It was few days before she left Solitude; we set on the Temple in the backyard on one of the summer’s sunny days. Both of us were very touched by the fact that Saadia will leave soon, but both of us know that part of what this place is about is to say “Goodbye” and “Hello” to people in the end and the beginning of each month — an idea that no fellow gets used to, even though that’s always the case at Solitude.

Saadia was one of the few people I knew from Pakistan, and got the chance to talk a lot — eating dinners together and dancing to Arabic and Pakistani songs…and the great part of these meetings was to share the common words between Arabic and Urdu.

Saadia Mirza (Islamabad / Pakistan, born in Toronto/ Canada), Saadia Mirza completed her undergraduate education at the National College of Arts in Lahore/Pakistan. She attended Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, MA/USA as a Fulbright Student from 2012 to 2014. She is currently a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, IL/USA.

She is a design theorist and anthropologist and her work deals with landscape studies, and the history of cartography, science, and technology.

Rasha: What do you think about this place? What makes it magical for you?

Saadia: What makes this place magical? I think it’s magical because it gives people a chance to be who they are in a place where they will not be judged. So people feel free in the sense that they are working among and with brilliant others whom they have never met before, and it is up to them to decide how they want to carry on their collaborations after they leave. Maybe this is why most fellows’ manner of engaging with the others is very natural, honest and uninhibited. It can seem like there are constraints too, because there is such little time as many fellows are either just arriving or leaving. And yet most of us experience closeness and a shared sense of community with each other in such a short time. Fellows are quicker to share their work and express interest in yours, spend time together in groups, are sincere and keen to ask questions and share thoughts… sometimes direct and straightforward (laughing). But it’s an interesting way of connecting with people, because you get to the things that matter most. It’s liberating because you don’t go through too many formalities and walk away having struck upon some very meaningful friendships and collaborations.

Rasha: Is there a story that touched you once? That you would like to share?

Saadia: I don’t have one specific event in mind, but many connections that are touching… I feel that people here are always very happy to see you, including the wonderful staff. Some may know you deeply because you shared a lot with them but there also those who get you without having to say a word. That’s the best! There are many moments of common energy and people here are very sharp and can pick up feelings and vibes even in the most introverted or quiet person. I can say that there is quite a group of people that I have shared this kind of silent acknowledgement and closeness with and I can see their faces and mine light up upon expressing a thought, meeting after an absence, or sharing a meal after a long day.

Rasha: What you will take from here with you back home?

Saadia: I will take a much better sense of the world’s history in everyday settings, that I learned from meeting the fellows here. It is a very different way than in a graduate seminar at a university somewhere. There are more personal ways of understanding cultural history and how each one of us is unconsciously shaped by it. So we have had discussions with each other about a wide array of emotions like guilt, pride, happiness, shame or sadness as a national, racial, or cultural sentiment that has something to do with the histories of our countries. Let’s say if I read a book on the history of Bulgaria or Romania for example, I can get an objective account of what happened when, but when I find history expressed in a friend’s personal story or a biographical account, that is a very powerful moment because these emotions speak by themselves as to how people engage with their own cultural past and how we have, to a certain extent, been shaped by things that have happened before us — even if we are weren’t alive when they happened.