SOULFIRE by Lisa Kirazian
A play presenting the stories of San Diego immigrants based on their interviews with other artists:
"Azar Mahmoud" (alias) interviewed by SueAnne Mead
"Jacob Feldman" (alias) interviewed by Brandon Alter
"Maida Rezai" (alias) interviewed by Deanna Driscoll
Diem Tran interviewed by Ruth McKee
Elnord Joseph interviewed by Ruth McKee
Alex Chuang interviewed by Brandon Alter
Nghiep Le interviewed by Veronica Murphy
Jeandark Putris interviewed by Kerry Meads
Nathan Dinnerman interviewed by Brandon Alter
Daniel Yamune interviewed by DeAnna Driscoll
Cast: 3 Women, 4 Men
CHORUS: Both women and men
Male Characters Female Characters
SAGE MAN AZAR
ELNORD JOSEPH MAIDA
JACOB MAIDA’S MOTHER
MAIDA’S FATHER MEGAPHONE WOMEN
MAIDA’S BROTHER ELNORD’S DAUGHTER
DIEM TRAN MRS. ANCESTOR
FATHER OF ELNORD THE MISSUS
FATHER OF NGHIEP FAITH
DANIEL MS. GIBBS
SOUL FIRE was commissioned by the Playwrights Project with a grant from the
California Council for the Humanities, as part of “Stories of Faith,” the Council’s
statewide performance and lecture series about interfaith understanding. It was produced
by Playwrights Project at the Weingart Library Performing Arts Annex in San Diego,
California, in October, 2004.
[Lights open dimly on a Holy Place, in the timeless present. Ten small unlit votive
candles sit on a downstage corner. Downstage are two small tables, for kneeling and
reading, and two prayer rugs. On one table, old sacred books lie open, tattered. In an
upstage corner there is an open travel trunk, dotted with inspection stickers from various
countries - from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, even North America. In the trunk are
colorful fabrics and clothing.
Lights on the SAGE MAN in the downstage corner opposite the candles. He moves fluidly
around the stage. He is dressed in humble clothes, but still self-respecting, like a proud
homeless person. He plays his one possession - a duduk flute. A soulful melody. He stops
and turns to the audience.]
Music is my prayer. The kind of prayer that carries me when nothing else does. It's all I
have. Like my breath, there's an exchange. Counterpoint. A dialogue. I know I am heard.
[He looks out.]
I said I know I am heard! The heavens hear me!
[He plays almost upward toward the sky, then stops, as if hearing a response.]
I play a duduk, an Armenian duduk, because from it comes the universal melodies of the
wandering soul, grounded in its past, groping in the present, hoping for eternity.
[Duduk music is heard, distant.]
My melody smolders like incense, rising, swirling in spirit to the great heavens. Its aroma
is sweetest, its curl of smoke tallest, when it burns deepest. That eternal part of our souls
ascending, entreating. Burning. Becoming!
[He runs to an edge.]
As the old prophets asked, so I ask you: Have you not known? Have you not heard?
[He goes to another edge.]
It seems no one listens. Sometimes I am not sure where I belong. On good days, I'm a
citizen of the world! On others, I'm the nowhere man. But for now, I am here, in this city,
living the best I can. All of us are trying. We have all come from halfway around the
world, we are all transplants, having groped through the valley, the desert, the jungle,
looking for a place to call home - or at least a secondary home. Home. Maybe nowhere is
home. Perhaps, home is only where God puts us, or where the winds blow us. Or where
our family is - or, where our memories are. If nothing else, I am standing right here, feet
on earth, right now, alive and breathing and safe. Right now, this is where I am. This is
[He points to the trunk upstage.]
And all I have is in there.
[He reaches a downstage edge.]
Now, you don't know me. But I'm everywhere. You know the sacred words. I'm the one
you offer the cold cup of water to - you know, the least of the brethren? The ones the
world forgets? Ah, but God never forgets us. And no one can keep us pilgrims down.
[He jumps to a new spot, victoriously.]
Through our exodus, our wilderness, and eventually, our refuge, you will see us, in all
our hurt and hope. The prayers of a dozen pilgrims, roaming across this earth, holding
onto that which can never be taken away. This is their journey of faith. These, these, are
[He turns to the others onstage, joining three other MEN and three WOMEN - seven
total, all dressed in black - who slowly stride across the stage in different directions,
moving to the music.
They hold one long, silky red sash, which they wave as they dance. They softly murmur
the NAMES OF THE STORYTELLERS, staggered and overlapping, as if whispering
individual prayers, as the SAGE MAN plays. The entire group will serve as a CHORUS
throughout the play.]
Azar Mahmoud....Jacob Feldman....Maida Rezai.... Elnord Joseph....Alex
Chuang....Nghiep Le....Diem Tran.....Jeandark Putris....Nathan Dinnerman....Daniel
Yamune....Azar Mahmoud....Jacob Feldman....Maida Rezai....Elnord Joseph....Alex
Chuang....Nghiep Le....Diem Tran....Jeandark Putris....Nathan Dinnerman....Daniel
[Their voices trail off as they line up, upstage. They leave the long red sash on the
ground. One woman steps forward from the line - soon to become the middle
aged Somali, AZAR MAHMOUD.]
The prophet Mohammed, May peace be upon him, taught to me - what I learn from the
prophet Mohammed - May peace be upon him - Be patient. Be P-a-t-i-e-n-t. He was
peace. The word Islam is peace. The word itself is peace.
[She steps back as another man steps forward - to become an older Jewish man, JACOB
It's cold tonight, God. Colder since the only warmth I have softly hid behind the horizon
a heart-beat ago. But thank you--for the coat, and the hat, and the still air. For controlling
the winds, thank you. Does it ever get cold up there, God?
[As he steps back, another man steps forward - to become ELNORD JOSEPH, a bold
young Haitian man.]
My life is an open book. I have a lot of stories. So many stories, I can't even begin to tell
you. But I will try, with the Lord's help. I have no secrets.
[He steps back. A young girl steps forward, to become MAIDA REZAI, a frightened
We do not have anymore. We have nothing left. We have nothing left, in Afghanistan.
Can we have my brothers back?
[AZAR turns to MAIDA with pity. Their eyes meet in a moment of empathy. MAIDA steps
[to the audience]
The path alights. The road will curve ahead. The journey begins.
[Lights go down on all characters except one woman who moves downstage. SAGE MAN
takes a large African print cloth from the trunk, and drapes it over her. He dresses her
ceremoniously, carefully. She is now the middle-aged Muslim Somali woman, AZAR
MAHMOUD, her body and head completely covered in the cloth.
The others in the background sit on the floor, on stools, or stand. AZAR lights the first
candle and SAGE MAN escorts her to the edge of the stage.]
Are you sure - it is safe for talk?
[SAGE MAN nods emphatically.]
Listen, now, to Azar Mahmoud.
I am of my people. From Somalia. My people. I came to the United States in 1996 from
Kenya, a refugee camp in Kenya with my husband and children. You cannot understand
it is too terrible. My daughter was 6 months old but she died in that camp. There, in my
arms. In East Africa.
[She holds an imaginary baby in her arms, bereft. She kisses it and offers it to the
My mother-in-law sponsored us. She came here in 1991. I sponsored my mother. Now
she is here. You see? No-it is too terrible you cannot understand the civil war. The
government was overthrown in Somalia. Tribe against tribe. You cannot believe the
killing, the raping, the blood.
They got in a car and drove to Kenya. They were caught, beaten, and sent back to
[The others in the background run around AZAR, waving the red sash around her.]
All the people...all the people were running, getting away on foot, by car...the car breaks
down, every day, only a few miles...all the way to Kenya. My husband and I were
running. They caught us and sent us back. Not to a prison. To someone from the other
tribe. In his house and he's watching us with his rifle every day-what we do in the house.
Every move. We can't go out. But he's a friend from the other tribe. And sometimes
someone comes and says," Hey! They are the other tribe! Out with them! Kill them! Kill
them! They are the other tribe!" But our friend says, "No! Go away! I'm watching them!"
My husband escaped. On foot, by car, the car breaks down, a few miles, every day a few
miles...all the way to Kenya. Later, I escaped by plane. Someone helped me.
[She walks to the opposite end of the stage, watching the others.]
How did this happen? Like me and you. I am this tribe, you are that tribe. You see me. I
see you. What is tribe? Nothing. What are we? Enemies? Same people. Same language.
Same same same. Somalis. We are all Somalis. My younger daughter was 10 days old. I
was escaping with her. Now she say, "I'm American! I don't want it Ma! I don't want
Somalia! All it is is killing! Killing!" My five year old he say, "I was born in Alvarado
Hospital! I'm a San Diegan, Ma! I'm not a Somali!" All they hear is somebody die.
