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Arts and Culture:
Transcript: Survivors
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PING CHONG, DIRECTOR: So this is your big night tonight.


PING CHONG: My name is Ping Chong. I've been making theatre for over 30 years.

PING TO CAST: What did I say if you get nervous?

CAST: Breathe.

PING TO CAST: Breathe how?

CAST: Deep.


PING CHONG: For the last decade I've been taking real people's life experiences and bringing them to the stage.

PING TO CAST: Remember when you're talking to talk to everybody as much as you can. And I think that's about all.

PING CHONG: This past December in the suburbs of Washington D.C. I worked with children survivors of war to create an oral history performance in which they tell their own stories.


PING CHONG: Many of these children have never spoken publicly about their experiences.

FATU SANKOH: We hear screaming in the market, everybody runs.

YARVIN CUCHILLA: Do you want short sleeve or long sleeve.

FATU SANKOH: That is what the boy killer asks.

AWA NUR: If you say long sleeve they chop off your entire arm. If you say short sleeve they chop off your arm by the elbow.

FATU SANKOH: People run past me screaming with no arms.

PING CHONG: This project, Children of War, just by making this project-- and for those who will see it they will have to ask themselves what are the consequences of war.

FATU SANKOH: I can't sleep. I can't eat. I am afraid.

CAST: 1988, 1990, 1991.

DEREEN PASHA: Just as we reach the mountains helicopter begin bombing the city. If I had not left Sulaymani that day I would not be here now.

ABDUL HAKEEM PAIGIR: My father is very unhappy. He lost his job, his house and his country.

PING CHONG: It is an artistic work but it's also social work for me as well.

PING TO ABDUL: Hey Abdul. How you doing? Good to see you.

PING CHONG: The first thing I did in making this piece was to interview each child.

COURTNEY: Hi, I'm Courtney.

PING CHONG: Then I composed a script based on their interviews.

PING CHONG: Abdul and his family escaped war in Afghanistan in 2001.

PING TO ABDUL: You said that you-- the first time that you remember war in Afghanistan was when the TV station was bombed, right.


PING TO ABDUL: It was a bomb or was there a bomb and guns?

ABDUL HAKEEM PAIGIR: Bomb and guns, everything.

PING TO ABDUL: Bomb and guns. And what-- what did you feel when you saw that?


I didn't talk about this to anybody. But when I talked to Pink like when something you talk about it comes outside and you feel free a little bit. If you talk about every time you feel free.

PING CHONG: I empathize because I know what displacement is. My parents were-- were immigrants too who didn't speak English and never spoke English. My father who's the person who came to this country, and that's why I'm here, had-- had-- no one handed him anything. You know, I mean, his life was never easy. Him trying-- having to support 21 people during his life to, you know, just being humiliated left and right for being poor.

I grew up in Chinatown so that's like entirely a world unto itself. When I went to high school I was the only Chinese kid in a school of 500. Being an artist, one, you're automatically an outsider in this society. And certainly being of an immigrant background that's also true. So there's a real kind of empathy and connection for me to this project.

PING CHONG: I mean, are there-- do your friends ask you questions about where you come from? Or do they say that's-- you know, you behave-- you have-- you come from a different culture and that you behave differently at all?

DEREEN PASHA: Yeah, kind of, they do.

PING CHONG: What do they say?

DEREEN PASHA: Because mostly I stay quiet in class and American kids are all kind of active all the time.

PING CHONG: In 1991 Dereen's father, a Kurdish freedom fighter, was assassinated on the doorstep of their home. Five years later Dereen came to American where he is now in high school.

DEREEN PASHA: Everyday when we go to school we show a happy face to school. Deep down there's a lot of sadness that we carry around. And we have to share it one day, one day at a time or one day we just have to share it all.

PING CHONG: When I did this project it was not-- it was not purposely an anti-war piece. It was simply a piece to give voice to these children who've been through these experiences.

PING CHONG TO CAST: More energy. YARVIN CUCHILLA: Eighteen ninety four.


YARVIN CUCHILLA: Eighty ninety four.

PING CHONG: Eighteen.

YARVIN CUCHILLA: Eighteen ninety-four

PING CHONG: Okay. If you stop in the middle of a sentence start again and make sure that the sentence is smooth and you finish the sentence without stopping and starting. You understand what I'm saying everybody. Okay.

PING CHONG: We had to rehearse a lot more than I usual do just so that I could be sure that they could handle the language.

