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Interview With "The Kite Runner" Actor Amir Arison; Interview With "The Kite Runner" Actor Azita Ghanizada; Interview With "The Kite Runner" Actor Faran Tahir; Interview With Yale University Sterling Professor Of Social And Natural Science Nicholas Christakis. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired July 29, 2022 - 13:00:00 ET
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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN. More people get their news from CNN than any other news source.
SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hello, and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up.
How Russia is using Sudan's gold to fuel its war in Ukraine. Nima Elbagir joins us with her extraordinary reporting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMIR ARISON, ACTOR, "THE KITE RUNNER": The streets were filled with kite fighters, all looking up. Trying to gain position to cut an opponent's
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Best-selling novel, "The Kite Runner" gets the Broadway treatment. My conversation with three of the show stars.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICHOLAS CHRISTAKIS, STERLING PROFESSOR OF SOCIAL AND NATURAL SCIENCE, VALE UNIVERSITY: When people are dying, or getting sick, or worried about dying
or getting sick, people rethink the meaning of their lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: As the world moves on from the coronavirus pandemic, Yale professor, Nicholas Christakis, warns Hari Sreenivasan that it will have a
long-lasting impact on society.
Welcome to the program. I'm Sara Sidner in New York, sitting in for Christian Amanpour.
The war wages on in Ukraine. And new reporting reveals, some of the ways Russia's war is being funded despite sanctions. The latest from the war is
that both Russia and Ukraine are trading accusations for the shelling of a separatist-held prison in the East. Now, this is happening as Kyiv has
Russia on the defensive in the South of the country. As the bitter conflict drags on, the Russian economy appears to be feeling the pain of sanctions.
A new Yale study concluded that it has been, "Catastrophically crippled by Western sanctions". So, how has President Putin been fueling his war
machine? Well, it's partly thanks to his meddling in Africa. In an exclusive report, CNN reveals how Moscow stops democratic change over 6,000
miles away in Sudan, just as its people had successfully toppled one of the longest-standing African dictators through peaceful street protests. Why?
Sudan is one of the world's biggest exporters of gold. And Russia has been illegally exploiting and smuggling this resource from Sudan for years.
Nima Elbagir and her team traveled to the North of the country to show how Russia manipulates the Sudanese military government, and how it is using
front companies to get around U.S. sanctions to hold on to the gold.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Deep in Sudan's gold country, miners toil in the searing
heat. Barely surviving in what should be one of Africa's richest countries. Providing gold for a war a continent away.
We investigate a force more powerful than Sudan's government, controlling its gold, subverting Sudan's destiny. Threatening me and our sources. And
thwarting democracy to evade sanctions in Russia's war on Ukraine.
(on camera): Russia manages on its way, they say.
(voiceover): We uncovered the extent of Russia's grip on Sudan. For millennia, Sudan has produced some of the most sought-after gold in the
world. And Putin's private army, the notorious paramilitary group Wagner, knows it.
(on camera): Sudan's government is denying Wagner's existence in the country, but we're not buying it. And we've come to investigate.
(voiceover): Wagner's tentacles stretch right across Africa. We've discovered some of its most notorious operatives are working on Sudan.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner. Mikhail Potepkin, Prigozhin's head of Sudan Ops. And Alexander Sergeyevich Kuznetsov, Wagner's key enforcer,
previously convicted of kidnap and robbery, working with this man, Sudanese General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a.k.a. Hemeti, in a quid pro quo for
training and weaponry.
We travelled 200 miles north from the capital, Khartoum, to gold country to take a closer look at Wagner's main moneymaker, artisanal gold.
Miners bring rocks they extract here to be processed. 85 percent of Sudan's gold is produced artisanally.
(on camera): This right here, it may not look like much, this is what's left after -- the rocks that the miners have brought in is milled. Now,
they've taken what they can out of it, but this gets sold. And when it's properly processed with someone who has superior technology, you can make
10 times what those miners over there are making.
(voiceover): 10 times more money without any of the backbreaking work. And the only foreign processing plant operational in Sudan is Wagner's Meroe
Gold, despite the Sudanese law limiting ownership to locals. Also troubling, Meroe Gold was sanctioned two years ago by the United States for
exploiting Sudan's natural resources and spreading their malign influence around the globe.
According to the Sudanese government, they officially ceased operations. But they are still here, still evading sanctions. We verified their
location with coordinates provided by Sudanese anti-corruption investigators and head there to see for ourselves. As we approach, the red
flag of the former Soviet Union blows in the wind. Increasingly used by Russian nationalists, it brazenly marks the Meroe Gold compound. A Russian
tanker sits next to it. We get to the entrance and decide to ask a few questions. But not before we turn on our covert cameras.
(on camera): Is this the Russian company?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes.
ELBAGIR (voiceover): Well, that's convenient. They've just confirmed the Russians are at this location.
(on camera): We are journalists from CNN. I'd like to see the Russian manager. We'd like to ask him some questions.
There is a black pickup approaching.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He's coming in that car.
ELBAGIR (on camera): The guards just confirmed that the Russian manager is in this black pickup, and he's on his way to us.
(voiceover): A Russian van races to the office, but no one seems to be coming over.
(on camera): It seems the Russian manager has changed his mind.
(voiceover): But others turn up instead.
(on camera): I'm sure you've already been shown our permission.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But we are a Sudanese company. It's a company called Al Solag.
