I was born in a very small village in the middle of Afghan mountains, I still have such a marvellous set of recalls.
It is part of Ghazni province (the central-eastern part of the country, more than 2200 meters above the sea level), the same of King Mahmud Ghaznavi and of the homonym dynasty, the Ghaznavidi – there would have been so many things to know about this place!
My district is of about 170.000 inhabitants. It is becoming more dense now even if is composed by small villages widespread on a wide territory. A great emigration has been recorded since the Nineties ‘till now, especially of young people who also returned there after ten years just to collect their families and to go away together.
The ethnic group there, the one I belong to, is the Hazaras. Our mother tongue is Dari and we speak the Hazaragi dialect – a blend between Dari (a derivation from Persian) and a bunch of words from Mongolian language.
Your minority is persecuted and oppressed
The Hazaras have a long history. The persecution started on 1889 with King Abdur Rahman Khan. The 63% of the Hazaras population has been killed, the others escaped leaving the country. A very large part is in Pakistan, in Quetta (the capital town of the province of Balocistan) where the language is a mix of Dari, Hazaragi, Urdu and also English.
The Hazaras who are still in Afghanistan live in the central mountains because the oppressing king forced them to abandon the fertile lands they inhabited. For instance, Bamyan is one of the most important Hazaras cities, it is exactly where the Buddha statues have been destroyed by the Taleban.
When are you born?
I was born on 1990 on those peaks. My family and my relatives are all around the world: the Emirates, England and then Australia, Germany, Canada…We are able to keep ourselves in contact not without hurdles and we succeed thanks to the actual technologies.
We, indeed, entered an unknown world. One thing is to be born in the Western world and change country, another is to be born in a denied world that maybe does not exist anymore. Anyway, you find the time to talk even if you’re very distant from your beloved, if this is what you like to know.
Are you the only one to study cinema in your family?
I left them when I was only 12 because I wanted to know the world. I have first been in Pakistan at my grandmother’s house, in Quetta, then I also escaped from there, I wanted to go in Iran. I travelled toward the country with my friends but the custom agents discovered us. I was also getting seriously sick during the journey.
Were you also underage?
Yes, of course. Given I got so sick, they asked me where my family was. The cook of these agents was so sad for my health and was very kind with me. He asked the commander to let me go because of that (they were speaking in Urdu, but I was able to understand them).
We have been therefore released. My friends started their journey again, while I made my way back to Quetta. I took a gigantic bus that was almost empty – just loaded with sacs of wheat. I was so worn out from my sickness that I jumped on these comfortable sacks and slept all the time. The very few people on board told me their experience in Iran by warning me “it is ugly, do not go there”. There are around three millions of Hazaras there.
Can you stay there?
Let’ say yes, oh not really – the Iranians are very racists toward us, there are many stories that stay still untold. You can maybe find some of them on the web. The Hazaras are violently kept by the Government and, under threat, sent to fight in Syria.
They, of course, threat the socially and politically weakest, not only the poorest.
When did you arrive in Europe? And how, were you getting here alone?
On 2006 and yes, alone, by facing a very hard journey. After I got back in Pakistan, my grandmother was ready to send me back home, she was furious with me. My uncle interceded for me and so I was able to stay. I went a bit to school, I learned English…
Is your family religious?
Yes, everybody is religious there and there are various beliefs. This is not interesting for me, I turned the page.
Since I was a kid, actually, I was not really interested in religious matters: to listen to the mullah and the other devout who were telling that beyond the mountain it is just pure evil pushed me to want to know that pure evil and, so, to leave.
This has been always my priority, to leave and to destroy a wall they created around me.
I was a rebel, they were awakening me asking me to pray, so I was mocking to pray. I was not going to the mosque. I preferred, indeed, going to pick potatoes from the farmers with my friends and then roast them!
So, were you wishing to leave for Europe already at that age?
Not really, I just wanted to get away from those tops. Then, once in Pakistan I found an excuse – it sounded more or less like this: oh granny, I go to visit some cousins in a closer town, with a complicit relative (the cousin, of course) – and I left also from there. I still feel guilty because they searched me everywhere. That sense of guilt made me sick and so I had to go back. The second time I left, I had chosen to speak clearly of my aims with my father (he was then in Herat), tell him the truth and all my reasons to leave. Then I left again for Iran where I worked one year and half in a marble factory. And then, one day, when my friends also arrived there, we started a new journey. I got sick again, also that time.
