Filmmaker Ram Devineni was joined by a group of four talented writers on an ECA sponsored literary tour of Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United Arab Emeritus with the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa (IWP).
“IWP organized a literary tour and dialogue among writers and poets in several countries,” says Ram. “Fiction writer Joshua Ferris, poet Bob Holman, playwright Nathalie Handal, and reporter Eliza Griswold and I were asked to give workshops and share our expertise with students interested in the literary arts.”
Political contention caused the group to land in a tumultuous and chaotic Kathmandu, Nepal-- the site for their first film-making and poetry workshop.
“There was turmoil in the city of Kathmandu because the Maoist rebels had broken their agreement with the national government,” recalls Ram. “I did not feel threatened, however, because the fighting was mostly symbolic. Buses were being burned but there was no physical violence. We conducted our workshops as planned and the students who came to our events really took a lot from what we were teaching despite everything that was going on.”
The conflicts did not end in Kathmandu but continued when the group reached their next destination of Karachi, Pakistan.
“We landed in Karachi and began the workshop programs in the face of the unrest,” says Ram. “The next day, while at the hotel, CNN announced that Bin Laden had been killed. Once that happened the embassy went in lock down mode and a lot of our events were cancelled.”
“Later that week we participated in a panel discussion with American and Pakistani reporters. We talked about ethics and the writing process and everything that writers have to deal with. It was interesting to see people from other countries talk about the details of working in the industry. We realized more similarities than differences. We even talked about the whole mundane and difficult process of writing a book.”
Even with the death of Bin Laden and the political unrest that surrounded the team of literary artists, students, teachers and citizens hungry to learn and engage with the group encouraged them to go on. The literary tour continued to Dubai and later concluded in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“I thought this was an amazing experience,” says Ram. “It’s rare for Afghan’s to have foreigners that are non-military and non-political come and conduct an exchange with them so they were quite appreciative. Every workshop during the trip was a big success.”
“Living in the United States you get a narrow, slanted view of what’s going on in Afghanistan. The truth is, there is a lot of energy and enthusiasm in that country. People want to rebuild their lives and their countries. They want to engage with the outside world; with other poets and writers and students.”
“It’s tough but the people we met were all enthusiastic about staying there and rebuilding their country. The people are trying to raise their families, empower themselves and live honest and decent lives.”