ELBAGIR (voiceover): They claim this plant is Sudanese-owned and is called Al Solag. Remember that name, it's important. Al Solag. We head off the
property to do some more filming. But we're followed. Security approaches. They want us to stop.
(on camera): This is public ground.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know. I know.
ELBAGIR (on camera): This is public ground. Why is your van stopping here? Trying to get us to move on. They're taking pictures of us, of our license
(voiceover): The reason they're so nervous, Al Solag is a front for the Russian company, Meroe Gold. Wagner is still operating, illegally. A
foreign company, pretending to be Sudanese, to evade U.S. sanctions. We obtained their registration documents to prove it.
The document on the left is from Meroe Gold. The one on the right, Al Solag. These dates represent complaints made in employment courts against
Meroe Gold. These ones from Al Solag are the same. Under Sudanese law, when a company's holdings are transferred, so are any judgments against it.
Here, you can see the judgments against both companies are identical.
All they've done is change the name. Wagner, hiding in plain sight to avoid U.S. sanctions and keep the financial pipeline flowing back to Moscow and
its war on Ukraine. A dangerous business to delve into.
(on camera): Since we've arrived in the country, I've been informed by sources of threats, that they believe to be credible, against me. They say
that's what happens here when you look too closely at Russia's business dealings. We're off to meet one of those sources, and he's asked that I
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Meroe gold is a front for the Russians, specifically for the forces of Wagner that are working to exploit
gold in Sudan and its export. It's a front. It's not a company. It extracts gold from tailings and it buys gold from the Sudanese artisanal miners.
That's not legal. Because the law says that any good producer is supposed to report the quantity it produces to the central bank, and to the Ministry
of Mining, and that does not happen.
ELBAGIR (voiceover): Inside Sudan Central Bank, a whistleblower snapped this photo off a computer screen. Showing official production in 2021 at
49.7 tons, 32.7 are unaccounted for by the central bank. But the real figure, we're told by whistleblowers, could be over 220 tons, that's around
$13. 4 billion worth of gold a year that's being stolen from Sudan.
How has this happened? Two years ago, the Sudanese people successfully overthrew Africa's second longest-ruling dictator, Omar Al-Bashir. 18
months later, the military staged its own coup, sweeping aside civilian rule. And they did this, we're told, with Wagner's support in exchange for
This man had front-row seats to Russia's machinations, and has evidence to prove it stood to gain by supporting the Sudanese military's coup. Under
threat of assassination, he's been in hiding for the last nine months, moving from safehouse to safehouse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The Russian and Sudanese officers saw the civilians and the government as an obstacle to their plan. The
official anti-corruption task force wasn't giving to pressure, or threats, or even bribery. The armed forces were found to be complicit in the
smuggling of gold by the Russians and it was raised with them.
ELBAGIR (on camera): Do you blame Russia for the death of democracy here in Sudan?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Definitely. Russia carries the majority of the blame for the stillbirth of Sudan's democracy.
ELBAGIR (voiceover): Just days later, his nephew was killed by State actors trying to stop a pro-democracy demonstration. In the two weeks,
we've been in Sudan investigating Russia's illegal gold mining, 10 people were killed, protesting for change.
It's not just on the battlefields of Ukraine that Russia is spilling blood. Here, too, there is a human cost. The cost of Russia's support of Sudan's
generals, in return for its gold.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: And Nima Elbagir joins me now. What an incredible piece of journalism that you and your team pulled off there, under threat. I want to
mention that we have heard from the State Department -- the State Department, -- the U.S. State Department essentially confirming your
reporting, and stating that they're monitoring the situation with regards to Wagner.
This is what the State Department had said, we will continue to make clear our concern to Sudanese military officials about the malign impact of
Wagner, and other actors. So, I guess the key question is if the U.S. knows this is happening and continues to allow this to happen, don't they see the
impact on the sanctions and how the sanctions would have less of an impact, and what are they doing about it?
ELBAGIR (on camera): That -- absolutely is the key question, Sara, because this is -- this has long been part of President Putin's buttressing of
fortress Russia, as he calls it, from U.S. sanctions. This is a multi-year plan. Russia first went into Sudan -- Wagner and other Russian entities
first went into Sudan in 2017.
So, much of this predates -- much of it, actually, is in the aftermath of the first Ukraine war. Of the annexation of Crimea. And yet the U.S.
continues to allow it to happen. And that is one of the reasons we shared our evidence with the State Department to try and figure out where does
Sudan, where does the world go from here.
And so far, there doesn't seem to actually be a clear answer. What we do know, what is clear, is that the impact is not just being felt in Sudan.
It's being felt in Sudan. It's being felt in the battlefields of Ukraine. But it's also being felt in this leaching away of America's ability to have
an impact on Russia, Sara.
SIDNER: You are very aware that Sergey Lavrov, this is the Russian Foreign Minister, has taken a tour in Africa. And Russia is very involved in
African nations, in that continent. He visited Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda. And during the visit, you know, he countered claims. Because there have been
claims that Russia is, "Exporting hunger to Africa". He actually turned around and blamed imposed sanctions on Russia by western nations for
soaring grain prices. How was that message received in Africa?
ELBAGIR: Well, that was quite telling, I thought. Because so much of these relationships are direct relationships with autocrats. So, you would think
that Russia wouldn't care how this message of Russia, forcing the world, forcing Africa into starvation was being received by people on the African
continent. But clearly these dictators, these autocratic rulers, are concerned.
