By Joseph Marcello, THE RECORDER
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
(Published in print: Thursday, May 22, 2014)
“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
— Desmond Tutu
If there’s any true hope for planet earth to move beyond the tribal chauvinism and the divisionalism that have, for millennia, given birth to the mistrust, strife and — at the extreme — massive genocide, it is in the connection of human spirits, one with another, across cultural boundaries.
Most of us have, at one blessed time or another, had this experience. It often has the quality of a waking dream, in that one suddenly discovers deep and abiding affinities among strangers: perhaps a shared concern for the fate of the race beyond narrow agendas, perhaps surprisingly prescient insights that possess genuine wisdom. Sometimes it is the “little things,” the first-hand witnessing of their humanness, the anguish or humor in their voice as they speak to us, the flash of fear in their faces as they gaze upon us, betokening a vulnerability one would somehow not have been willing to grant them in one’s mistrustful imaginings.
This phenomenon of sharing and bonding is where and when the doors of the heart opens and true trust is born. Indeed, if I were to dare to improve upon the work of the original scribe of Genesis, I might risk: “In the beginning, there was trust, and trust was with God ... and trust was God.”
But, why all the sermonizing, one may ask? It is inspired by a most unusual endeavor that on its surface is seemingly superficial but, upon closer examination, turns out to be worthy, oh so worthy.
On Saturday, May 31, at 8 p.m., there’s going to be a fundrasing masquerade ball (yes, a masquerade ball) at the Stone Church at 210 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt., for the purpose of creating an original musical score for “Dates for Coffee.” Once through the portals — which open at 7 p.m. — all within will be treated to a just-wrapped trailer for the forthcoming independent film, subtitled as “A Peacebuilding Documentary.” Its main thrust is the connecting of cultural root-systems and the undercutting of all the politically correct madness that passes for international relations.
Despite its serious trajectory, the evening promises to be a festive one, full of suprises, novelties and music supplied by no less than the peripatetic Hugh Keelan along with members of his Windham Orchestra. There will also be swing dancing, live auctions and raffle prizes.
The Alliance for Peacebuilding has hosted several private screenings of this opus by director Kiera Lewis. An articulate and charming young woman, Lewis spoke with me recently about her mission.
JM: Wherefrom your title, “Dates for Coffee”?
KL: Unless your already familiar with a culture, when you hear someone say something, you don’t really know if they’re coming from the same backdrop of the same context. The title refers to the fact that, for Americans, “Dates for Coffee” will usually imply going on a date for coffee to talk and hang out in a public place; and for Arabs, “Dates for Coffee” means meeting in someone’s home and inviting guests. So, it’s the idea that you can use or see the same language but that it doesn’t have the same meaning unless you the context from the person or the society is coming. And the film’s purpose is to show, through understanding the folklore of the Arab world and the U.S., we get an opportunity to understand the context from which the societies are coming and an opportunity to go for peaceful relations.
JM: Now, from the sound of your voice, you were raised in the United States.
KL: Yes, I was raised in Brattleboro.
JM: But it seems you have some connections with the Arab world?
KL: I stayed in Oman in 2010, my birth father was a Muslim and I lived with families in Oman, Palestine and in Jordan and Egypt and studied in the Middle East for eight months and then again for five months, studying folklore primarily. And, I interviewed people here in the U.S. as well as Oman, on their national stories.
JM: Was this an attempt to trace your own root system?
KL: No, I’m pretty sure that my ancestry is Japanese-Caribbean. It’s an attempt to have society tell their experience of their world.
JM: What decided you upon the Arabic world?
KL: I ended up studying there when I was 21 as an undergrad; and — there actually wasn’t a reason — it was in my dream, the word “Oman,” and I said, “You know, I don’t know anything about that place” and studied there and did an intensive Arabic program and lived with a family and just fell in love with the language and the people in Oman. And then my experiences took me to other places in the Middle East and Arabic world and I just found a strong sense of community, similar to my experiences growing up here in Vermont. And, a sense of hospitality and caring and forgiveness that I really enjoyed.
JM: So you’re saying you actually felt a similarity in your experience of life in Oman with your life in Vermont?
KL: I mean, Omanis are specifically known as the progressive country, the peaceful country; they have a really small population and a lot more land, they’re pretty reserved, but as soon as you meet someone and actually hang out with them, you’re friends for life. And, just really open, but very traditional at the same time.
JM: Then, the cliche of religious passion doesn’t inform the whole of the Arabic culture?
KL: No, it does and their expression of Islamic culture is very peaceful. It’s about forgiveness and being kind and caring. And although they may not as often see it from a religious mindset, people here think it’s important to be hospitable and to reach out to others and to be kind to everyone around them.
Suggested donations are $18 advance and $22 at the door; to reserve tickets: email@example.com orfacebook.comevents263390663845271.
Formal attire and a mask are required for admittance. An unmasking will end the evening’s festivities. For more information, call 802-275-8152.
An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.