Somebody killing each other. What can I tell my kids? The place where I was born, the
place where I started school... I miss it. When it's your home, you miss it.
[The CHORUS chants.]
I miss home....
My kids say, "Ma! How can you miss it, Ma?! You saw Black Hawk Down! Those
people will kill you if you go back! They'll kill you, Ma! There's nothing there! You're in
the Land of Opportunity! Why do you want to go back, Ma?"
[She smiles and sighs.]
There was a man and he hate Mohammed--May Peace Be Upon Him. And a man put
trash and garbage, scraps-anything dirty at the door of Mohammed's house every day. But
one day, no trash. Mohammed went to the man's house. What's wrong? Mohammed
asked. Why you ask? a man said. You don't bring the garbage. I worry.
Right now, I live upstairs. I am always telling my children, Walk quiet! Shhhh! The
neighbors! You have to respect in the maximum way your neighbors. What I learn from
Mohammed: Be patient. He was peace. Before I come here, I know other faiths, but I
never see. God sent four books-the Torah, the Bible, the new Bible, the Koran-Moses-
May Peace Be Upon Him-David, May Peace Be Upon Him-Jesus, May Peace Be Upon
Him; Mohammed, May Peace Be Upon Him-I cannot love Mohammed if I do not love all
All God's prophets?
[AZAR stops circling and kneels and bows deeply. The others drop the sash. SAGE MAN
helps her stand up. AZAR retreats upstage, where SAGE MAN derobes her of the African
print cloth and returns it to the trunk. She joins the others in the upstage line.
Nearby, Sage takes a long dark coat from the trunk and puts it on the man who becomes
the older Jew, JACOB FELDMAN.
SAGE MAN takes out a hat and places it on the man's head, again solemnly. JACOB
clasps his hands at his chest, then picks up the book on the table near him. He looks at it
unsatisfyingly and lets it drop back onto the table. He looks at the candles but shakes his
head and turns away from them. He does not light one.]
[to SAGE MAN]
He won't want to hear what I have to say.
Of course he will. And they do. They want to hear.
[Lights dim except for the moonlight effect surrounding JACOB. SAGE MAN turns to
audience before disappearing.]
Here, Jacob Feldman: a questioner....
[Softly JACOB murmurs the Kaddish in Hebrew, the words barely discernible.]
Does it ever get cold up there, God? Do you ever bundle up before you go outside and
play in the snow? Do you play in the snow? Do you play at all? Or are you too busy?
What with changing the colors of the sky, and keeping the moon afloat. But you must
have some free time. I’m sure ignoring my prayers clears up a little window in your
schedule. Have you ever lost something God? Something you really loved. Have you
ever taken someone from yourself? Before you were ready to let them go?
What do you think?
[half ignoring SAGE MAN]
Did you try and console yourself by saying that you had a greater plan in mind? Have
you ever questioned the reality of a greater purpose? Or do you just take these things for
granted? And after you realized that what you lost wasn’t coming back, did you stand and
chatter mindlessly into the void?
Shooting vapid questions into the night with the hopes that maybe you would hear
yourself. With the hopes that you exist. Have you ever questioned your own existence
God? I have.
[Echo in the background.]
[He picks up the red sash ribbon and yanks it forward, while the anonymous others in the
background yank it back, and forth.]
Do you know (of course you know) that I prayed to you every night until I was 12 years
old? I would lie in bed, clasp my hands to my heart, and chant the Sh’ma. Unload every
detail that weighed on my chest until I could breathe again. I used to thank you for every
victory and ask your help before each hurdle. What happened? Where did you go? I’m
right here where I’ve always been. You, however, are not where I used to find you. And
what? Leaving me wasn’t enough? You now have to take people from me, people who I
need, need as much as I needed you? Where are you?! Every night I prayed. I prayed
religiously and I don’t know what that means. I’m not asking for special treatment, I just
thought you should know, or let me remind you in case you’d forgotten. Some mornings I
don’t even have faith enough To open the blinds And see the sun. Half expecting you to
have taken it away. And some days—Oh God, some days my eyes are so full of wonder
that I can do nothing but release them with tears.
[He lets go of the sash.]
And while I can’t always believe in you, I can believe in me.
[He walks downstage, peering at the audience.]
And if I can’t believe in either of those things…then I can believe in the moon. Because
even if I wake one morning to find you’ve raped mankind of its star, the moon, even a
sliver of its being will be there to prove we’re not alone. I am one with you, God, and
with the moon. Amen.
[He looks around at the group. His eyes and MAIDA's meet. JACOB reverts to an
upstage shadow, never lighting a candle. SAGE MAN takes off his coat and hat and
places them back in the trunk.
SAGE MAN summons MAIDA REZAI to come forward. She is afraid. He takes a brightly
colored, but tattered long fabric from the trunk and envelops her in it. He smears her
reluctant face with dirt, she resists then complies. She is an Afghani Muslim teenager.
MAIDA's body language says “stay away.” She lights the second candle quickly,
desperately. She murmurs incessantly, breathlessly. MAIDA goes to a prayer rug and
prays. SAGE MAN tries to comfort her but she pushes him away.]
This...is Maida Rezai.
[She is still frightened and disheveled, breathless and desperate.]
Didn't anyone hear me?
[She sits up from the prayer position.]
We do not have any more. We have nothing left in Afghanistan. We have nothing left.
Can we have my brothers back?
[She turns to SAGE MAN and he is reluctant to answer. Lights brighten as MAIDA moves
to one of the tables.]
Mazarshrif was Maida’s home....
I loved my school, my friends. I was learning so many things and my family was happy.
Mazarshrif was pleasant, a good place for our family until they…
[Her voice trails off.]
Pashtoo speakers were killing the Farsi speakers. At the time that is all I could
understand. That is all my father would tell me. I didn't attend school after that.
[MAIDA's FATHER and BROTHER enter in a burst of conversation.]
Father, we can’t just do nothing. I don’t understand. Why kill us for speaking Farsi? It is
It may be absurd but we can not go out into the street to die. That also is absurd. I cannot
say more. They hate us. They want to control us. That is all man ever does to man.
We went to bed a somewhat peaceful family and we were awoken by the most horrific
[Sounds of BOMBS and FIRED SHOTS. The red sash flails in the background.]
They were attacking Mazarshrif. From the moment it started it didn’t stop for 15 days.
We were a city of Farsi women and children and Pashtu men. [long pause] No sleep, no
life. Killing. Not just destruction and torture. Women and children were dying. All the
men were being taken away.
[There is a loud knock at the "door" and a harsh man's voice, played by SAGE MAN.]
Come out, now! We demand that any males in the house come out right now!
[MAIDA speaks to the audience in a hushed tone with just a pool of light on her.]
We hid the boys. My brothers and the neighbor boy. That little neighbor boy never made
it. He was killed, my brother survived. My one brother survived, but not…my… [pause]
Now the third day of the capture of our city. It was the worst day of my life.
[Lights fade to black and we hear loud knocking "at the door".]
You men in there! Come out of the house now! This is an order!
[The lights come up on MAIDA, her MOTHER and her FATHER, fear in their eyes. The
women weep as the Father holds the red sash, almost tied up in it, and is being pulled
away. He pulls back on the red sash, toward his family, in the fight of his life to keep his
ground. The anonymous others in the background, as if soldiers, pull the sash harder.
The father gets "pulled" into the darkness as the women pray. The sash floats to the
Three days we prayed for our father’s return. Three days.
[A sympathetic voice, by SAGE MAN.]
There is a body at the mosque. It may belong to you.
It’s him. It’s him. [pause] My children. I must be with my children.
[MAIDA, her Mother and Brother come together on-stage. They take the red sash and
stay connected to each other, holding on desperately to their Mother, almost wrapping
themselves in it. Then Brother breaks away and straightens out, the new man of the
We know families in the next town. We have some money. We must take our chances
and go. All the neighbors are moving.
We packed what we could carry and hired a truck to take us to the next town, but when
we arrived we feared putting our friends in danger for being Farsi speakers and being
seen speaking to us, so we went on. All the roads were bombed and the Taliban would
stop you every 15 minutes to torture you. They would separate all men and women and
question us for about an hour. They would torture the men and decide whether to keep
them or not. Our prayers of our brothers’ return were always answered.
[The family sits, cold and tired, huddled together, praying, clinging to the sash.]
We had no food and the only water we had was what we would come across. It was
winter time. We were not prepared.
[Native music leads a methodical bang and the audible sounds of people doing some sort
of hard labor work.
The lights rise on the whole family sitting and making rugs. They look exhausted. The red
sash almost binds them.]
At last we reached Pakistan. But then all of us were put into hard labor, to - 'survive.'
[MAIDA speaks to her mother and the others, although there will be no reaction from
them. They continue working as if they do not hear.]
