The Pakistani Student Association brought "Asha" — which means "hope" — to Salomon 101 Friday night with a benefit show for Pakistan flood relief.
The association hosted the event to raise awareness about August's floods, which have been severely underpublicized, according to Fatimah Asghar '11, the show's organizer. "Asha" featured student performances by Brown's spoken word group Word!, the Higher Keys, New Works African Dance Troupe and Badmaash Dance Company.
In the lobby, the student association sold Pakistani crafts to raise additional funds before and after the show. All proceeds went to relief effort organizations screened by Brown students. As students filtered into the auditorium, photographs of the flood's devastation scrolled on the screen: whole landscapes of muddy water, destroyed roads and bridges and thousands of black tents for the displaced.
The emcees, Osman Chaudhry '11 and Malcolm Shanks '11, described the extent of the damage: 21 million people have been affected by the floods and 8 million have been displaced. Over $3 billion worth of crops and 4,000 kilometers of road have been destroyed. Water-borne diseases such as dysentery are rampant.
Asghar began the show with a spoken word piece about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, accompanied by Franny Choi '11 and Jamila Woods '11. As they softly sang the phrase "muddy water," Asghar transformed into a hopeless New Orleans mother who had the "back water blues in her bones." The floods had stolen her son from her, warped her legs and made familiar faces bloated and unrecognizable.
Asghar did not write the poem for this event, but at least four other poets who performed responded specifically to the floods in Pakistan. One such poet was Laura Brown-Lavoie '10.5, whose poem, "Counter Insurgent," played with the different meanings and variations of the word "surge": water surging, urgent aid and counterinsurgencies.
Audience response to the spoken word was supportive. Students snapped their fingers to express agreement with particularly poignant observations. Providence local Chris Johnson elicited this response when he suggested that "this generation's obsession with aliens, vampires and zombies is a metaphor for how strange we feel in our bodies."
Ramsey Jeremie '12 and Choi, other audience favorites, shared their passion about the subjects they were addressing — reality and the lives of army wives, respectively — sincerely and contagiously.
The spoken word was performed in groups of three and four between musical and dance performances that lightened the mood. The Higher Keys' charming renditions of "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Stay With You" provided some romantic relief. New Works got the audience clapping and tapping their feet to the tribal beats of African drums. The audience's eyes were glued to the bare feet that kicked and stomped, the arms that flailed in synchrony and the torsos that shimmied in all directions.
Asian fusion dance company Badmaash spiced it up with a mash up of M.I.A., Flo Rida and Bollywood music. The dancers entertained the audience by combining some serious gangster attitude with traditional Bhangra and other dance styles.
The energy in the room was infectious.
Throughout the performance, Chaudhry called the audience's attention to the dire need for clean water, food, shelter and basic medical treatment.
The United Nations has called the floods the worst natural disaster in the organization's history. The number of people who have lost their homes or have been injured is greater than the combined total of individuals affected by the 2005 South Asian tsunami and the Haiti and Kashmir earthquakes. But the United States government has only provided $70 million in aid, Chaudhry mentioned. He reminded the audience that "this is not supposed to be a disaster Olympics," but the response to the floods has been inadequate.
The turnout for the show was impressive despite Friday's rainy weather, and Asghar said she was pleased with the way the show came together. Most students who attended were previously aware of Pakistan's situation, but were moved by the artistic depiction of the damage.
"It is very exciting the way art can bring people together around an issue," said Jesse McGleughlin '14. "Something that art can do that statistics cannot is strike an emotional cord that can push people into action."