Egypt relies for Russia and Ukraine -- on Russia and Ukraine for 80 percent of the grain that it imports. Egypt, for instance, is feeling this very
closely. And what most autocrats are very scared of, as you know, because you've reported on so many of these countries, Sara, is they're scared of
popular uprising fueled by hunger.
So, this seemed like a PR campaign that was aimed as much at the populists as it was at the dictators. So far, it doesn't seem to be having that much
resonance. I mean, Sudan is at almost 200 percent inflation. These are not people who are going to be happy to take on Russian propaganda easily, I
We should say that we reached out to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the Ministry of Defense, also to the offices of Sudan's
generals for comment on our piece.
And generally, this sense the U.S. has that Russia has a malign influence on Africa and they didn't respond to our request for comments.
SIDNER: Nima Elbagir, you and your team really helped to better inform us. Thank you so much for bringing us this story.
ELBAGIR: Thank you.
SIDNER: And next to Haiti, where brutal gang violence has surged since the assassination of the president last year. For your average Haitians just
trying to live their lives in peace, it is truly terrifying. Gangs control a huge swath for Port-au-Prince. This was a scene on Wednesday when gang
violence broke out in the capital.
Correspondent Matt Rivers has our story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): For months now, Port-au-Prince has been trapped in a brutal cycle of gang violence in the latest crisis
point in the city's downtown. In a video obtained by CNN, first published by the Miami Herald, officers with the Haitian National Police can be seen
engaged in a tense shootout with suspected gang members on Wednesday. The fighting brought this part of the city to a virtual standstill with fears
mounting over what might happen here, Haiti's national prison, just a few blocks from the fighting.
A source inside the prison said that when the fighting broke out, prisoners have not received food or water for three days. Desperate and scared amidst
the gunfire, the source says hundreds of prisoners managed to escape from their cells and into the prison's courtyard where they were met by police.
"The police began to shoot indiscriminately", said the source. It's still unclear if there were any injuries.
The Haitian law enforcement source confirmed the partial breakout to CNN, saying the hundreds of prisoners were eventually put back in their cells
when riot police entered. But the source added that this could happen again. Gangs in the area could attempt to overrun police and free prisoners
from inside. "The gangsters are taking over the area around the prison and they have pushed the police back. The police keep losing with poor
management and a command staff that is not qualified", said our source.
In addition to Haitian prisoners, the facility houses the roughly two dozen Colombians accused by authorities of participating in last year's
assassination of president Jovenel Moise. They sat in prison for more than a year and still yet to be formally charged. The national police did not
respond to CNN's request for comment.
Downtown Port-au-Prince, just the latest part of the city where gangs have laid siege. Roughly 75 percent of the city is either under the control of
various gangs or in the crosshairs of ongoing gang violence, according to the Haitian law enforcement source.
Including the neighborhood of Cite Soleil, where more than 200 people have been killed in July alone due to infighting with gangs, according to the
mayor. He says the situation is very critical. People are in a very broad place, and the ongoing violence makes it worse. It has created a dire
humanitarian crisis in the neighborhood where people are struggling with basic access to food and water. A bleak reality that might be replicated in
more parts of the city if this fighting continues unabated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Thank you to our Matt Rivers for that reporting.
Now, to Afghanistan. Another country under siege of a different sort. Almost one year since the Taliban rested control of Kabul, fears abound for
the country's future, especially the women, under the extremist group. It was last in power more than 20 years ago. Many gained insights into the
period thanks to Khalid Hosseini's best-selling novel "The Kite Runner". A story which follows a father-son relationship in a tumultuous and changing
Kabul as Russia began its invasion in the 1980s. So, the timing of another iteration of the book in this new form of a Broadway play could not be
better. Here's a clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMIR ARISON, ACTOR, "THE KITE RUNNER": The real fun began was when a kite was cut.
That is where the runners came in. They chased the falling kite through the streets until it came spiraling down. And the most coveted prize was the
last falling kite of the tournament. For this, fights broke out. But Hassan was the greatest kite runner I had ever seen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Earlier this week, I had the privilege to be joined by three of its stars, Amir Arison, Azita Ghanizada, and Faran Tahir. And I started our
conversation, asking Amir how he handles the challenging lead role.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARISON: I was -- once I -- when I got the role, I was, like, oh, wow. You know, Broadway debut. And then I was like, whoa. What am I going to do
here? And quite honestly, I was petrified. And fear can be a great motivator. So, I took myself away for a month. I went to a small guesthouse
in the North Carolina mountains to cut off from social media, to cut off from all the destructions of life. And study.
And my goal was, I said, I'm not leaving this cabin until I've learned all the monologues. Done as much work as a can on accents, and learned
(INAUDIBLE). And also stretch, get my mind right. I wanted to get my body, my voice, and my mind right. And then come to rehearsal and that allowed us
to flow from there.
People are always like, are you exhausted? My body and voice were exhausted, but actually I found it to be energizing. There's no time to
think, moment to moment, and the mind part of the trick is the feel like a moment didn't go as well, or the laugh wasn't there, or -- there's one
million more moments to go. And you just move on. Something new will happen. Something won't happen. And that has been the biggest lesson in my
life. And this play has actually centered me more than I've ever been on any show, and possibly in my life, to be honest.
