Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Definitional Ceremonies as Rituals of Hospitality: A Project by Abdul Shirzai, Shakila Yari, Badam Zazai, Jahangir Safi, Niaz Mohamed Miyasahib and Sarah Strauven

Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Definitional Ceremonies as Rituals of Hospitality: A Project by Abdul Shirzai, Shakila Yari, Badam Zazai, Jahangir Safi, Niaz Mohamed Miyasahib and Sarah Strauven

Article excerpt

When we challenge the status quo, we embark on an unknown journey

'It hurts me to see my people struggling ... in Afghanistan and here, in Belgium. It never seems to stop. Why is this so? It can't be our destiny to suffer like this. I stay awake at night trying to figure out what I can do. Surely, Sarah, there must be something I can do ...' (Abdul Shirzai, project member)

In 2009, I met Abdul Shirzai in the reception centre I was working in. He had fled his home country, Afghanistan, and had applied for asylum in Belgium. More than a year later, in 2010, he was recognised as a political refugee and he was granted permanent residence. Abdul stayed in touch and gradually a friendship evolved. In our conversations, we often talked about the problems Afghan people were facing, both in Afghanistan but especially in Belgium. He explained to me that many of the Afghan refugees had lost their bearings. We were joined in our indignation of the suffering and social injustices we were witnessing. We questioned the status quo but, more importantly, we were united in our determination to challenge it. We soon understood that we embarked on a journey which we didn't know where it would lead us. This collective project was sparked by Abdul's sleepless nights in which his heart was aching, refusing to accept the state of affairs and dreaming awake of a better world for Afghans.

Our contribution to restoring grace, justice, and beauty to the world

This project is carried out entirely voluntarily, which means nobody is paid and every aspect is done in our free time. It was friendship that brought us together in this project but, as one of the Afghan project members pointed out, it was sustained by shared hopes and dreams.

The project was guided by questions such as:

* How can we shape our lives in a new society in a way that is respectful to our past and that opens our heart and mind to new experiences so we can feel both connected to the past, the present, and the future?

* We come from a country that has been in war for 35 years. The world looks at us bewildered because the media presented to the world a wrong image of us. How can we show them that we are not who they think we are, that we are not the people the media made us?

* How can we enable connections between Afghan and Belgian people? We live side by side now, our futures are joined, is there a way to get to know each other better, to understand our differences and to support each other along the way?

We would like to think our project could be located in what Hawken (2007) describes as the largest social movement in history, a bottom-up global humanitarian movement. In its three basic forms - environmental activism, social justice initiatives, and indigenous cultures' resistance to globalisation - Hawken met individuals willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in an attempt to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. In applying the metaphor of an organism to humankind, he suggests a collective movement that could protect, repair, and restore that organism's capacity to endure when threatened:

Healing the wounds of the earth and its people does not require saintliness or a political party, only gumption and persistence. It is not a liberal or conservative activity; it's a sacred act. It is a massive enterprise undertaken by ordinary citizens everywhere, not by self-appointed governments or oligarchies. (Hawken, 2007, p. 5)

We are filled with hope when we imagine our small and local project could be part of 'humanity's immune response'. As friends, as citizens, we hope to prevent additional harm and then heal and restore the damage in our own local communities. Like Hawken (2007) states, we are not trying to save the world; through our actions we are reimagining it.

This reimagining can be clearly found in the hopes and intentions of the project members. These were not about 'healing or fixing' people, but they were directed at finding bearings in the storm and addressing the social, historical, and political context in creating, perpetuating, and oxygenating these storms. …

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