Five years since we have sat in this room in this same disgusting heat, in the same aching
positions, thinking the same mundane thoughts. This work house. I can’t do it anymore!
We have got to get out of here. When can we be free?
[The others echo.]
When can we be free?
Let’s just go, mother. We made it here to Pakistan and even though they took the last few
things we had left, we made it! And we can continue on. Let's go somewhere else.
[MAIDA paces, panicked.]
They only give us enough money to eat rice or potatoes and they expect us to live, work,
eat, sleep, breathe and stay sane in this one little room! It's not right! It can’t be done.
How is it right that none of us have been to school? That we must work instead or we will
not survive? How is this justified? We have weak eyes and white hair from working 18
hours a day, 6 days a week.
You must keep quiet. We will take care of you. You must clean yourself quickly and
continue working. Please just keep working.
[She sits, weak on the floor and looks straight at the audience.]
This time in our life was strange. We were safe from the Taliban, but making these
carpets was killing us. 18 hours a day, 6 days a week. We have Friday afternoon until
Saturday morning as our "day off." This time is the only chance we have to clean
ourselves and our clothes. We are forced to stay inside. Women do not go outside and
when we do we must go with a male family member. One time a month or so I get to go
outside. [pause] If we could only go somewhere else, anywhere else.
And where do you propose we go? Europe? America? Stop daydreaming and finish your
carpet. These have got to be done by tonight or we will not have food for the week.
[MAIDA silently rises and goes back to her 'carpet'. SAGE MAN takes a letter from the
trunk and unfolds it, reading in an 'official' voice.]
"To the Rezai Family...you have been approved for visas to the United States of America,
two months from the date of this letter.....please report to our offices at the following
[The family stops making carpets.]
Did you hear?
Could it be? This miracle? Allah be praised! We were free. To worship in a mosque, to
speak our language, to live together, in America, where we pray this will never happen to
[MAIDA's family retreats to the background, praising the heavens, waving the red sash
in victory. She retreats upstage where SAGE MAN removes her colorful fabric and places
it back in the trunk.
One man steps forward. SAGE MAN gives him a jacket and tie, helping him dress. He is
DIEM TRAN, a Vietnamese man, a tidy and young-looking 50. He lights the third
Long ago, a zen monk said: "Before enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.
After enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water."
[SAGE MAN gestures toward DIEM.]
I know who I am and I know where I am. I am Diem Tran, in San Diego, California. I am
just a man. Here for ten, eleven years. When I left Vietnam, I had to pass an interview. I
went to the consulate in Saigon, and answered all their questions. About the war, about
prison, about my opinions on the United States. I passed their physical, got my
immunizations, got my niece here in San Diego to sign an Affidavit of Relationship, and
they let me come. They let my whole family come.
So you are an American, now.
Yes. A Vietnamese-American, but an American, yes. I have always believed in America.
They didn’t abandon us in the war, like some people think. It was not their fault. We were
always waiting for them to go. But the airports were all bombed. The North thought I was
dangerous because I worked with the Americans.
Intelligence, not combat.
I was in the city. Dressed in civilian clothes. I went everywhere, collecting. And I was
arrested, so. There was no way out for me. I had to go to prison. A re-education camp is
what the communists called it. But I was never reeducated. No! I fought against
communists taking over my country. In the camp, they just wanted us for our labor.
To make products, to make money for the regime. They worked all day with no food,
nothing to eat. But Diem did not become a communist.
I would never become a communist. Who knows why they let me out?
They said they were keeping him there until he became good. Nine years. There were
1,800 people in the prison when he started.
The low level people, they let them out after 1, 2 years. But I was one of the last eight
prisoners from the war. To this day I don’t know why they let me go. Why do the
communists do anything? No one knows until five minutes before what they will do. One
day they just said "you can go." And I left. They decided I was good. But prison did not
Do you love your country?
Which one is yours?
Does it matter?
I love democracy. That is all you need to know about me. You look at my whole life, you
look at the choices I have made, that is all you need to know. In America, you have
democracy. In Vietnam, you have Communism. No choices. Right now, I love America.
But if there was no Communism in Vietnam…I would not be here.
Are you - religious?
[He approaches the audience, calmly.]
I practice Buddhism. But I am not religious. I practice Buddhism for practical, every day
life. I use Buddhism to help me solve problems, to keep from getting angry. I used it
many times in the camp. Always, I try to live in the present moment.
I try –
I try –
I try to live in the present moment.
That is what Buddhism is. And when we stay in the moment, nothing else, we stay happy
and focused. I stay myself. Because of Buddhism, I know who I am and I know where I
am. And because of my father. My father taught me well. He got me a good education,
and when you have a good education, it’s impossible for anyone to "re-educate" you. You
You must, or else there's no hope. Is this your...faith?
Faith takes many forms. I have children. I want to be a mirror for my children. The only
thing that keeps anyone going is to have hopes and dreams for your children. Isn't this
right? I have made a better life for them. And I live here now, in the present. And my life
is now to help others, here at the IRC - The International Rescue Committee. Where
people come to start over. I know. I know who I am and where I am.
[DIEM retreats to the background, returning his tie/jacket to the trunk. Lights alter as SAGE MAN strolls by, eyeing the candles.
From the trunk, SAGE MAN takes out a tattered book with pages of various colors and
sizes cobbled together and hands it to ELNORD JOSEPH, the bold Haitian man, late
ELNORD strides across stage, holding his makeshift book. He lights the fourth candle.
One woman plays the two female minor roles and one man plays the three male minor
roles. ELNORD will mostly address the audience. He nods to SAGE MAN.]
The words of Elnord Joseph, from Haiti. He has many stories.
[SAGE MAN backs away.]
My life is an open book. I have no secrets. I am not an intellectual. I did not go to school.
I left my parent’s house when I was fifteen. Had enough, moved to the city. In Cayes, I
didn’t know anyone. I didn’t have a house, a place to stay. So I worked, did the dirty
work, to eat. I didn’t know how to read. So I paid the little schoolchildren to teach me
what they knew. The alphabet. I learned the letters. Then I put letters together to make a
word. A phrase. Then I didn’t pay the children anymore, I could teach myself. But I
didn’t have a book. Everywhere I went, even the dump, if I saw a piece of paper, I picked
it up, and I read it and put it in my book. This is my book. Everywhere I go, I read, read,
But one day Elnord’s reading was interrupted by a woman driving by on a truck, talking
on a megaphone....
Come and be saved. The sick will be well, anyone who is sick, come to Jesus. If you are
blind, you will see. If you are deaf, you will hear. If you are mute, you will speak.
[ELNORD looks up at the woman.]
What is it about? What are you saying?
You know about Jesus Christ?
I know some songs my father used to sing.
We’re starting a church, come and be saved.
I have nothing to wear!
No matter! The lord knows you are not rich, he only asks that you do your best.
He only asks that you do your best.
[The WOMAN retreats upstage.]
I had nothing to wear to a place like this. No nice clothes, my shoes - I had run out of
shoes. I spent the whole day washing my clothes. Then I waited for them to dry in the
sun. When the sun went down, everybody had already gone, all gone to the church, and
my clothes were dry. So I went. I don’t know why I went. It was a call.
[A PASTOR comes downstage.]
My father and mother believed in paganism. They believed in God almighty, but also in
other spirits. It was not right. To me, it never seemed right. But when I went into that
church, everything seemed right.
The pastor put his hands on Elnord's head and said:
[ELNORD crosses to the PASTOR and kneels in front of him. The PASTOR
puts his hands on ELNORD’s head.]
Are you willing to accept Jesus?
Yes, I will, I am, and I’m ready.
Learn this prayer: Dear Jesus, I’m your child. Protect and keep me.
Dear Jesus, I’m your child. Protect and keep me.
Protect and keep him.
And I became a new-born Christian. I was 22 years old.
[ELNORD looks at the book in his hand.]
Pastor, you have saved me. I have no house, no money, nothing, but I don’t need those
things. I need a bible.
[PASTOR hands ELNORD a bible. ELNORD takes it, and throws his old book on the
He got one. And the night he got his bible, ELNORD started a business, with ten cents,
selling sugar cane.
[SAGE MAN hands ELNORD a large piece of sugar cane and ELNORD hands him
I bought a big piece of sugar cane, and I cut it. I sold the pieces on the street - four cents,
two cents, four cents, two cents. By the end of the night, I had four dollars in my pocket.
By the end of the week, I had thirty-seven dollars. In three months, I had three men
working for me, everyone wanted to work for me. After I accepted Jesus Christ into my
life, He helped me make a business for myself. But then I became very ill.
He went to his father's house.