SIDNER: I'm going to now follow up because something did happen in the performance I saw. A cellphone went off, Siri started talking to you. And
Siri said I'm sorry, in that weird electronic voice.
ARISON: Yes, I remember.
SIDNER: And you responded, you broke the fourth wall, you responded and then went right back into your role. What did you say?
ARISON: I remember that Siri -- I was in the middle of actually one of the most turning point monologues where he just found out, I don't want to give
it away, but he just found out some sort of shocking, life-changing news. And he's processing it in front of the audience. So, the fourth wall was a
little bit broken with the monologue which is the narration to a certain degree. But I'm having a conversation with the audience.
And I was in the middle of one of the most sensitive parts. And Siri goes, I'm sorry. And I just go, that's OK. And then -- it -- in a very serious
show. Then the audience laughed, and then they give a little applause, and I didn't -- I just knew -- I was so plugged into wanting to make sure the
story was clear, that I don't want to fight anything in the audience. So, if something happens, if a dog barks, if a phone is ringing, you address
it, you relax it, you wait for it. And then I just -- I remember saying, we are all in this together.
SIDNER: I couldn't believe it, the way in which you handled it and the way the audience responded to it. It seemed almost natural. Like, that's -- you
know, normal. No big deal. It didn't throw you off, which would've --
ARISON: That's what's great about the theater.
SIDNER: -- totally thrown me off.
ARISON: You can't plan anything.
ARISON: It's the best.
So, Azita, you played this really loving but also very strong female character. Can you give me a sense of what this is like? Because it was a
tradition, right? There's -- they're sort of traditional roles for women that are still looked at today, across the world, really, but particularly
in Afghanistan. Can you give me a sense of what this role was like and if it mirrors who you are a bit?
AZITA GHANIZADA, ACTOR, "THE KITE RUNNER": This role mirrors nothing to who I am, no. You know, it's interesting. When the play came to me, there
was a couple very important things. First of all, the women of Afghanistan are incredibly strong. They're some of the most courageous, resilient,
bravest, powerful women I have ever had the privilege of holding space with. And the idea that they are passive is absolutely false.
They may be loving. They may provide a home. They may be the people that educate the children and help their husbands with their lives and
themselves. But they are complete powerhouses. They fight for what's right. They're bright. They're brilliant. They have a voice. They are rebellious.
They don't shy away from that.
And so, when the play came, it was actually -- where the part was and where it is now was a little different. It was a bit in moments more passive than
I would have liked. And I did not feel that was right I also didn't feel like it honored what was going on in the country right now. Well, you know,
17 million women are being stripped of their voice, I didn't want to feel like I was being one of them. Well, it's been 320 days since young girls
have been able to go back to school. I didn't want to feel like I was being someone who could fit into a patriarchal system and just smile about it.
So, I wanted to make sure she had a little bite somewhere. And so, the playwright and I, Matt Spangler, workshopped quite a bit without changing
the rhythm or adding more, which if I could have my way, I would've changed a lot more. But we created more pushback and strength. And I have to honor
what's on the page and what's given for me. And every night that I'm given the opportunity, I try to find a little bit more of a way to make sure that
she is taking some space. And that she is, you know, a beacon of strength, and not just a loving wife. I don't want that to be the way that she's
Even though her core reason of existing in the play is to provide a love that hasn't really existed amongst this man, an outwardly and open love
that she's able to share and show. So, I appreciate that aspect of the love that she gives.
ARISON: My character learned strength from her. It's a -- she's the, you know --
SIDNER: She's honest.
ARISON: -- he gets married -- she gets married and loses -- he loses his father. And she's the only family he has. And she is a guiding force. And
he wants to make her proud.
SIDNER: And he does, eventually, with her pushing. You mentioned what is happening now in the country, and we can't -- you cannot do this play or
read this book without referencing what is going on right now in Afghanistan. Things are going backwards by all, especially for women. Can
you give me a sense, from your, you know, your role in this play but also your role in the world, what it is you want people to take away from this?
And take away from what's happening there right now, particularly to women?
GHANIZADA: What I think is so beautiful about this play is that what we actually see as an audience, is the beginning of what became four decades
of war for a country that has been thrust into the middle of war games. We see how the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and its people had to flee, right?
We didn't have the news the way that we have the news now where we can see Russia invading the Ukraine. And we have this intense connection to it.
That's what happened to my family, right? No one really understood that. So, when we showed up, they didn't have the same understanding of we just
saw what happened to you.
SIDNER: In the same compassion, right?
GHANIZADA: Exactly. Here you are. Let's help you. We had nothing. People now can see it. What happened on August 15th? People saw. So, you see a
different response because people watch, people hang on the side of planes. They watched people throw their babies over barbwire fences.
So, the compassion is different, right? We've had a very different outpouring since August 15th. Not politically, I would say. I would say the
government has been one of the hardest things to jump over in my conversations with anyone in the political sphere. But from citizens, from
veterans, from neighbors from teachers, from people that have watched the news and have wept and said, how do I help? There's a family in my
community. I would like to help them. What can I do? Can you teach me some words?
And this is very different from when I was little because they threw rocks at me and told me to go back to my country. So, this play gives our
audiences and people a really beautiful insight of what happened at the very beginning of what was four decades of war. And it shows Afghanistan
and its culture in a way.
