“In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know. I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment.” Omid Safi, The Disease of Being Busy
How is Your Heart is a story about my personal journey from heart break, to tender-heartedness to healing. When I climbed aboard the plane to Egypt in December of 2014 I was heartbroken. The weight of conducting trainings and coaching sessions as a racial equity consultant, while bearing witness to the death of black men and women at the hands of a society that condoned and even mandated their demise, left me weary and heartsick. Feeling scorned by one’s own land, like Baldwin, Baker and many other African American artists, I sought solace in another.
But then the brother said, “We are connected through struggle.” While waiting for a show to start in Cairo, I chatted with a man who inquired about the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri. He reminded me that the struggle to resist tyranny of all kinds was a global one. We are not alone, but united in our demand for freedom. And like a deep cleansing breath, those words allowed my heart to once again become tender and open. Then I stepped inside of the Egyptian Center for Culture and Art and felt the beat of the Zar delivered by the Mazaher Ensemble. I was healed.
So this piece, How is Your Heart? Kayf Haalik? is about the transitions of a woman’s heart as she deals with the violent death of women in her world. The piece begins with the calling of 27 names of women who were murdered by state sponsored violence and social acceptance of their plight. There is grief and anguish as she realizes the loss of sisters, mothers, friends and other women around her. Then her heart rages and then finally breaks as she protest the tragedy of their deaths, through a sax taqsim (a melodic musical improvisation) called Bint Beladi.
And finally, there is healing as she does a trance dance with Arousa, the bride in a Zar. Through it she is restored to the fullness of her own humanity. The Zar is a North African ritual used primarily by women to gain relief from spirits through rhythmic movements. The Sudanese Zar referenced in this performance calls on Arousa (the bride doll) is followed by women playing a daf (a kind of drum.)
The Zar section is of special importance to me because it is my firm belief that there is no real revolution without healing. It means that at every opportunity we sincerely ask each other How is Your Heart? Kayf Haalik? We care. We take action to address any harm done. Social change and racial justice is temporary without healed hearts. So we must ask each other, “How is your heart?” and respond with compassion, wisdom and just action.
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