[A man as ELNORD’s FATHER enters with a bedroll, unrolls it, and ELNORD lies
Son, you are very sick. Many people say you will die. Please, let me take you to get some
You must not be so stubborn! You don’t understand! There are men who can help you.
I do not need those men. I have Jesus Christ.
Please, my son!
Their poison can do nothing to me. I have the word of God.
[FATHER leaves, angrily.]
Yes, I was stubborn. But that same night, I had a dream. I was in the back of a pickup
truck, driving down a road, sitting up by the driver. On the street there was a man, he
[The man who was the PASTOR is the DREAM MAN.]
Come down from that truck!
But I refused. And the driver, he drove on. Three corners later, the man came again.
Come down from that truck!
But I would not come down. We came to the side of the river Grand Passe. The man was
there again, and again he said:
Come down from that truck!
I held fast. Then the driver turned and told me to get off. So I did. The man threw a rope
on me, tied me up. I felt my body turning into a lamb. The man picked me, and took me
into the pagan priest’s home, ready for the slaughter. I struggled, and I got free of those
ropes. I ran out of that place. I ran and I ran, and the man came chasing after me. I
stopped. I caught him, and I broke him. I woke up singing "Victory is Mine!"
And he felt totally well.
[SAGE MAN takes away the bedroll. ELNORD holds his bible.]
Several years later, I had five children. My business was still going, but the country was
not. I wondered what kind of life could I make for my children? How could I make the
country a better place for them? Many people I knew had these same questions. So we
had a meeting. Just to talk. But before we even started, someone found out that we were
talking. And then we were all in danger. I decided that I should go away to America. So I
hid in the countryside for three months, afraid for my life and waiting for a boat.
Finally, on July 13th, 1981, Elnord Joseph left Haiti.
[ELNORD looks off, exhaling.]
We stayed on that boat for thirteen days. Eighty-seven people, on a boat sixteen feet by
forty feet. One man went crazy from the ocean, started trying to bite other people, to
throw them over the side. When we arrived in Miami, we were eighty-six people. After
that, they sent us to a camp in Puerto-Rico, very rough. We stayed in folding beds, in a
tent. When it rained, the water leaked through. Eight hundred people in the camp and
none of us knew how long we would be there. Some had family in the United States who
would sign for them.
But since Elnord was the first in his family to come to the United States...
I had no one to sign for me. Some of the men got depressed, suicidal. Two of the men
died. But I knew what to do, from the moment I entered the camp. I held my bible in my
[Speaking out upstage as if to the detainees.]
Is there anybody here who is a Christian?
[Two PEOPLE come forward. They and ELNORD take the red sash and turn in a circle,
We must pray together. We must pray for the lord to give us strength. We have faced
trials before. We will make it through, with his help.
[The two back up with the sash, and others start to take hold of it.]
That's when Elnord's ministry started.
Our prayer meeting spread through our camp. The lord gave us hope and strength. After
fourteen months, a man named Walter Hudson signed for me. A stranger, but he had
spent many years in Haiti. And a Catholic charity sponsored me. So I went to San Diego.
Six years later, I got my green card, I went to visit my family in Haiti. One year later, I
got my citizenship and applied for my family. Two years later, my wife came with one
child. Two more years, my other four children came. Last Father’s Day, one of my
daughters gave me a book. Another book!
[His DAUGHTER steps forward and presents him with a leather-bound journal from the
Here, Papa. You’re so full of stories. Write some of them down. So we can remember.
[ELNORD takes the book, holds it in his left hand, his bible in his right. The young
woman retreats upstage. ELNORD opens the journal.]
It’s true. I have a lot of stories.
[ELNORD holds the the bible and the journal together.
CHORUS members join him. As they stand close together, moonlight shines brighter on
them from above. SAGE MAN wanders toward them, playing the duduk soulfully,
accompanying the others as they hum a sacred song without words. They retreat upstage,
putting their accoutrements in the trunk.
SAGE MAN swerves among the candles, around the stage, playing as....
Three women step forward. Helped by the others, SAGE MAN takes Chinese fabrics and
blouses, bright red and others, and dresses the three women accordingly. They become
three Chinese women: the elder MRS. ANCESTOR, middle-aged THE MISSUS, and the
The ladies quickly move downstage and rearrange the entire stage, chatting and laughing
as they go.]
As I used to say all the time to my dear husband, may his soul be kept in the light, one
thing has to fall for the other to spring up into the air and take flight.
Yes darling? Dear sweet darling dulcet dear?
Could you please give me a minute to prepare, it's almost my turn.
[SAGE MAN approaches them, fascinated.]
Oh, I do suppose dear. I do suppose.
[The three ladies chuckle and shoo SAGE MAN away. He folds his arms.]
One of these days, they'll get to Alex Chuang.
[He retreats to the background. The ladies nod and move downstage, rearranging
everything, chatting and laughing as they go. They take the red sash and wave it in the
air, playfully, before letting it fall to the ground. They place everything in an upstage
corner as they talk, leaving only three chairs in a semicircle, downstage center. They stop
to survey the lit and unlit candles.]
Darling, just imagine my burden. I already know the ending and there’s no one to tell.
Sitting here with my answers, seeing you two with your questions, I would expect a little
more graciousness for my assistance.
You’re confusing our guests, Mrs. Ancestor.
Guests? We have guests?
[THE MISSUS snaps her gaze to the audience rather sharply.]
Oh my. Oh my. I suppose I should explain.
Do you have to?
The Greeks were the closest. Oh yes. They thought three women sewed, seamed and
snipped the threads of fate. But the truth is there are three per family. The truth is that our
lives happen a hundred thousand times, and it’s up to those who came before to aid in
shaping what comes after.
And the truth is that you never get to choose with whom you share your eternity.
[assuring the audience]
It’s not forever. Just a while.
A long while.
Stop! Both of you. It’s time. I’m not prepared.
[Lights change, something happens to let us know we are somewhere new. They stand in
a huddle, looking off into the distance and the same spot, FEMME in front clutching a
small child. THE MISSUS supporting MRS. ANCESTOR.]
Oh little baby don't shed a tear. Mother, your mommy, your momma is here.
[to the audience]
China during the Japanese invasion.
ANCESTORS! Show me a way. He is your child, ancestors. He is sick. Malaria. He
might not make a name for us. He might not make the night.
She’s part of our family. She’s holding my great, great, great, great, great, great, great…
well you get the idea. I’m old and she’s holding a son of mine, a link back to me.
Ancestors, what do I do? It’s cold and I’m scared and people
[to the audience]
This is the part I hate. I want to tell her to take a train to a distant village. Set up in a
small modest hut and not to worry for fate has designed that her husband will find her
Well you can’t Mrs. Ancestor.
I know I can’t Missy. All I can do is give a little push in the right direction.
Ancestors please! What do I do?
[MRS. ANCESTOR throws a shawl over her head and walks into the playing space and
helps FEMME to her feet. Walks her across the stage to the other side. We hear a train
She’s fine. She made it on the right train. They switch a hundred times before they reach
that village, but they’ll get there. Mrs. Ancestor will see to that. Do you know what’s
going on here? We’re fixing lives together. Placing pieces in parts like a giant puzzle.
Working the moments that mean the world. Everyone has their ancestors in their lives.
And after a while I’ll stop taking care of the middle. Mrs. Ancestor will become a child
again and I’ll fix the end. And then one day I’ll be a new child. The young girl will
become the ancestor and I won’t know any answers at all. It goes on like this. Life keeps
[FEMME slowly sneaks up behind THE MISSUS.]
America. They made it. The child lived. The mother died a death of age and pride and the
youth went off to America.
[ALEX CHUANG enters in a labcoat.]
What is this place? So clean and white. A laboratory? The child must be a scientist.
[MRS. ANCESTOR stands with FEMME. They watch ALEX proudly.]
You hear that? My great, great, great, great, great, great, great—well you get the idea—
he’s a scientist.
What honor for our name.
And not just any scientist. A space scientist. An explorer of the unknown.
Oh I don’t know all the terms dear. I just know he's a big deal in America. But he hasn't
[MRS. ANCESTOR approaches ALEX as if in the middle of conversation.]
No one is saying a museum's a bad idea Mr. Chuang.
Doctor. Doctor Chuang.
Of course: Doctor. All I’m saying is that fundraising is tricky.
But why should we fundraise? A museum, a museum in the memory of the Chinese
Americans, isn’t there money in this country for that? In China we recognized the
importance of our history. Here - you don’t understand. This needs to be here. I must
preserve Chinese heritage here in America. I did so much for your country, for your
space program. This is your country’s chance to do something for me, for my country.
Memories are the most important thing we have, madam. Our ancestors are the only link
back to what keeps us grounded, to what keeps us whole. I must make a space to honor
my ancestors. I will create a tribute in their honor -an altar for their name. Because you
see, madam, the ancestor is the most important thing.