And this is not just for me, this is from the diaspora that's come to see it, that is so moving that they are having this cathartic and visceral
experience. Because our stories are often rooted in this kind of military focus. And that's not with this play is right? This play is love. It's
pain. It's betrayal. It's friendship. It's music.
SIDNER: It's human.
GHANIZADA: It's human.
SIDNER: Faran, you played the father in this. But your character mirrors the experience of so many immigrants to this country. You were, as they
say, high born. You lived very well off in Afghanistan. You had servants, you had, you know, you had the whole gamut of things at your fingertips and
you had power. And then you didn't. Tell me what this role felt like for you to play.
FARAN TAHIR, ACTOR, "THE KITE RUNNER": Well, I think I have seen -- being an immigrant, I've seen the story happen over and over again. People from
Afghanistan, people from all over the world, who have chosen to come here. Not just because it would be a vacation, but because they had no other
choice but to leave their homeland, their loved ones, you know, their culture, their language, all of that.
So, it's really -- in a way, to be able to bring that to the audience is a privilege for me to be able to share that story. Because it is not just my
story, but it's a story of many immigrants who have come through. And what I love about the play is that it does not aggrandize or demonize anyone.
But it humanizes everyone, you know. It's about flawed people which is who we are as humans.
And then there is redemption. And there's hope. And I think you that in Amir's character. You use it on my character. Two of the most flawed
people, and how they rise above that.
And I think to be able to tell the story in this particular form, and I think about that this lot because, of course, there is a book. And when you
read a book, you have to create a whole world in your head that goes with that story.
But the challenge to bring it to a confined space on the stage and yet, keep the spirit of it alive is a wonderful, beautiful challenge. And I
think we see it with the response that we get from the audience. It does touch people's hearts.
SIDNER: I read the book. Khaled Hosseini is an incredibly detailed writer. He really draws you in. And I have to say that you are kind of what I
imagined. So -- which is very hard to do. Our imaginations are pretty incredible. But you are what I imagined, in the way in which you played it.
The stage is very simple. And there are a few tricks, if you will, that are used. The sound and, you know, the wind. But it is a very simple place.
There's not a lot of like, you know, flash, bang, you know, wild things going on. It really is about the actors.
What was the hardest thing for you in taking this role and feeling, I suspect a weight, almost, if you have to do it properly?
TAHIR: You do -- I think -- I thought about that a lot. And I think when you have a story which is this beautiful, in a way, you need to step -- you
just need to offer the story and get out of the way. You know, I think it will take care of itself. You just -- you are a conduit basically. And if
you keep that spirit alive and try to just keep it simple and just offer it as that, sometimes there are things about the character that you might not
agree with, or you -- or might go against your own values, but that's not the point. Our job is to give it as much honesty and as much empathy as we
SIDNER: How important was it for Afghan people to take part in this play that is very much about humans, yes, but about Afghanistan, what happened
there, the history? For you, how important is it to have Afghans being able to take these roles?
ARISON: So, we were fortunate in our company, Salar, our table player and Azita are Afghan, and were remarkable resources for all of us. Their
passion, their clarity, their experiences. And everyone in the company is either from the Middle East or South Asia and has a connection to war-torn,
prejudice, and we all have personal experiences. And I use many to connect.
The story starts in 1973, which she said, was 40 years, and goes until 2001, which is when, I feel like, most Americans woke up to -- and started
listening to what's happening in Afghanistan. So, to tell that chunk -- and I hear the gasp from the audience, it's like the second to last monologue,
we flew home on a warm day in August 2001. Then one Tuesday morning, the world changed, the Twin Towers fell. The audience -- I can feel them go --
SIDNER: As soon as you said, yes.
ARISON: I'm now part of the story.
SIDNER: As you said August.
ARISON: I'm getting to America bombed Afghanistan and Taliban screwed way. We're not -- I'm just stating facts. So, I don't take it lightly. I'm
getting goosebumps. It is a privilege and a responsibility. And so, if anything is going on -- and also, (INAUDIBLE), you just tell the story,
like Faran, says. It is a perfect book and it's so well-known. There was pressure to not get in the way.
SIDNER: Azita, for you, same question, the responsibility of this and having Afghans take part in this, how important is that?
GHANIZADA: The responsibility of this story is kind of multilayered ways. It's very hard to explain what this experience is doing. I will know more
at the end of it. Not unlike my character, I had a tremendous amount of obligations placed upon me as a young girl. I wasn't allowed to be an
actor. I wasn't allowed to do sports, because couldn't sweat, couldn't share space with boys. Very scared of being with boys.
SIDNER: They are scary. Anyway.
GHANIZADA: They are. I know, yes. I mean, I get it now. But when I was little, I didn't understand. And so, I kind of disowned a lot of that
responsibility and became an actor and became all of these things, and turned away from things and didn't get married and didn't have a
traditional Afghan wedding.
SIDNER: You're rebellious.
GHANIZADA: Very rebellious. And to have an Afghan wedding, 135 times.
ARISON: That's so fun.
GHANIZADA: Now, in my life --
SIDNER: This is your punishment.
TAHIR: Your purgatory.
GHANIZADA: This is God laughing at me or smiling at me, and I didn't know which -- I don't know which it is. And my mom keeps calling and saying,
see, look so nice in that green dress. I told you, right? So, it's their getting back at me in this weird way, like I'm living out the life that
they wanted me to have, right, on stage. Now, 135 times, over and over again.