YARVIN CUCHILLA: The same blue green and white bus stop of my brother.

PING CHONG: Bus-stop. Don't swallow the word.


PING CHONG: You understand what I'm--

PING CHONG: And that they could really start to feel the rhythm of the show.

PING CHONG: So if anybody takes too long then somebody else should say the date. You want to cover for each other when that happens.

YARVIN CUCHILLA: I was sleeping. I wasn't sleeping but I--

PING CHONG: Yeah, I understand.

YARVIN CUCHILLA: --wasn't here.


PING CHONG: In 1994 Yarvin left her home in El Salvador.


FEMALE VOICE: El Salvador.

YARVIN CUCHILLA: The beatings continue. I tried to run away with my brother and sister. But where can three small children go? When we-- when we-- I'm sorry.

PING CHONG: Whenever we went through a rehearsal there'd be a counselor in the room because they were worried about whether the children would-- would suddenly become emotional about what they were telling.

FARINAZ AMIRSEHI: I think of being robbed of this kindness because of fear and oppression.

PING CHONG: As a young woman Farinaz was persecuted for opposing the Iotola Khomeni's regime.



FARINAZ AMIRSEHI: For four days and nights I am interrogated and tortured.

YARVIN CUCHILLA: If you tell us the name of the people in the movement we will let you go.

FARINAZ AMIRSEHI: My grandfather's spirit stands beside me.

DEREEN PASHA: Forenaz, you have to have a heart. Focus with there heart and you will know what is right and what is wrong.

FARINAZ AMIRSEHI: I refuse to join the other side.

YARVIN CUCHILLA: Forenaz Amer-- Amirsehi you are sentenced to ten years in prison.

FARINAZ AMIRSEHI: My mother doesn't know if I'm dead or alive.

PING CHONG: The risk is whether they are able to handle the emotions that might come out. But they want to tell their stories. That's central to what this project is that people want to tell these stories. They want to get it into the open. And that is in some ways a form of exercising these horrendous experiences.

ANDRÉA ZALZAL-SANDERSON: How does it feel hearing everybody else and hearing other people's stories?

YARVIN CUCHILLA: Sometimes it-- I think it's helpful-- helpful because you actually learn that you're not alone. And that there has been somebody else who suffered. And that know how much pain you suffered. How much you have inside of you. And, you know.

PING CHONG: I think that making art it can be a healing tool. I think for-- for myself I know that it's-- it has certainly helped me in my life.

PING CHONG: The way I make my-- my art I-- I do all kinds of different kinds of things. But this particular project for me is very much about healing.

ANDRÉA ZALZAL-SANDERSON: Well, thank you guys for all of your courage to do this. And I hope that it gets easier for you. As Yarben said it's always-- what happened is always gonna be a part of you. But I hope after time that--

PING CHONG: It's also-- it's a part of you but it's past.


PING CHONG: And that's-- that's the important thing for you to remember.

ANDRÉA ZALZAL-SANDERSON: That it's left in the past.

PING CHONG: It's not part of your life now. It's the past.

ANDRÉA ZALZAL-SANDERSON: So you can go on living your life.

PING CHONG: Everybody has-- has painful things in their-- in their lives but it shouldn't be the thing that controls your present, your future, you know.

ANDRÉA ZALZAL-SANDERSON: Okay, dinner. Rehearsal tomorrow will be in here again.

FARINAZ AMIRSEHI: These children, the children we have no names for, the children who cannot tell their stories are--

CAST: --invisible.

PING CHONG: The six people on stage are having a communion with the audience. And a communion with a group of people is a very powerful act. You know, we in the theatre-- do it all the time, we don't think about it. But for someone who's-- who doesn't do it all time it's a very powerful thing.

DEREEN PASHA: I heard gunshots. Lights on my father's face, bullets are whizzing all directions. My father falls, my mother screams. In the darkness my mother asks--

FEMALE VOICE: Delshad, Delshad, did they shoot you? Have you been wounded?


DEREEN PASHA: I escape from my mother's arm and run to him. He is bleeding badly. My father struggled to get up, he wants to tell us he loves us. Then he falls again. My father dies. I don't have a chance to tell him that I love him. I'm five years old.

PING CHONG: I want the audience to take away the experience of what it means to be a refuge, to be displaced.

FATU SANKOH: Maybe this time people will understand what I've been through. Maybe this time they will believe me.

PING CHONG: These kids are-- have survived. I know this performance helped ease the pain of war for these children. But I also know the journey to healing is a long one.

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