I told my uncle of my intentions to leave for Europe. My uncle gave me the amount of money I was lacking. I firs travelled in a clandestine bus, then I walked a lot, I really mean a lot: Turkey, Greece, Italy. I was hiding myself once on the borders to cross: not under the trucks as many do, I found a much more interesting technique, but I cannot tell you otherwise I drop it for someone else.
I reached Meolo, a small provincial town (around 6500 inhabitants in the outskirts of Venice). I remember the date: it was on July 31, 2006, right in the middle of the mugginess of the Po Valley. I separated with my friends in Turkey, where the first smuggler brought us – the rest of the trip is always on your own shoulders. I, so, arrived alone.
Were you trying to reach Italy or this destination has been just a chance?
When in Iran, at the marble factory, my colleagues were having a laugh on me because I was the shortest and also the youngest. Beside to work the marble, I was also cooking for them. And since those days I was always telling them I wanted to go in Italy. They were always replying: why are you going there, you should go in England! To be precise, they’re telling ‘London’ (Landan, Landan! He smiles and spells it loud). For them, England was just London.
The years in which you touched base in Italy were also the ones when Lega, the Northern Italy secessionist party, was roaring a lot in that area…Which were the effects of this propaganda on you?
Nothing, at those times I did not speak Italian, only English – therefore I was not understanding it. Then I learned to speak and to write Italian and started to get it more.
I write verses, in Italian. I still have to publish them. I transformed one in video-art and maybe that one has been the first artwork of my life.
The first movie I ever watched was Indian. What got me mad of this world is the power of image. More than any other media, you can use and forge it as you wish! I was very young while watching that movie. It changed my life, since then I was loving to sing as a star, I was always singing with the mates. Before the Talebans, we were watching movies than it came to an end.
In the same time I arrived in Italy also other Afghan guys were reaching the country, they were invited to the Venice Festival (by Michele Serra, of Premio Città di Venezia)
They started to collaborate with the Council for a short movie on migrants reaching Italy. I met them at the screening of their movie at Centro Culturale Candiani (actually the sole cultural hub of Mestre, the other part of the Council of Venice located in the mainland – if Venice counts more than 60 among museums, foundations, movies and theatres, Mestre not). I am speaking of Hamed who set up in town the Orient Experience restaurants (two ethnical take away restaurants and caterings – one located in Cannaregio and one in Dorsoduro, while his new brainchild is in the same district and is called Africa Experience and is solely managed by political refugees)
They asked for the asylum and got it, so they stayed as you can see. I never asked for it and neither for the refugee status. It has been a beautiful time of my life with them, they are Hazaras like me and we just met here! I met them thanks to a Kurdish guy, a truly cinema passionate, who is now a documentary director: he invited me to join the Candiani screening where I met them. A month later, I am starring in their work. So, we can say that I entered the movie industry as actor, not as director. The movie has been never published, unfortunately.
I accomplished all my studies here, in Italy. To do so I changed a lot of schools. I also stayed at the Mestre headquarter of Don Orione (a Catholic board school), where I have been gifted of a stunning experience with a priest, I never met such a sympathetic man beyond any reason related to religion. He is maybe the most important person in my life. His way to be is amazing. He supported and helped me. He liked my energy and in the same time he was giving me his energy. At those times he was 40/45, and was the dean of the school. I was enrolled in their technical high school. I also met the ‘Patriarca’ (it is the Venice cardinal), Mr Scola. On the second school year I attended an itinerant festival in South Italy where I made several short movies.
A dear friend of mine – who is giudecchino (the nickname of the Venetians living in the Giudecca island) and is named Gianluca – was very much encouraging me and I remember what he was used to say ‘ with four pieces of wood you can make a cadrega (the dialectal name for chair in Veneto region)’ when reading my writings. He was pushing me more toward the video composition of my poems rather than their animation (that was my first idea).
Do you like more to film now?
I am not ready to work on anything, I search very rare and peculiar stories. Those embodying a very philosophical, logical, cultural meaning. I have empathy creating connections with several topics.
45 days traveling in South Italy: Basilicata, Calabria; Sicily…during your first movie festival but, once again in North Italy when it ended…
…I was tired of my technical studies. The professor was sad of that and dismissed me. So I enrolled at the art high school in Venice, it was of course attended by kids if compared to my age. The deal was to pass five years by attending only two. After having tried, I surrendered because of all those thirteen years old mates.
