I live. It was indeed powerful and extremely therapeutic.
Despite the smoothness of the whole Circle, there was however instances where, due to strong emotions, a couple of the women tried to speak to the person (who was telling her story). This happened only a couple times. So, when I finally got the talking piece, I had to kindly remind them about the guidelines and values, and how persons may only speak if they held the talking piece. Besides that little blemish, the Circle was an amazing and incredible experience, and after it was over, we all hugged each other and decided that we would do it again, and perhaps even in a much larger group setting of Pashtun women.
The women also knew that what was said in the Circle stays in the Circle, and that nothing that was discussed so deeply, openly and passionately will ever be discussed outside of the Circle, unless, of course, I keep the women anonymous.
I look forward to more Circles in the future, and also plan to try it with the group of Pashtun women I’ll be interviewing for my thesis, when I go to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, in a few months.
I can hardly wait.