SIDNER: And I'm sure they're so proud.
GHANIZADA: They're so excited and they're so proud. And the responsibility to make sure that the story is warm and received and honored and authentic
and taken care of, this company of actors has done everything and more to make sure that that's happened. The connection to the Afghans. We have
Afghans in the audience.
SIDNER: Oh, yes. I saw.
GHANIZADA: And this story, to them, we have little girls. Little girls taking pictures with me. Afghan little girl saying they saw all this magic.
And to think -- I didn't even know what Broadway was until I was in my 20s. You know, it wasn't accessible to me. To provide this kind of access, to be
a story that gets to kind of pave this path for a whole new diverse audience, whether it be Afghans or people that kind of similar us from that
region of the world to feel like those stories can be told in a way that's not a geopolitical narrative is incredibly important.
And the responsibility weighs heavily all the time. And the best thing to do is to get out of the way until the story and know that we are honoring
everybody. And trust, trust that it works. And we are honoring everybody. And that's a very beautiful thing to be able to do in this moment in time.
SIDNER: Thank you all for being here. It is a marvelous, beautiful, terrifying story, that I think really resonates now as Afghanistan goes
back through this really, really difficult time. So, thank you for telling it and telling it so well.
GHANIZADA: Thank you so much for having us.
TAHIR: Thank you for having us.
ARISON: Thank you.
GHANIZADA: Thank you for coming to the show.
SIDNER: I'm a fan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: I am filled with gratitude to be able to spend time with those actors. It is a phenomenal play, reminding us of the power of theater. And
that industry is one of many still recovering from the pandemic, like all of us.
Our next guest, Nicholas Christakis, is a professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale. He joins Hari Sreenivasan to break down the current phase
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Sara. Nicholas Christakis, thanks so much for joining us yet again. We're talking about
the pandemic. We've spoken multiple times about the sort of different phases of the pandemic, both kind of epidemiologically and socially.
So, where are we now as we see kind of numbers ticking back up, but not nearly the amount of urgency in the population?
NICHOLAS CHRISTAKIS, STERLING PROFESSOR OF SOCIAL AND NATURAL SCIENCE, VALE UNIVERSITY: Well, I think we're in the intermediate phase, which is pretty
typical of a respiratory pandemic. So, the immediate phase lasted until 2022. We're sort of ending that now. That's when we are feeling the full
biological and epidemiological force of the epidemic as the virus sweeps through the population.
And then, there's an intermediate phase that will last until 2024, approximately. And that's when we, ordinarily, are -- you know, we've sort
of put the virus behind us, in a way, and are coping with the mess. It's like a tsunami, like a wave that is washed ashore and devastated the
countryside. Finally, the waters recede, which is fantastic, but you going to clean up afterwards.
And then, finally in 2024, we'll enter the post pandemic phase, approximately, in which we will, you know, be beyond all of this and sort
of life will return much more to what we think of as normal. The one thing that, however, is a little wrinkle in this is that we still, unfortunately,
are coping with more of the biological and epidemiological impact of the virus than I would have thought.
We -- the virus has not entered a kind of stable steady state, what epidemiologist call endemic phase. We are still having localized outbreaks.
We are still having many people die, as you just mentioned. We have about 400 deaths a day right now in the United States and it is heading north.
So, we're not at a steady state of the virus, yet.
And this relates to a couple of factors. One is that we haven't yet been adequately been boosted. We have not had the uptake of the vaccines that we
really would want in the American population.
And second, the virus has been sneakier than we would have thought in terms of the Omicron and some of these other variants the way they've evolved.
So, we're at the intermediate phase. We've got a lot of cleanup to do and we still have the virus around. So, we're a little bit in trouble, I would
SREENIVASAN: When you talk about 400 plus people still dying per day, that's still very real. And have we, kind of, as a society just said, well,
I guess that's the cost-of-living life now?
CHRISTAKIS: A little bit, yes. We have done that, unfortunately, from my point of view. We're still in the midst of this epidemic. And there's going
to -- it's only going to get worse. We can look at the southern hemisphere, for example, we can look at Australia to get clues about whatever our
winter is going to be like and deaths are spiking in Australia right now.
So, we're going to have, as is typical, another winter wave coming in a few months. Kids are going to return to school. There's going to be a lot more
transmission and the deaths are going to rise up from where we are now. So, I remain worried.
The reason I follow deaths or hospitalizations, I always did, but I -- especially now, is that most people who test at home now, we have such
widespread home testing, so, there's no centralized record of this. So, I really wouldn't be counting on case counts, I'd be watching death counts
and hospitalization counts, and both of those are going up.
Just in the last week, we had a 5 percent increase in hospitalizations compared to the prior week. So, those are trending up as well.
SREENIVASAN: When we look at the fall and winter, it's not just COVID, I mean, there's also influenza, there's other respiratory infections that
exist that perhaps have been tamped down for a year and a half or two years because of mask wearing.
CHRISTAKIS: And I think we need to be sober minded about what we're facing. So, as you are suggesting, not only do we have -- COVID is still
around, the virus is still mutating, there's going to be another variant that's named after Omicron is pie. We're going to have another one, let
alone the subvariants we have right now of Omicron that are causing havoc.
