Adelaide Writers' Week: Unstable Ground

By Durkhanai Ayubi

Alongside six other authors, I was invited to share a ten minute speech at Adelaide Writers' Week, responding to the prompt ‘Unstable Ground’. In summary, I chose to respond with an analysis of why it is our notions of order and progress that have in fact generated the instability we are experiencing.

Below is an excerpt of my thoughts.


“I want to share with you why I believe it is in fact our long-normalised and now deeply seeded notions of power, progress and order driving the instability we are collectively experiencing. 


This perhaps seemingly counterintuitive awareness arises for me, as an Afghan born migrant to Australia, from a consciousness that has been forged by straddling across the usual binaries of East and West and across constructed boundaries of separation. Inhabiting contrapuntally the worlds of both occupier and occupied, marginalised and dominant. From this edge, I have developed a lucidity to the chaotic underbelly of order, to the tyranny against the marginalised braided into freedom for the many, and to the often throbbing sting of the eviscerating scalpel of shared conventional wisdoms.



Why such histories are important to know, now more than ever, is because they are not merely a relic of a mantra gone by, but because we remain intimately wedded to such a stratifying order to this day, and do so in a world where the technology driving the scale and reach of such a reduction of ourselves, is enabling instability of a mass order.


Our persistent internalisation of such notions can be seen in the way in which leaders and those with power globally refuse a full reckoning with histories of colonisation – whether in curriculum, politics, media or wider cultural norms. It is reflected in how we view nature – as something we are peripheral from and exceptional to, something to master, evade and squeeze out, leading to ecological disasters and global pandemics. It is embedded in how we view refugees and migration – rather than recognising the brittle hierarchies of extraction that have created the climate havoc and conflict driving human movement as the problem, it is the still subaltern people washing up on Australian and European shores or arriving at American border walls who are vilified. Similarly, we pathologise the movement of people, as if nature were stagnant, negating the strength of diversification embedded in patterns of migration in the natural world and indeed in our own human histories. 


And it is from within the heat of such an enveloping awareness, that the recipe and narrative book Parwana I produced alongside my family, has been crystallised. I was driven by an understanding, a hope really, that by circumventing and peering beyond, far beyond, the institutionalised dehumanising norms that unflinchingly guard us, we might reconjure the neglected histories of complexity and exchange (rather than dominance and violence alone), that have brought our world into being. 


By elevating in the book, the lost stories of Afghanistan’s own intellectual vanguard, who through their own knowledge of themselves, through diplomatic and democratic ventures, sought to bring to life a vision for Afghanistan that reconciled and made compatible the regions own immense historical aura with visions for its future, I wanted to contextualise a far greater story. One that bypasses the orientalised myth of either the ineptitude or exclusively war like tendencies of its people, that have long justified its ongoing occupation and distortions. 



And in this way, by collating this expansive history, re- membering these eviscerated stories, and using this to encase and frame the culture and cuisine of Afghanistan, it was my deepest hope that we could see the enduring shape of all that has been lost and to feel the unending importance of all that has been carved out – not only so that we can recognise the tangible impact of omissions and the role of the silencing of many people that now skews and destabilises us all, but to also share a possibility of a reality which we might shift towards, in which we are central, rather than peripheral, in one another’s understanding, and which in turn contextualises ourselves as part of a universe, not the centre of it.



It means clearing our path, beyond unstable ground, to deeper grounds – to a meeting place long watered by the infinite well-spring of our shared humanness, where the ancient wildflowers of our symbiosis with ourselves and our universe stand eternally, defiantly, in bloom”.