I ended up enrolling in accounting at the evening school in order to obtain a diploma. I was working daytime as interpreter and cultural mediator for the Interiors Ministry, and for the Gorizia Commission for Migrants. Every day I was working and every night studying. I wished a lot to find a school in Bozen but I did not achieve any funding.
I then waited five years and started to apply a lot of classes at Ca’ Foscari University: anthropology, literature… I only desired to enlarge my cultural horizons without finalizing them into a degree.
I have been contacted, further, by the Migration Archive to film a series on migrants, in five episodes, each directed by a different movie maker.
At the present time I am enrolled in a cinema master course in Turin and I am working for a project in Afghanistan and a project in Turin. I also recently joined the Venice Film Festival, as associate of an Afghan documentary production house. We registered ourselves in the industry area in order to meet other players in the market. And, also, in order to learn a bit more about financing, co-production and marketing schemes.
Which is your town now? Do you think it could be Venice?
I wrote some lines about the topic, hold on: I want to look for this poem now. I was sitting in my small room with my former girlfriend, who is a wonderful person, I was crazy at that time….Yes, here we are, maybe I’ve found it…
(he peruses the phone to find the poem but he doesn’t find it; he will then send me two poems, written in Italian, we’ve translated in English, Snow and Tree)
I grew fond of Montale’s, Ungaretti’s and Pascoli’s poems. I got familiar with Hermeticism and I particularly loved Ungaretti’s I Fiumi where he describes the four rivers where he was living, one in Lucca (he was growing up in Alexandria, Egypt), then he was moving in – and feeling part of – Paris. In the First World War he is fighting on Isonzo river. The sensation with which he outlines the entire story of his life through these four great rivers is amazing. And also when he explains how a stone is feeling when the water pours over itself: at the end it is in harmony with the universe (he reads for me the entire poem, a French family just nearby was enchanted to listen to him and to enjoy his energy, but they were behind his shoulder and he did not see them). This poem is looking a little bit like me, we could say.
Oh my God! In cases like this, you should be able to quickly handle your poems, I do not find mine!
You’re asking about the city I feel mine. The sole place is maybe Venice, I tried so many times to abandon it but all the times I came back. Here I feel at home, I can say it. This is home.
Is Venice unkind as at home in a certain sense? Is it ugly?
It has its contradictions but I learned how to domesticate the city for a very peculiar reason: it is the sole place in the world where there is a true connection between East and West.
I should not tell it loud and publicly here and now, but once I found a very old brick in a calle and it was like the brick was speaking to me. I was deeply interested in it, so I cuddled and wrapped it in a paper. Since then I kept it at home, it gives me a lot even if not something I can eat. It is a brick, made by someone else and is something that lived and existed before me. It is also immanent. It ‘stays’, it is like a friendship, a flower. If you do not cuddle it, it will never nurture the city itself.
What have you learned from life, even if you’re still very young?…I ask you this question we normally ask to anyone but with this final comment just because you already lived so many lives.
I first learned humbleness, indeed I strongly wanted it: to learn humbleness that is the most crucial mankind virtue.
And within ten years, where do you see yourself living?
It’s hard, I think I will not be here but this town will be always my home. I am actually creating something in Turin.
And now, opposite to the usual order of questions we are used to repeat all the times, I ask the easy questions that help us to define a lot of the lifestyle surrounding you. What are your preferred foods and the drinks?
It’s definitively water (he points the glass from which he drinks, we are in a beautiful and off the beaten track ‘campo’, close to Anzolo Rafael). Always. I suffered for the water, we are all desperately thirsty. All the mankind, I mean.
Here, in the Western world, I knew about alcohol. The first time I started to drink has been funny! It was at the Christmas lunch with the priests. I had also grappa. I got immediately asleep because wine and grappa let me quickly collapse, they had to wake me up for the supper.
After having started to drink, I told to my self: uauhhh! I immediately liked it. I’m not addicted but I like to drink now.
Food: I was eating and I still eat a lot. My mum was always scared from the quantities of food I could have even if I am slim.
Food is one of the most important ties with your birthplace and this is what I like of Orient Experience: to weave social relations through food. Before setting it up, we were used to host dinners in our houses – we got very skilled in cooking because we were always touring around the world. For me food is pure love.
Then, I am forced to invite other people to eat: I tend to cook larger portions. The act of cooking chills me a lot.