[ALEX retreats to the background and MRS. ANCESTOR walks over to the other women.
She smiles broadly. But FEMME looks worried.]
Oh, don't worry: he got his funds dear. He opened his museum darling. Happy ending.
But how hard he had to work. Poor man.
No: Lucky man. Faith through action my dear. It’s what we do, how hard we work, that
counts. But isn’t it fun? Here in the world?
[MRS. ANCESTOR kisses them sweetly as the three women hold each other close. They
take the red sash and circle it around ALEX. ALEX separates from them and lights the
They move upstage, where SAGE MAN and the others take off their robes and place them
into the trunk. Music.]
[Two men step forward: one man becomes NGHIEP LE, another will serve as the minor
male roles in NGHIEP’s story. NGHIEP steps farther downstage. He lights the sixth
candle. SAGE MAN stops his music to speak.]
The Hindu philosopher once said, "Never lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like the
ocean. If a few drops of the ocean become dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."
[NGHIEP points at himself with a "Who, me?" look.]
Yes, you, Nghiep.
From far across the ocean, Nghiep Le.
[SAGE MAN urges him forward. NGHIEP turns to the audience.]
Faith in God has guided me throughout my life. In a country like Vietnam, where God
was not too important to most people, my Father was a man of great faith. In their youth,
he and my Mother converted from Buddhism to Protestantism, to the great dismay of my
Grandparents. My Father lived his faith every day. It was as much a part of him as
breathing-and as it was for him, so it is for me, his youngest son, Nghiep Le. I will never
forget this clear demonstration of my Father’s faith when I was six years old.
[The FATHER steps forward.]
Nghiep, my son, look at me. Your Mama is very sick. The medicine may not make her
better. There is a younger woman who needs the same medicine and there is only enough
for one. Nghiep, if the doctors give the medicine to your mother and she dies, then both
will die. My son, look at me. Listen. I've told the doctors to give the medicine to the other
woman. She has a better chance to get well. There is more for us than this life.
There is more for us than this life....
Your mama knows where she goes from here.
[The Father retreats. NGHIEP swallows his emotion and straightens up.]
Nghiep grew up in a Seventh-Day Adventist Mission.
My father was a carpenter and he sold books for the church...
Door to door. He ultimately became a minister.
After college, when I returned to Saigon, the church had opened a hospital there, run on
the American standard. There were nurses on duty 24 hours and more medicine available.
Perhaps no other family would have to make the decision mine made because of a lack of
[SAGE MAN takes a white medical coat from the trunk, placing it on NGHIEP. He clears
his throat, wipes his eyes, and continues.]
The doctors, nurses and technicians in the hospital were all from the U.S. and the
Phillipines. "Where are the Viet Namese?" I wondered. "Only the Patients?" I thought we
should have Vietnamese caring for our own people. I was off to Bangkok to a large
medical training school for lab and X-ray technicians. I soon became the Personnel and
Purchasing Director. I was married to Lang, a nurse at the hospital, and we had two
One day, the police came looking for Nghiep.
I had never registered for the draft. The head of the hospital went to the ministry of
defense to try to get an indefinite deferment. We waited.
Nghiep joined the US Army. He spoke English. They needed him. And if he died, his
wife Lang and their two daughters would get better benefits.
I was in a special forces unit. The CIA had me train others to go back into the villages
and I didn’t have to go out into the jungle. It took my hospital a full year to get my final
deferment from the draft. As soon as it came through I was discharged from the US Army
and returned to the hospital in Saigon. God had a new plan for me…at least it was new to
me. The Americans, who knew they could not stay forever, wanted to turn the Army field
hospital over to us. The transition happened very quickly. In three days we phased in and
the Army phased out.
No one knew then how bad it was about to get in Saigon.
[played by same actor as FATHER]
Nghiep, you need to begin preparations for the hospital staff
and their families to evacuate.
As I was negotiating for so many to leave the country, I didn’t know if Lang and I would
actually be able to get out. I knew I had to send my daughters ahead. Phuong was 6 and
Chau was 11. I wanted them to have a future. We couldn’t risk the possibility that they
might be forced to witness our torture and execution if we were picked up. It wouldn’t be
uncommon...and the Communists were looking for me specifically.
They sent the girls out of the country with a group of Missionaries but to where, exactly,
they did not know.
We placed them in God’s hands, each with a dog tag around her neck imprinted with a
US contact name and phone number. I had faith that I would see them again…if we got
[VARIOUS PEOPLE run in a circle before resettling upstage, red sash falling to the
And on April 25, 1975 at seven o'clock....
...The call from the Embassy came. I had one hour to collect my remaining hospital staff
and their families, about 250 people, before the curfew. It seemed an impossible task but
we had carefully planned. I believed God would use me to accomplish this.
Messengers were sent throughout the city, some running and some on bicycles. Because
cars were not allowed on the streets after curfew, they used ambulances from the hospital
to pick people up and bring them to the Embassy.
And we succeeded in transporting them all. Early the next morning, all those we’d
gathered, including Lang and I, flew from Saigon to the Philippines. I’ll never forget,
they showed the movie "Born Free" on the plane.
"Born Free, as free as the wind blows...."
[NGHIEP nods at them, as if to say, “Yes that's it...” SAGE MAN hushes up, chuckling.]
The following morning we flew from there to Guam and were put on a bus to a camp
called Tent City. We passed by a US military barracks that was also holding some
refugees. As we drove by, I saw through a window two little girls climbing a stairway.
They were my girls!! Later that day our family was reunited. In 1976 my son Peter was
born a United States citizen. My wife and I resumed our medical careers here. God had
prepared me long ago for this new life.
Now I am a community relations representative for Sharp Health Plan.
And the President of the Vietnamese Federation....
...To help other Vietnamese immigrants learn the culture and the laws. And to teach
others about the Vietnamese.
[NGHIEP nods to the SAGE MAN and peers into the audience.]
I believe that in order to live together we need to understand each other. I believe that
God has a reason for everything. I could have been killed so many times, but God’s hand
always protected me. We had to leave our home in Vietnam, so clearly God wants us
here. Someday I may be even more used to Him here than I was in Vietnam.
[NGHIEP whispers a prayer and returns upstage with the two others, as they return their
medical coats to the trunk.]
A fellow sage once told us, "It is better to light a single candle than to curse the
darkness." Do we truly believe that?
[A middle aged WOMAN steps forward. SAGE MAN places on her a deep-colored dress
from the trunk.
He also hands her a large chunk of white chalk. She has become JEANDARK PUTRIS, a
vibrant Chaldean woman. She lights the seventh candle. She draws along the floor
downstage, creating a circular boundary for herself.]
Out of the desert comes Jeandark Putris.
Welcome to my world!
[She swirls the chalk lines back and forth on the ground, as if sand.]
Timeless sand, I'm in the sand. The sands of our timeless desert. I have been drawing
lines in the sand since I can remember--since my birth in Iraq, just as Saddam Hussein
was about to ascend to power.
I grew up in a town of 5,000 Catholics surrounded in a land of Muslims. I am Chaldean.
[as she slowly rises remaining in circle] Our lineage goes back to Father Abraham of Ur
of Chaldea. Our heritage lays claim to one of the seven ancient wonders of the world--the
hanging Gardens of Babylon-600 BC. Over the years … the lines have protected
me....[she embraces herself] The lines have trapped me....[trying unsuccessfully to dip
her toe outside the circle] The lines have blurred....[she rubs out the circle with her foot
in a swift turn.] When I was child, I didn’t know the confines of my world. The circle
was my safety net. [she redraws her circle around her.] That is, until I rebelled.
Ah, yes. The teenage rebellion.
But first, childhood. It was a life on the farm-—mules, chickens, goats. Doors were
always open, we played until dark, no cars, no fear. We met at church every morning at
"Sacred Heart of Jesus" –
St. Thomas had brought the gospel to the Chaldeans, not long after Christ.
[She holds out her arms to embrace.]
It was a multi-generational gathering! We said our rosary together. We worked, we
cleaned—all together. And we prayed as we worked--my grandmother could not read, but
she had memorized the whole mass! Faith was naturally woven into daily life--my
mother said it kept us off of gossip! Gathering each night for my father's bible stories--his
favorite was Joseph--king of dreams. What grounded us was the faith of our family....
[The CHORUS whirls the red sash around JEANDARK.]
The faith of our family...
[She returns to drawing.]
Television was only available for a couple of hours in the evening and Saddam was often
on. At school we had to march for the state chanting, "With our body and our blood, we
will sacrifice our life for you, Saddam Hussein." As a child I had a lot to say,
[Again trying to step out of her circle, but she withdraws]
But I did not feel free to speak. I was the tenth child in a family of twelve. But I never felt
lost in the shuffle. Then again any event that singled me out was rare and appreciated.