And the winter is covering. So, we're going to have to deal with COVID. But also, with all these other respiratory pandemics which have been
suppressed, not only because we've been avoiding each other and wearing masks the last few years, but because, now, we -- because we've avoided
each other for the last couple of years and worn masks, we've reduced our natural immunity to those pathogens. People haven't been exposed to those
So, those pathogens are like pent-up. They're like a dam waiting to burst. And they're also going to burst on the scene if we just sort of willy-nilly
return to normal. So, we're going to have a bad respiratory -- I suspect, strongly suspect, we're going to have a bad respiratory infection season in
the winter of 2022 into 2023, yes.
SREENIVASAN: Do you think that the Biden Administration is going to be able to have kind of operation warp speed 2.0 to try to come up with
something, with the big pharma companies, that will, I don't know, protect us from more than just one variant or two variants? It seems like it's sort
of a game of catch up that were playing and the virus, well, does what it does best, which is mutate and keep outsmarting us.
CHRISTAKIS: I think this is a complicated question. It's more complicated politically and sociologically, and maybe economically that it is
epidemiologically. I think our politicians have sensed that the public is fed up, that the public is eager to declare victory. And I do sense, as you
suggesting, a lack of political will, including in the Biden administration and in Congress, more particularly, to deal with some of the ongoing
threats we're facing.
However, having said that, the Biden administration, I think it was just leaked earlier this week, is about to announce a kind of operation warp
speed analog for a so-called pan coronavirus vaccine. A vaccine that would be effective, it is hoped, against all the coronavirus variants. And it's
unclear whether Congress would fund that. It's unclear whether there is appetite to spend the money that's required, which is billions of dollars.
That's not the only thing we should be doing as a nation. We should also, for example, really up our game in terms of boosters. Only 29 percent of
Americans older than 50 have had four shots. It is really foolish not to have gotten four shots if you older than 50. The evidence is very strong
with that fourth shot stimulates your -- it sort of makes your -- put your body into fighting shape to cope with the virus. Not just because of the
antibodies that you make in the short-term after the -- after you've been given the shot, but because your body has something called cellular
immunity, your body has a long-term ability to fight the virus.
We should have more attention to hospitals being full. If you're a citizen in this country, you should be paying attention to how full are the
hospitals are in the city. And when they start getting full, that's a problem for your city and for you, because if you get sick, there won't be
a bed for you.
SREENIVASAN: Right now, there's also a bit of swagger from people who have gotten an infection and might not have gotten a booster. And I'm just going
to put myself on the spot here. I have had two shots. Had a booster. Had COVID maybe two months ago. And frankly, for those weeks right after, I was
very cavalier. I was, like wow, I'm protected.
CHRISTAKIS: I'm Superman. Yes.
SREENIVASAN: I am, right. I've got the hybrid immunity.
SREENIVASAN: Now, and then, I thought to myself, well, maybe I should sit there and wait for my second shot until the fall. Again, there's lots of
people making these kinds of calculations.
SREENIVASAN: And I think actually getting COVID changes their perspective on the usefulness or need for vaccines and boosters.
CHRISTAKIS: So, I think, in your particular case, if you've had three shots and a natural infection, there was no urgent need for you to get a
booster. You've had four exposures. And in fact, that is the right order to have them, because where the vaccines first. So, that by the time you got
the natural infection your body was able to fight it off effectively, and that fight that your body engaged in really strengthened your body's
ability to fight even future infections that you might get.
So, in that particular case, I'm not -- I wouldn't be too worried. If people are on the fence, these are hard decisions. And the other thing that
happens with these kinds of things is that things that I would recommend to a particular individual are not necessarily the things that you would
recommend is a public policy. It is absolutely case that we want as many people as possible to be boosted.
And in fact, on an individual level, if you delay your booster shot during that period of time, you are running some increased risk of death. So, why
are you delaying it? Well, you might be delaying it because you think there will be a new booster, which will be better, for example, an Omicron
specific booster, or because you think, actually, I'm less likely to get COVID now because it is the summer. But what I really want that extra
protection that comes -- well, you get two kinds of protection from a shot, long-term production and an extra short-term protection, you might say, I
really want that extra short-term production in the winter.
From a collective perspective, I'm saying, everybody should get their shots, go out and get them. From an individual perspective, it depends. I
think it depends, you know, on your specifics of your lifestyle and your needs.
SREENIVASAN: The part that makes -- gives me pause is when I read about the fact that reinfection is not good by any stretch. That it is not
automatic that oh, well, since that you've had it and since you've had the three vaccines, if you get COVID twice, it's just going to be just like the
CHRISTAKIS: No, that is correct. I do not think one should be cavalier about this disease. Each time you are exposed to a pathogen, it carries a
certain amount of risk. Now, if you said to me, does this mean that I'm going to hide in my house for the next few years? The answer is no. I'm
living my and I'm out and about. I've taken the prudent steps that I can take as an individual. I've gotten all four shots. I avoid needless, large
gatherings. You know, I'm not going to any rock concerts. Not that I would necessarily, anyway, but -- you know, but I wouldn't.
The reason I wouldn't is for COVID. But -- and otherwise, I'm living my life. You know, I will have a dinner party with my friends. I'll go -- I
will do what -- you know, what's normal.
SREENIVASAN: How do we deal, as a society, with the aftermath of the different types of social consequences that have happened? We have had all
kinds of these ripple effects as a society that we still have to clean up from, really, kind of March of 2020.
