An open letter to the directors of The Jungle, a play
Dear Stephen and Justin,
As Okot notes in your play The Jungle, ‘refugees suffer many deaths and are stripped of everything’.
When we finally arrive somewhere, if still alive, then all we have left is our culture and our language.
Last night watching The Jungle, was a difficult experience for me, both because my refugee story was unfolding in front of me but at the same time, the main characters, Afghans, were speaking in the wrong dialect, which not only uses a different accent but the words and syntax are different as well. This not only diminished my experience of watching the production but the cultural appropriation made me feel once again, that we do not matter.
Salar is from Qandahar, and Norullah is from Kabul, they should be speaking in Dari or Pashto, not Persian dialect. I’ve worked as an Afghanistan Cultural Consultant for stage productions for the past eight years, so I wondered, how could such an important detail be overlooked by such a grand and thoughtful production? Perhaps you have a reason, I don’t know.
This could seem like a minor thing to the general audience but for those of us who rarely see our stories represented on the big stage, misrepresentation of our language is a stab at the heart.
If you were making a play about working-class Londoners in the ’60s wouldn’t you ensure that they speak in the right accent? Your actors are capable of taking on the right dialect, I know, because I’ve coached Ben Turner in Dari when he was the lead in the stage production of The Kite Runner at London West End show.
My family escaped Afghanistan with smugglers. After a harrowing three day journey, we were incarcerated on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan for a week. Then we traveled to Europe and lived in refugee hotels in Germany until we were granted a visa for the United States. I still have nightmares about the twelve-month journey. I thank you and applaud you for telling these important stories but please know that we, refugees, are in your audiences and we want to be seen, heard and represented authentically. You tell a very important story so do it well, do it with respect and do it with people like me in mind because we matter.