Ahh! My first communion at age seven… -Dressed in all white right down to my
underwear and socks -Donning a white veil, like a bride -Given a small white bible
almost like a bouquet I think it was the first spark of my falling in love with Jesus. I truly
felt like his bride. Since that day, white has become, for me, the color of freedom.
[She draws a loving word or shape in the “sand.”]
When my father went to town for work, he had to dress like a Muslim and speak Arabic.
We spoke Aramaic but only at home. Sometimes when we walked to church, the Muslim
children would tease us by mimicking the sign of the cross or kneeling in our path to pray
or cover the heads to mock the women. We had a Muslim neighbor who was a friend
however. He was in the military and our family watched over his wife while he was out
During the Iraq and Iran War - all borders were closed.
Our Muslim neighbor warned father that his sons were not safe from the military and so
he sent one of my brothers to Greece and one to Egypt. It was clear to my father that he
could not grow and build his rug business and raise his family in safety. It was time to
risk the journey to a bigger world …
[Drawing a larger circle around her.]
The United States--
Land of milk and honey!
Land of opportunity and dreams--Land of religious freedom for all cultures--Heaven on
The year was 1980. Jeandark was eleven years old.
We never said goodbye to our neighbors. We sold nothing, so as not to raise suspicion.
And we left in the middle of the night. We could not take cash over the border, so my
father bought jewelry which we sewed into our underwear. There were check-pointsinterrogations,
officers trying to uncover our plans for a new world. Then, a security
[A shriek as she swipes an opening into her circle.]
My sister--patted down--discovered. "I’ll give you one dinar if you don’t say anything!"
she cries. They took the one dinar and let her pass. I believe God shielded their eyes from
the jewelry again and again. We made it to Jordan--hungry--tired. Somehow a Lebanese
woman, who was a Christian, heard our story and took it upon herself to get us tickets out
of Jordan. My father said she was an angel.
[The CHORUS raises the red sash around JEANDARK. She rises.]
After a long journey and nights of prayers, we got our papers, and God brought my
family safely to the United States.
[The CHORUS retreats. She twirls around, smearing the lines.]
But of course, my parents said "no" to American popular culture! What would you
[She straightens up and progressively draws smaller and smaller circles around her]
My parents worried, shielded, protected, and tried to keep us at home. You see, there is a
group-think in Chaldean families--you are expected to do everything together as a family
--go to church--social gatherings--build your business--share the same opinions. But it
was too small a world for me. And at thirteen, I became restless to do my own thing.
[She stands up.]
That is when I rebelled.
[She erases all the circles.]
I wanted to be out with friends more, so I didn’t go to church as much. I would sneak out
of school early; I experimented with questionable language –questionable behaviors. I
experimented with everything the world had to offer.
Oh, yes, she did....
[She runs her hand across the floor, “picking up” sand as if falling through her fingers.]
I quickly saw it was meaningless. Meaningless. God eventually brought me back, but I
stopped going to the Chaldean church. It felt like a show to me…very competitive-very
Hollywood-not for faith anymore. I felt at war sometimes… With my culture, my church,
my family. But I wanted my own mind. If I entertained marrying outside the culture, I
would be disowned. And although my family wanted me to go to college and get my
degree in architecture, they expected me to put aside my degree after graduation and
work in the store for my brothers. In Chaldean culture, your brothers act like your fatherall
of them. "You can take this degree and put it away, do the family business and when
you get married then take your degree and get a job." I didn’t want to work in the store to
build my brother’s future. Inside I was screaming, "Freedom!" like that scene in Mel
Gibson’s "Brave Heart.”
I longed for freedom—a life that didn’t choke, that didn’t limit me because I was a girl,
but this was not about feminism. Still, I had to draw the line in the sand.
[She draws a line right down the middle of the “sand.”]
I would have one foot in Chaldean culture-
[Plants a foot to the right of the line.]
And one foot in American.
[Plants a foot to the left of it.]
I began going to the American Catholic church. My faith became separate from my
culture and it began to grow. Even my father acknowledged that my personal faith grew
because I separated from the culture. I did not work at my brother’s store, but took a job
in an architectural firm. And quit only to be a mother for my three children. And I did not
marry outside my culture. Although, my Chaldean husband is a closet Protestant. The line
is a blur at times. It is not easy to integrate faith, tradition, and American culture.
Or any culture. Not easy.
But I have taken from my Chaldean roots and embraced American opportunity and
freedom and I am my own!
[She swirls the chalk/sand lines so there are no longer any lines or boundaries. She takes
a deep breath and steps out of the boundary area. She moves to her own inner melody,
humming to herself, free as ever, dancing. SAGE MAN escorts her upstage.
A WOMAN steps forward. From the trunk, SAGE MAN takes and drapes
over the WOMAN a torn and patched ivory dress, which despite its condition is brilliant.
SAGE MAN smears dirt and 'bruises' across her face and body. She is now FAITH.]
You are Faith.
[Stepping forward is a young man, eyes closed. SAGE MAN takes the red sash and
blindfolds him with one end of it, leaving the rest dangling. He has become a Jewish
YOUTH. His features are dark, strong, aggressive. His eyes, too-when seen later-are
brooding yet childlike: sensitive and seeking. He shivers with cold. He hums softly,
rocking himself back and forth. SAGE MAN advises gently.]
Hold close to each other: Nathan Dinnerman, and Faith.
[Coming alongside him is FAITH, the woman dressed in white. She is radiant. She tugs
on the red sash to get his attention. He turns toward her but cannot see her.]
Sometimes. Sometimes you have to comfort yourself. Sometimes you are mother and
child. Sometimes I pretend that you, Faith, are here with me.
[FAITH glides towards him and embraces him tightly.]
You make me sound like a whirlwind, prone to whisk myself away at any moment, fickle
as the wind.
Well you are. You are as fickle as the wind. One minute I feel you in the breeze, another
minute I look and the breeze has blown you away.
Oh child, I am here - even in your blindness.
You’re just words now. You’re just words and sounds and breath on my neck. And
breath, breath is a lonely visitor.
I won’t hear it. I won’t hear your pity.
I starved for you! I ate up my stomach and swallowed my spite! I waited in wilderness and chewed on my tongue for you.
[Strong but not angry, taking hold of the sash.]
And did I not let you live? Did I not give you strength? Did I leave you an orphan of the
world? Or did I take you in and give you might?
Let me see you. Let me see your face.
So see it then. See all of me.
I can’t. You’ve hidden yourself from me.
I’m not playing hide and seek, you are.
I don’t play games.
[She turns him around. Tears the red sash blindfold from his face but stands so he cannot
Tell me where you looked, and I will tell you where I’ve been.
[From this point, whenever FAITH fills in for another character she is still herself. She
plays the roles to help YOUTH relive his life. The following is at a faster pace than the
previous poetic exchange. They talk life now.]
Poland. The ghetto. I was fifteen.
Ugh, not another holocaust story.
A Wednesday, Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
I let you be born again.
Rain fell as heavy as lead. And the men came to our door.
OUT! OUT! MEN, WOMEN, CHILDREN OUT! JEWS, JUDEN, BEASTS
They were separating men from women. The young from the old.
INTO THE STREETS! OUT OF YOUR HOUSES! TAKE NOTHING! OUT! OUT!
What could I take? What was left? Prayer shawls shredded. Holy books burned. They
took away my faith, what could I bring?
They took away the objects of your faith. I was there. [He faces her sharply, locking eyes
[Cold and focused]
I have yet to see you. I saw a mass of people trapped by a wall of steel. I found myself
prodded into line.
INTO THE TRUCKS PIGS! STAY IN LINE! IF YOU STEP OUT OF LINE
YOU WILL BE SHOT! IF YOU LOOK US IN THE EYES YOU WILL BE
[as an afterthought]
IF YOU DON’T LOOK US IN THE EYES YOU WILL BE SHOT!
[almost smiling, very slowly]
YOU WILL BE SHOT!
The rain was mixed with the cries of my family, my strangers, my people. Man and
nature moaned in an aching harmony and all I could hear was the irregular beating of my
Look for me child! I’m right there.
Who knows why I looked there. Who knows why one head turns upward to the sky while
another turns downward to check his footing. But I saw a hole. A gaping wide exit to an
uncertain future. Someone had cut a hole in the fence and no one could see it but me.
There I am! I was right there! I knew! I was there! [to audience] Didn’t I tell you I’d be
I said to myself Self, I’m gonna die anyways, better I see something new, better I take a
chance. Sometimes exits appear because they have to be taken.
Hello! That’s where I am! I’m there. I’m in the exit. I am the exit.
