18 Mar, 2011

visiting NY

Sehba Sarwar
18 Mar, 2011

It’s been a few years since I’ve spent time in New York. This time, I am here to participate in a panel and give a reading / screening at a conversation set up by Bronx Community College (BCC) faculty member and my friend Dr. Sandra Tarlin, who used to live and work in Houston and was very involved with Voices Breaking Boundaries. Sandra has created a panel of women from neighboring countries(Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) to talk with BCC students about the work we do with women in and about our homelands.

In the morning, as I walk into BCC’s Center for Teaching Excellence, I feel as if I am home. The stairs are old, hollow and as we descend to the lowest level, I see the bulletin board with new posters mixed with older announcements. At an informal lunch gathering, I screen Yunuen’s documentary about VBB’s living room art project, and visit with BCC faculty. We end the energized conversation with ideas to expand VBB living room art productions to explore neighborhood in the Bronx.

Later on in the afternoon, I join in with Shayma Daneshjo (UNICEF), Dr. Elhum Haghighat-Sordellini, (Lehman College), Dr. Vrunda Prabhu (BCC), and Dr. Farnosh Saeedi (BCC) to a packed auditorium filled with students from all backgrounds. With the conversation moving from Iran to Afghanistan, India and then into Pakistan, there is no shortage of materials to cover. The students sit through two hours of presentation and conversation and remain till late after the formal presentations and question and answer session is over to visit with each of us.

Some of the moments that I remember from my trip: the intense conversation with three young Pakistani women and a Palestinian man who talk to me about borders and identity and issues they confront in their daily lives after viewing my short video collage Why Are You Looking At Me Like That?; my exchange with student and performance artist Nirvana, who shares a poem with me and wants to remain in touch to talk about writing and performance; my visit with Sandra, who I hadn’t seen in more than seven years and with whom I share much artistic and activist history; the rich conversation with the panelists and the students about the challenges that women confront in the region that we discussed as well as those faced on a daily basis in the Bronx; and my airport ride with BCC English faculty member H. Elizabeth Smith, who has her father buried in the Rawalpindi graveyard and a mother who is now in Baltimore but yearns to return to Pakistan. There is an energy and pulse to the overall experience of being on that campus, which leads me to think that I will be back there again.

And with all the action on the BCC campus, I still manage to spend quality time with college friend Sophie, who picks me up from Newark, introduces me to her Jordanian friend Lara, and we hang out together at a fabulous Italian seafood restaurant on Lexington, reliving our young college days on that island. I even manage to meet up with my cousin Asif who takes a stopover in Manhattan so he and I can hang out for a night and walk from Soho to Times Square in memory of old times.

There are no such things as coincidences, says a college friend Nema, who I will see in Houston. I am glad that though my trip is short—and intense—that I still have time to enjoy friends and family.