GoViral was a whirlwind: a three-day festival in Almaty, Kazakhstan (June 15-18, 2018) focused on innovation of all stripes.
This is only the second year that the festival has been up and running, and I was floored by what the US Consulate General in Kazakhstan has been able to pull off. It was an honor to be a part of that magic––not just the official events, but all the side conversations that happened as a result of lots of people with ideas and passions gathering together.
I gave a talk in the opening ceremony about poetry, and the unraveling of my 4-year journey so far (video here).
In preparing for the keynote I realized that I don’t know if I’m still a poet. Poetry is the place I come from, the soil I grew up in, but not necessarily where I’m going.
As I do this project for longer––going on 4 years this September (if you count the beginning as the NYC People’s Climate March), or 5 years come August (if you count the beginning as my bicycle journey down the Mississippi River)––I find myself transitioning out of poems and into multimedia forms that let each storyteller speak in their own voice, rather than having my words reinterpret theirs.
Audio / image / creative nonfiction: the 1,001 Stories project continues to take on a shape and form of its own.
Poetry will always be a homeland I return to. For now: here’s to movement & play.
After the opening ceremony I presented on three panels alongside some superstar activists and writers from Central Asia & beyond.
Art communities and creative industries changing modern cities: with Aida Sulova, Asya Tulesova, and Anisa Sabiri. Moderated by Galina Koretskaya.
Seeing other people’s worlds: travel writing that goes deeper than the surface: with Tynan and Jeff Miller. Moderated by Anuar Nurpeisov.
(All presentations were dubbed in Russian & will be uploaded in English in the coming weeks).
Big thanks to my Harvard classmate Didar KM for inviting me to be a part of the festival.
(Fun fact: we took Deborah Foster‘s class “The Art of Storytelling” together freshman year, the course that made me decide to study Folklore & Mythology in the first place. Best decision I ever made).
Tea and literature bring people from around the world together! 🌎 Today Abai is having some friends over to enjoy chai and talk about life and literature.📚 Fun fact: Abai used to read Tolstoy and was the first poet in the world to translate Lord Byron’s works into Kazakh. There are multiple connections that can be made across different literatures, so join Abai and his literary communiTEA ☕️ #abaicartoons #leotolstoy #lordbyron #rumi #montaigne #nguyendu #quotes #quoteoftheday
If you haven’t already, go check out Didar’s comics: Abai Cartoons. Seriously awesome stuff.
Other things that were wonderful / that I don’t want to forget:
A) Dancing backstage with the best volunteer anyone could dream of working with (Yekaterina Kolessina!)
and C) making a whole lot of audio recordings on water and climate change in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan: 29, to be exact.
For ten days before the festival I journeyed to Lake Balkhash, Kazakhstan and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan alongside translator Qanat and photographer Sardar. We listened to stories about everything from cotton farming in the USSR to the Aral Sea to the legend of Issykul Lake’s formation and what it’s like being a woman who runs a bottled water business (and how a lack of infrastructure maintenance has necessitated bottled water consumption in the first place).
One of these stories, told by a storyteller who grew up in Afghanistan, ripped me open & reaffirmed my conviction that we need to create more spaces to talk about water. Water is life, and a lack of access to clean water can be deadly. More on that in the future.
We translated the cardboard sign into Russian…
… with materials provided by a friendly fruit seller in Balkhash:
The stories I recorded in Central Asia will be available eventually on the 1,001 stories map. Stay tuned for updates!
This was my first time documenting stories while accompanied by three dudes (translator, photographer, driver). It changed parts of the trip, but not the whole thing.
If nothing else, it was a relief to be able to bring up Rebecca Solnit‘s book “Men Explain Things to Me” in the confined space of a bumpy van ride, and not be attacked for being a feminist. Referencing that book on a van ride from Laos to Cambodia two years ago brought about physical violence. (Again, more on that later, perchance –– that’s the subject of another thing).
Lake Balkhash itself was stunning, and also a site of great ecological complexity / layered histories. Half the lake is salt, half is fresh, and the shores are filled with great people to talk to.
Sardar shot and edited material for a 20 minute film about my journey to document human stories on water and climate change, feat. music by Kazakh composer Kuat Shildebayev. I’ll post the link here when it goes live.
UPDATE: the film will be shown in Kazakhstan at the Almaty Indie Film Festival tomorrow!
In the process of recording material in Balkhash, I realized how little I know about the Soviet Union, and all that has happened after.
I asked lots of questions. (Stories are doors. I like doorways).
Also: let’s talk for a second about architecture. Soviet buildings stick around long after the USSR itself has crumbled. Balkhash city was built about 80 years ago, and the bones of the town are still strongly reminiscent of that era.
From Balkhash we zoomed to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for an action-packed weekend. I gave two talks at Chicken Star, hands down the finest chicken/coffee/art establishment I have ever stepped inside.
If you ever find yourself in Bishkek, Chicken Star is not to be missed.
The founder, Chihoon Jeong, is the kind of person who can intuit what kind of drink you need before you even know that you need it. What a gift.
Kyrgyzstan at sunset is its own kind of gorgeous.
Like any responsible story collector, I did my best to see things from different perspectives.
In sum: it was a blur of a two weeks…
… filled w/ beauty of a distinctly Central Asian variety:
For now: the journeys continue.
Big thanks to the storytellers who talked to me about water / climate & the GoViral event organizers who pulled off the near-impossible feat of gathering so many fascinating people from around the world in one place.
If you have the opportunity to attend or speak at this festival: go. You won’t regret it.