My body knew before I did. My body left my mind in line and sprinted towards the hole
in the fence. And then the silence shattered with gunfire. My ears were ringing, my eyes
were stinging and my body was numb. Trapped in myself I ran. The bullets were flying
like the rain. I dodged them all. Any moment I could be shot. Any moment every moment
any moment every moment any moment any moment I could be I could be, could be—
[Screams from the CHORUS cut off quickly, YOUTH puts hand to his neck with a loud
slap. Everyone freezes. Slowly he feels his neck and touches his fingers to his lips.]
Blood or rain? Blood or rain? Blood or rain? Blood.
[He falls to the ground but is still alive.]
[running over to him]
Oh my child, my child. What did you do?
What else could I do? I closed my eyes, shut up my ears, turned away from my body to
be left for dead and...
I closed my eyes, shut up my ears, turned away from my body to be left for dead and....
And I prayed. Without the words or sacred objects. Me and my God. Me and my fear and
my faith and my God I prayed.
[He whispers a prayer to himself.]
I disfigured my face, craned my neck and lay still, waiting. The Nazis ceased fire soon
after I fell. Others ran for freedom. Others saw an escape. Others had fallen. Strewn
across the square the wounded were moving or not moving at all. And with their
bayonets, the men in uniform stabbed out any remaining life.
MAKE SURE THEY’RE DEAD! CHECK THEIR EYES! CHECK THEIR BODIES! IF
THEY AREN’T MOVING THEN THEY’RE DEAD! BUT IF THEY MOVE... THEN
I prayed that I might die for a moment. I prayed that I might stop myself from shaking.
Stop my chest from wheezing up and down. And they came closer and I prayed harder.
And they came closer and I stopped my breath. As they came closer, I let my body die.
[FAITH peers down at him. She takes one last look and walks away.]
IS KAPUT! DEAD! MOVE ON MEN!
They thought I was dead. Everyone thought I was dead. Even the angels looking down
counted me with the rest of those who had stopped living.
On a rainy Wednesday. On Rosh Hashana the Jewish new year.
I was reborn. In the womb of the ghetto I was nurtured and through that gaping chance in
a chain link fence.
[He rises shakily still clutching his hand to his neck. Quickly, he rips his sleeve and
attempts to plug up the wound in his neck. FAITH comes over and ties it around for him.]
Let me help you.
The woods were in the distance, but I knew I could make them.I knew I could escape. I
tried to walk there, hell, I tried to run there. But every time I felt my pulse quicken, my
knees buckled and I dragged myself along, knuckles and blood and flesh and bone.
[She picks him up, helps him stand, and walks him to the “woods.”]
Here, let me help you.
[moved and shaken]
I left my family in line. I left them behind.
I am not always pretty...
All I could think of was saving my own life.
Sometimes I am raw and bleeding. Desperate and hungry.
It was all I could do to block out my mind and make it to safety. To the woods. In and out
of the woods for three years I stayed. And the animals, they had compassion for me. Not
for a Jew, or a Pole, or even a man. Blind compassion for that which is alive. They licked
my wounds. The wounds of man.
[FAITH tends to his wounds.]
Let me heal you.
Who are you, really?
I am Our Faith, my forever child.
I thought you’d be prettier.
I am not always pretty. You are so hurt.
I am not always peaceful and passive. I am angry and aggressive. Hope is not idly sitting,
waiting for better days. Hope is action.
Faith is action.
Faith is action.
Where is he, Faith Mother? Where is God?
[Seeing he doesn't understand] Where?
Where is he? I’ve never seen him. You I see, pretty lady, now and again, here and there,
if I cry loud enough. But him, I’ve never seen him. I want to see him. Where is he?
Where is my Father God?
Oh my child, he is here between us, in what we create. In that love, God is.
It’s so cold now. I’m tired of talking. Can I rest yet? Can I rest now?
Of course. Of course. Sleep a while.
[She wraps him in a new, clean blanket.]
I’m glad you came.
I never left you.
[She hums him a short melody, entrancing him.]
Good night my child. Sleep soundly. Sweet dreams.
[He falls asleep. FAITH lights the eighth candle for him. SAGE MAN
and FAITH direct the young sleeping man upstage. SAGE MAN derobes
FAITH and she retreats upstage.
SAGE MAN plays a striking melody as a young black man steps forward.
SAGE MAN takes note of this striking young man and stops.
The others in the background take several layers of clothes from the
trunk and dress the man until he is over-bundled.
He has become DANIEL YAMUNE, a Sudanese young man, 20s. His countenance
appears good-natured but made serious by his apparent discomfort with his
surroundings. SAGE MAN lingers nearby, still entranced by the emergence of this young
man with searing eyes. He nears DANIEL.]
"We are twice-armed if we fight with faith," the Greek teacher said.
[SAGE MAN looks him up and down before backing away.]
This - is Daniel Yamune.
[DANIEL goes to center stage, a single light illuminating him from directly above as he
shuffles. DANIEL lights the ninth candle.
The lights suddenly flicker and swirl and the noises of a big city - New York City - begin
to blare. DANIEL stares around, completely lost. He keeps looking at a piece of paper
and looking up at the buildings. He seems to be freezing, despite the layers of clothes. He
is disoriented and mumbles incoherently, despairing.
A person hurries to work/paying no attention to DANIEL. A couple walk by ad libbing
inaudibly and he fails to get their attention. Finally, a woman walks by. She
stops, considers approaching him, then turns around and does so.]
Are you lost? You look a bit confused.
[DANIEL stares at her.]
Are you okay? [pause] I know how it feels to be lost in this city. What address are you
[Again, DANIEL just stares at her dumbfounded. The WOMAN sees the piece of paper in
his hand and gently takes it and reads it.]
347 Lafayette. Oh, you're close. It’s right here somewhere!
[She looks around and spies it across the street, towards the audience. She points to it
and smiles at DANIEL.]
Will you be okay?
[DANIEL nods, forcing a smile.]
[She touches his arm, he reacts, she smiles and goes offstage. DANIEL “walks” across
the street. Lights lower downstage and rise upstage right. A woman social worker, MS.
GIBBS, 40s, enters. She is slow and looks bored. She has been doing this job for a long
time and sees it pretty much as paperwork. They sit on the two chairs near one of the
Okay, I can finally get started with your file, Mr…
[She tries to pronounce the last name and fails.]
Mr. Daniel. From Sudan. So how’s America treating you so far?
[She smiles at DANIEL, noticing he has on so many layers. He looks like he is about to
I am very well, thank you.
You don’t look very well. I’ve seen ’em all honey and you look like you had one hell of a
trip! Now you just came in from Kakuma refugee camp, correct?
And that was in Kenya? Not Sudan?
[He nods again.]
Okay. How long were you there?
[writes in the file and looks at DANIEL curiously]
And before that? Where were you before that?
Everywhere and nowhere.
Yeah, some tough days out there I am sure. What town did you live in? What camp?
Before Kakuma we walked from Pachala Camp.
We. Now who exactly is we? Do you have some names?
Me and the other boys. The Lost Boys of the Sudan, the world calls us now. About
12,000 of us. From Pachala only the very ill could get a ride on the trucks to Kakuma,
otherwise you had to walk. I had not eaten in 6 days. I gorged myself on the food the UN
provided and I got very ill. They were not going to take me in one of the trucks and....
[He is afraid to continue. MS. GIBBS urges him to go on.]
At the last minute, I secretly wrapped a bandage around my arm and they gave me a
ticket to get on the truck. I was one of the fortunate ones. Those who were not on a truck,
died. The travel killed them, the food killed them, the lack of food killed them, and even
the lions killed them.
Yes. So many people dying at this time the lions just keep feeding and feeding. They are
brave, brazen. They lie in the road and we will not run over them, shoot them. We will
not kill a lion unless they are trying to kill us.
Well, I am sure glad you made it to the camp and to some decent living conditions.
Yes, decent…there is food. One time every 14 days you would receive food.
See there, you were eating like a regular American!
[trying to make light of the situation]
[continues matter of factly]
1 gallon of corn, 1 cup of oil, 2 cups of beans, one gallon of flour and a bit of salt. Eating
one time a day to survive. [honestly not bitterly] Yes, just like a regular American.
Well, at least they taught you how to speak English.[chuckles a bit and then feels
embarrassed] Okay, so we need to create a background sheet for you so we can get you
assigned to a city here in our fine United States. Tell me everything you can remember
about wherever it is you lived, okay?
Yes. Everything I remember.
[DANIEL moves to the other side of the stage into silhouette – we hear a festival, people
talking and laughing. Stepping forward is DANIEL's family, represented by MOTHER,
FATHER and GROWN CHILD, DANIEL's sibling. They enjoy the night air; Mother
hums a tune and dancing around the stage a bit. Child and Mother move around the
stage, gracefully, familiar and comfortable. DANIEL is drawn to them. Their ring of
movement comes closer and closer to DANIEL and he is literally transformed back to this
time with his family.
