The heartfelt new one-act play from Nushin Arbabzadah debuts as part of “Sahar Speaks: Voices of Women from Afghanistan” today at the Wex
Unlike the young woman at the center of Nushin Arbabzadah’s new one-act play, “Dust Allergy,” who spends a year living in America before returning to her home in Afghanistan, the playwright spent decades away from the country, fleeing the war-torn land at age 12 before finally making a return visit in her 30s.
“I went back to the neighborhood I grew up in and I didn’t recognize the people,” said Arbabzadah, a professor at the University of California who will present her play alongside a new work by Alia Bano as part of “Sahar Speaks: Voices of Women from Afghanistan,” which premieres at the Wexner Center today, Oct. 7. “I think that’s how people respond to conflict. They withdraw and become much more rigid and conservative. … It was also more peaceful and at the same time more dangerous than when I lived there. More dangerous because we had suicide attacks, which we didn’t have when I was growing up. We had rocket attacks and bombs, but not suicide attacks, which are tricky because anyone can be a bomber. When you live in an environment where you can die anytime, you experience life very, very intensely.”
While Arbabzadah’s experiences differed greatly from the central character in her new play, she was able to draw on her experiences living abroad, and the ways that time and distance from one’s homeland can shape a person in unexpected ways — particularly when moving from a more communal, traditional society like the one in Afghanistan to the United States, which Arbabzadah said stresses individuality and encourages young people to speak up. “I was interested in how we can reconcile these two value systems,” she said.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Both plays being presented at the Wex were adapted from stories collected through Sahar Speaks, an organization that provides training, mentoring and publishing opportunities for Afghan female reporters. Arbabzadah said she was selected to take part in the collaboration because her previous play, “Afghan Girls Don’t Cry,” explored similar culture clash themes as the Sahar Speaks reports from which “Dust Allergy” is adapted.
“I read about what it was like for the girls to go back [to Afghanistan after living abroad] and how hard it was to adjust,” she said. “One story that struck me was when the person in question couldn’t even leave her home for weeks, and that became the catalyst for the beginning moment of the play.”
Rather than letting the current political climate weigh down the material, however, Arbabzadah wanted to introduce a bit of light into “Dust Allergy.”
“I appreciate that culture is critical and sort of raises awareness, but at the same time we also need the opposite. We need stories that bring us together,” she said. "[‘Afghan Girls Don’t Cry’] is a much more complex play. This one, I deliberately wanted it to be reconciliatory and even a little bit lighthearted. … That’s why I thought I’d give it a happy ending.”