Strangers step inside this portal to make global connections

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: an art project attempting to build individual connections across the globe.

It's called Portals, and is the brainchild of artist and former television news producer Amar Bakshi, who told us that, in his former profession, the most meaningful conversations often came once the cameras were turned off.

We spoke to Bakshi during an installation earlier this summer that connected people in Washington, D.C., with those in Herat, Afghanistan.

Here's our look.

KHALED SALAR, Portals Participant: My everyday life is not that crazy, or, like, I don't live in a war zone. But, occasionally, there are like unfortunate events where there is a bomb or like something like that. But life is good.

PREETI PARULEKAR, Portals Participant: Good.

(LAUGHTER)

PREETI PARULEKAR: It's a bit intimidating to walk into a room and talk to a total stranger. The news always latches on to whatever is like the most-attention grabbing, worst, to like the most horrible piece to show everybody.

KHALED SALAR: I met someone that I didn't know before, and it's almost like learning something new.

AMAR BAKSHI, Creator, Shared_Studios: My name is Amar Bakshi, I'm the creator of Shared Studios. We're looking at a portal, a large gold shipping container.

So, when you enter it, you talk to someone in a similar space abroad, another gold container, live, full body, with translation, as if in the same room, one on one, for 20 minutes.

MAN: How do you feel? Is there weather hot or no?

It was a wonderful experience that we share our ideas about our cultures.

DARBY SULLIVAN, Portals Participant: Really? I can speak a little German too.

He asked me what I was studying, where I was from, if I would ever go to Afghanistan. I think he was kind of trying to convince me to come visit so.

AMAR BAKSHI: It is meant to enable encounters across all sorts of distances, both geographic, ideological, gender-based, political, you name it.

PREETI PARULEKAR: My parents really wanted me to be a doctor, but that was just not my path.

I was a little bit worried about whether there would be anything to relate to, whether the conversation would just be filled with awkward pauses.

KHALED SALAR: That's like everybody's parents.

AMAR BAKSHI: This is a rare space where both people are in it in a similar contextual arrangement which doesn't immediately tell them to do or try to acquire to try to accomplish a particular thing.

WOMAN: Yes, what do you eat typically?

MAN: Red meat, chicken or something like that.

AMAR BAKSHI: And that, I think, is powerful in itself for people.

WOMAN: I had actually planned to maybe talk about some maybe more in- depth, tough questions.

MAN: Do you live in Washington, D.C.?

WOMAN: But when you're kind of faced in just that short moment of someone you haven't met, it's difficult to dive right into the meaty, kind of controversial, tough questions.

AMAR BAKSHI: People can go in there and chitchat about the weather. And often they do, because it's hot here and there.

PREETI PARULEKAR: OK. There we go.

(LAUGHTER)

AMAR BAKSHI: But they can also go in and talk about — and they do — marriage, online dating, you know, freedoms, war, loss.

KHALED SALAR: Life has really changed in Afghanistan, and everything has had a really big impact on our lives. Learning about a country or a culture through TV or media is really hard, but getting to know people and getting to talk to them in person is — it's much more effective.

PREETI PARULEKAR: For a lot of people here, sometimes, you can feel very conflicted about to what extent did we play a role in causing that?

It was a really good experience. It was really interesting to hear kind of about his life and his perceptions of the U.S. and kind of to get a feel for a real person living in Afghanistan.

MAN: And what is your favorite sport?

WOMAN: I wasn't disappointed that we talked about some of the lighter stuff, because a lot of times that's what you actually talk to people about in daily life. I think the value in this experience is just having that moment with someone partway across the world that you absolutely wouldn't meet otherwise.

And I think it tells you that every human on the planet has something to connect around. And so it was a pleasure to get to talk to someone that I otherwise wouldn't meet and make that small connection, even just for a moment, to start off my day.

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