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He's Found Escape in Life and Onstage

The Boston Globe, August 27, 2004


An Afghan-born Canadian who was valedictorian of the Boston Conservatory's Class of 2004, Kawa Ada polishes the stories he tells onstage, illuminating fragments of his native Afghanistan, which many Americans barely knew about three years ago but have since learned to fear.

Ada, 24, wrote, produced, and stars in "The Canny Afghani," a one-man play that opens Wednesday at the Boston Center for the Arts. Part family saga, part adventure tale, the performance piece is also a portrait of an Afghan artist as a young man and is shot through with geopolitical observations and reflections that have preoccupied him since 9/11.

Ada performed his first role, at age 2, in a life-and-death drama: He and his mother, disguised as itinerant peasant farmers, fled from their home in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.

Ada doesn't recall the details of the escape. But he sounds awed two decades later that he and his mother, middle-class urbanites who spoke Farsi, passed themselves off as Pashto-speaking peasants. "Saying anything in Farsi -- a slip of the tongue from my mother or me, a 2-year-old -- would've given us away" as impostors, Ada says.

He has reconstructed that extraordinary episode, based on stories he's heard repeated and whispered by family and friends throughout the years. He recounts the escape along with a melange of childhood "images and large memories" of his family's subsequent journey from Pakistan to India, through Switzerland and, finally, to Toronto, where they settled in 1988.

Ada's extraordinary childhood and teen years in Toronto give shape and texture to his story. But it is his experience since Sept. 11, 2001 that inspired him to reconsider those old family stories, to ponder different perspectives, and finally to write and perform "The Canny Afghani."

Subjects Covered: diversity training, education, healing, personal storytelling

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