The entire family takes hold of the red sash and dances with it, keeping connected by it.
The lights fade and there is a sound cue of people screaming, guns being fired. The
others in the background pull the sash away and wave it wildly. All goes silent. The light
comes up on the silhouette of DANIEL.]
Our village was destroyed that evening. That wonderfully pure, still evening. Men burst
into our home, grabbing anyone and anything they could. I remember our father yelling
to run…just run. I took no time to think, I was too scared, so I ran. I never imagined that
would be the last time I saw my family - my mother, father, my siblings. I was only six
[DANIEL wanders, pausing, keeping within a small radius of the backdrop with the
I wandered for 3 days searching for them, for anyone. The only people I saw were dead
people. There was no mercy. What had we done? Where was my family? Why didn’t my
family find me? [pause] At night I slept in tree branches and tried to go unnoticed. I was
so afraid they were after me. They must have wanted my family for something. No one
would just enslave and kill an innocent family. I wanted my mother back. Just a boy,
wanting his mother back.
[He starts weeping and in child-like fashion huddles up in front of the backdrop and tries
to go to sleep.]
Then I wake up to a far away sound. It is a call the native tribes use when they are lost
and looking for others.
[He slowly raises his head and listens]
Could it be? Mom? Dad? Is it you?
[Begins to weep quietly]
Is it you? Please, be you.
[He cautiously stands and looks towards the sound.]
I found 2 adults. Not my family, but at least I had found someone else. They told me I
needed to go with them, that our village was no longer safe and we must leave. They said
we would find my family later, now we must go. We began walking. Just walking.
He was finally told they were walking to Ethiopia.
I had no idea that those first harried steps would be the beginning of an unforgettable and
torturous journey. We finally met with others from our village whose homes had been
burned and were also forced out due to the northern, Khartoum-based government that
was driving us out. We were to conform to Islam or leave our home. We chose to leave.
I had no idea at the time, but there were about 26,000 of us walking over 1000 miles
across the Sahara desert. We had no clothes, no shoes, very little food. We would eat
what scarce berries and leaves were available. We ate from the Lalop tree when we
could find one. At times we would put wet sand on our throats to cool it. Wet from
animal urine, but it worked. It would be 100-120 degrees every day, so we tried to find
shade during the day and would begin walking at sundown and walk through the night.
[DANIEL has been walking around the stage during all this, getting more and more tired
with each step. Finally he collapses and calls to those ahead of him. He grabs one end of
the red sash.]
Please, I can’t walk anymore. I want my mommy. Please, where is my mommy?
[He begins crying] Mommy, where are you?
[SAGE MAN, as one of the LOST BOYS, runs downstage, as if coming “back.” He pulls
on the red sash, pulling DANIEL upward toward him.]
LOST BOY/SAGE MAN
Come on, young one. You can do it. You have to do it!
[He tries lifting DANIEL and he himself is so weak he falls to the ground. They just stare
for a moment.]
LOST BOY/SAGE MAN
Come with me. We have lost about half of us already, and we won’t lose you. Come on.
[DANIEL and the SAGE MAN slowly rise and go with the “others.” The boy retreats
and DANIEL stands again in silhouette.]
Ethiopia lasted about 4 years. I had grown. I was now 10 years old and becoming a young
man. The natives did not care for us, they called us the rebels. I did not know what a rebel
was, yet I was one. Then the shooting and fighting started again. The Ethiopian
government was overthrown by the native people and we were to leave immediately.
Two of my friends who had become my surrogate family were shot. I had to leave them
there and run. No one should ever have to do that.
[He regains his composure.]
18,000 of us this time began walking again, now heading back towards the Sudanese
[The others hold the red sash in the background as DANIEL takes hold of one end, as if
gaining strength from it as he walks to death.]
We were being followed by armed militia. If they got close enough they would shoot as
many of us as they could, so we kept moving. When we finally reached the Sudanese
border we felt we were safe from them at least. They wouldn’t follow us into Sudan. We
were out of their country, right? Wrong.
Deep in Sudan is one of the most rich and powerful rivers. The river Gilo.
The most horrific part of this whole journey for me.
[Trying to shake the memory away.]
People were just starting to feel safe; for the first time we had food. The Sudanese rebels
were there and gave us something to eat. We had time to sit and build a fire. We had
water from the river. Things were finally looking good. [He mimes some of the
following] my friend Garant and I had just been given the use of a campfire. We had just
begun to cook when a black, cold feeling covered everything. I looked up and noticed
some people running. Then shooting, and more people running. I look up at the riverbank
above us and they are just lined up shooting down at us. Our choice was to stand and die
or take our chance getting into the river.
Garant was running in front of me when suddenly he just wilted to the ground. A man
pushed me ahead towards the river. It’s okay Daniel, he kept saying. It’s okay Daniel. We
landed in the water and in one breath he disappeared. Once in, people are using one
another to stay afloat and they only end up dead. Crocodiles are thrashing about eating
people. Others are dying of gunshot wounds all around me. I can’t see. I can’t hear. I
CAN’T DO THIS!!
[His arms are sprawled wide, almost entangled in the red sash, and he falls to the
ground. Blackout, except for the candles.
In the blackout there is the low sound of a lion, growling. The lights rise dimly. DANIEL,
exhausted, lies in a heap. He moves with the nearby sound, trying to detect what it is.]
Dear Lord, am I alive? Did I die in the river? Where am I? Please tell me what that sound
is. My mother told me of the sound of a hungry lion and I fear that is what I hear. Please
lord, please. Help me. If it is my time to go, then so be it, just promise you will take me to
[He quickly quiets down as the lion gets closer. He holds his breath for a moment and the
lion passes him by. We watch DANIEL stare in disbelief as he follows the sound of the
lion leaving through the tall grass. He melts back down to the ground and sleeps,
free from the sash.]
[The lights go to black and when they come back up, DANIEL is back in New York City
with MS. GIBBS at the table. He is sitting in the chair staring off into space as if he were
in mid-sentence and just frozen. MS. GIBBS has a horrified look on her face, stunned by
all she has heard.]
Daniel? Are you - ?
[DANIEL is barely aware or moving.]
Can I - get you anything to drink?
No. No, thank you. I am fine. [He gathers himself and straightens up in the chair.] After
that I finally made it to Pachala Camp and you know the rest.
I have seen many people come and go in this job, but you… you are rather extraordinary.
You shock me with your kind eyes and your quick, easy smile. How did you live through
such a thing and find the perseverance to go on?
[SAGE MAN brightens.]
Just my faith. My mother always says…
Your mother is alive? Is she here with you?
No. I mean yes. My mother is alive in Sudan and so are my 2 sisters. I talked to them last
year for the first time in 15 years. Someone in the village took my mother to the nearest
phone and my friend arranged a phone call. [He smiles his huge, bittersweet smile.] They
did not believe the man on the phone was their Daniel. My mother. I actually spoke to my
mother. She always says I was meant to be something. I was meant to make a difference
somehow, and I will. Just give me a home. Please, tell me where I am going to live.
I think I have the perfect place. Do you like the ocean and long, sandy beaches? I have an
opening in San Diego, California and I think you are going to love it there.
[In all seriousness]
Is it cold there? In this San Diego? Is it cold there like it is here? I can’t do it if it’s cold
[SAGE MAN laughs.]
No, it’s not cold there. Not in Southern California. Let’s get you all set up.
[She scribbles on a new paper.]
I will never forget you, Daniel. And what your mother says? She’s right. You have made
a difference, already. Trust me.
[MS. GIBBS gets up, shakes DANIEL's hand and retreats upstage. DANIEL takes off a
few layers of clothing and tosses them in the trunk as he realigns upstage. With his
duduk, SAGE MAN plays the same melody. FAITH hums.]
[All the players get up and step forward, humming the same melody. They are connected
by holding the red sash. When he finishes, SAGE MAN strides downstage center and
takes hold of it too, addressing the others as they move wavelike across stage.]
For the eyes of God move to and fro across the earth, searching to strengthen hearts.
Welcome home. To a new heaven, a new earth - and a new song I sing.
[The SAGE MAN walks with new vigor towards the nine lit candles. He lights the tenth
and final candle.]
Have you not known? Have you not heard all of God's prophets here?
There is no point - no point! - in having a soul unless it is on fire.
[The others flail the red sash above them and let it go.]
[He looks up into a lone ray of light, surrounded by the CHORUS.]
[He and the entire group extend their arms forward as if inviting the audience.]
[As lights fade, we see only the illuminated candles, and pilgrim faces, ever alight.]
© 2006 by Lisa Kirazian