‘I was twelve years old when I saw Afghanistan for the first time.’
Some years ago, when I set out to get fitter by walking for an hour or more each morning, I used to listen to ABC Classic FM. During the week, I listened to Classic Breakfast and enjoyed the style of the presenter: Emma Ayres. A few years ago, Emma left the ABC. I read her nook ‘Cadence’ (about her cycling journey from England to Hong Kong). I’d read, too, that Emma had gone to Afghanistan to teach at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music.
Recently, I picked up a copy of ‘Danger Music’ by Eddie Ayres, and learned that Emma (now Eddie) has transitioned to male. This book is about the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), the Director Dr Sarmast, and the students and teachers who are part of it. This book also touches on Eddie Ayres’s very personal transgender journey.
‘When I realised I was transgender, it was a life-destroying moment. Because I knew from then on that I would never be happy until I did something about it. But to do something about it meant possibly losing everything.’
I can only imagine the challenges people face when they make the decision to transition gender. I can only imagine the pain associated with being trapped in a gender which feels alien. While Eddie Ayres gives some sense of his suffering in this book, it’s not the main focus. Instead, his personal struggle is part of the background of his life in Afghanistan: the disruption, the bombings, the students. Oh, and a very flexible goat!
‘Being transgender is like being on a tightrope, and I had to hope that the rope would slowly get wider and turn into a path, a road.’
Eddie describes the depression he fell into, both in relation to his own journey as well as because of the challenges in teaching at a school where students appear, and then disappear. There’s no certainty in Afghanistan, everyday life is challenging, and the beauty of music is not always enough.
‘I wrote this book because I didn’t want people to only read yet another glossy magazine article about ANIM. I wanted to show how these kids are, in so many ways, like kids all over the world. I wanted to show what they have to deal with and how their challenges and, yes, their failures make their successes even more glorious. And I wanted you, dear reader, to know the true challenges and therefore the true courage of Dr Sarmast.’
I was deeply moved by this book: by the courage of all of those trying to keep music alive in Afghanistan, but especially moved by Eddie’s courage and honesty.