Shortly after I started interacting with my student Muhammad Qasem Jami last October, I was flooded by friend requests from Herat on Facebook. As precaution, I would verify the connections the person had with Jami before accepting him/her as friend. That’s how I met Asef Majidi, who was working at Sakena Yacoobi’s NGO, Afghan Institute of Learning. Whereas Jami and my conversations revolved around culture, history, poetry, peace and literature, Asef and I discussed fashion, business and economics.
When I learned Jami’s sister, Fariha, is a graphic designer, I shared with him some of my artwork. We discussed our love for horses and I made a painting of Buzkashi, the Afghan national sport where rival groups of riders race each other to grab the carcass of a goat and then charge with the carcass to the goalpost. I posted the painting on Facebook and people loved it. “Nice painting,” Asef wrote. “Thanks, Asef,” I replied. “Well, there is someone in my family who paints as well. You should see her paintings,” he suggested and sent me a link to Rahel Majidi’s page. I browsed through her watercolours: Women’s portraits, birds, European countrysides, townscapes and Buzkashi. I sent her a friend request.
It would take another seven months before Rahela would accept me as her friend. Jami and I would have finished two courses at Pax Populi Academy and Asef would have moved to California to pursue his studies in business. I persuaded Asef to introduce me to Rahela. “What? I thought you guys were friends already. I’ll write to her,” he said.
That’s how I met Rahela, a 27-year-old, who was born in Herat and spent a decade in Iran till the fall of the Taliban regime when her family moved back to Afghanistan in 2002. She moved to Maryland, USA, last year. “I loved painting since I was a little kid. The beauty of nature motivates me and gives me the feeling to express myself. I enjoy creating something from nothing. It is satisfying and makes me feel good,” she wrote to me. While she did oil painting a few years ago she now prefers to use watercolors. Why did she paint ‘Buzkashi’? “I love my country and my culture. Buzkashi is a national sport in Afghanistan and it has been for many years. By painting it I want to represent a part of my culture to the world.”
When I told Rahela that I would like to write about her and feature her painting on the Pax Populi blog, she requested, “I am working on another one on Buzkashi. Will you wait for it to be completed? Just a couple of days.” “Sure,” I said. A day later, she shared her new painting with me. I loved it.
This is a story of how connections grow through Pax Populi. While you do teach one student at a time, that person is a gateway to a whole new set of people and their stories.