CHRISTAKIS: Yes. Let's talk about some of the ripple effects. And because this is what is typical of the intermediate phase we are in, is the -- is
these types of, you know, echoes of the pandemic sweeping through our society.
One is the impact on young children, and then, specifically, the learning loss that came from the disruptions in schooling. And it wasn't just the
lockdowns and the fact that the school switch to Zoom, for example, it was also that the teachers were wearing masks, so -- and the kids are wearing
masks, they couldn't see each other. A lot of teachers got sick and couldn't come to work even after schools were back. There's a great
resignation. Many teachers have resigned. There are staffing shortages in our schools. There's multiple, multiple issues happening in the schools
that are contributing to this learning loss.
So, we -- this learning loss has been absolutely documented and it is substantial. And it's similar, by the way, to what happened a hundred years
ago with the 1918 pandemic that people who are young -- young people during that pandemic, some of them never recovered in terms of their education, in
terms of their ability to read, in terms of their occupational prospects and so on. So, it's been quite severe. And it has been so economically
So, some kids in some parts of the country are -- of certain backgrounds have suffered more than other kids. So, it's been unequally distributed.
But there are other things as well that are echoes. I think suicide and suicide attempts and suicidality and mental health in young people.
Now, mental health in our young people was declining over 2010 to 2019 even before the pandemic. We had rising self-harm, rising incidents of
depression and anxiety, rising use of psychoactive medications. And among the young people in our society, the pandemic accelerated that. And we had
an even further rise.
There is some evidence from an adolescent behavior experience survey, which I think is run out by the CDC in 2021, that has a nationally representative
sample that reports that in the preceding 12 months, which included the time of the pandemic, 44 percent of American young people in grades nine
through 12 experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopefulness. And 20 percent had seriously considered attempting suicide, and 9 percent had
So, this effect on mental health that we are seeing with COVID is bad, but it is also pretty typical of plagues. I mean, plagues do this. Marcus
Aurelius writing about a played in Rome 2,000 years ago, talked about the moles (ph), the kind of depression that is settled on the city because of
There is another thing we need to keep an eye on, which is whether you have had long or short COVID, after you recovered, has your body been affected?
Is your body scarred from the infection? Do you have pulmonary fibrosis or renal insufficiency or pancreatic insufficiency or do your problems with
your heart or psychiatric or neurologic problems?
And it is still unclear, but I think we are going to have maybe 5 million Americans who survive the infection but who are disabled, had some amount
of disability afterwards, either mild or severe disability. So, these millions of our fellow several civilians, first of all, will have suffered,
will have survived but now, their bodies are harmed, and they're going to need medical attention and then, going to be make demands on our health
care and cost money. So, this is another echo.
And what I think is probably one of the most important social and psychological impacts of the pandemic is that pandemic are times when there
is a search for meaning. When there is a major disruption in a society and when people are dying or getting sick or worried about dying or getting
sick, people rethink the meaning of their lives. And they rethink what is important to them in their own lives, and what is important to them in
society. And I am seeing a lot of evidence of this in our society right now.
I'm seeing it, for example, in the seas regarding religious participation. I am seeing it in the great resignation and in occupations. People are
changing their jobs because they are thinking, I've only one life to live. What is the job I really want to do? I'm seeing it, for example, in the
large numbers of young people who want to become doctors and nurses and participate in the healing professions, because they've seen the importance
I am seeing it, for example, in some of the political ferment we are seeing in our society. In -- whether it is the Black Lives Matter protests from a
couple of years ago or even the January 6th insurrection, I think, partly reflected a kind of search for meaning. People were trying to figure out,
what is going on? And I think that is something that is going to very much beyond people's minds during this intermediate period.
SREENIVASAN: On the one hand, we've got the World Health Organization declaring that monkeypox is now a global health emergency. Very different
virus, very different transmissibility. I don't want to confuse it with the coronavirus pandemic. And then, we also have polio showing back up in the
United Kingdom and in the United States, and this was a disease that we were so -- we were on the cusp of stamping it out around the entire planet.
And I wonder whether -- kind of our next pandemic, whether it's monkeypox, whether it's something else, is coming. I mean, have we not learned
anything from this or what should we be taking from the last two years that we should be applying to the next threat?
CHRISTAKIS: Well, I don't think -- no, monkeypox is not coronavirus. It does not have the prospect of being anywhere near as damaging or as deadly
as coronavirus. And it is very unlikely to become a pandemic in the same kind of way and kill as many people as coronavirus has.
However, it is absolutely the case that we are going to face more pandemics. Respiratory pandemics come every five or 10 years, but serious
ones only come every 50 or hundred years or so. But there is some evidence that the inter pandemic interval for respiratory pandemics is narrowing.
So, there is a decent chance that those of us listening today, in our lifetimes, will face another pandemic. And I would hope that we would be
vastly better prepared, both politically and socially and clinically to cope with this pandemic when it comes.
SREENIVASAN: Nicholas Christakis, thanks so much for joining us.
CHRISTAKIS: Thank you so much for having me, Hari.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: We are all in this together. And finally, in the race over eight days and more than 1,000 kilometers, the Tour de France Femmes is currently
underway for the first time in 33 years. The inaugural event took place in 1955 but was later discontinued. Now, in a momentous era for women sports,
these female cyclists just have two more days to cross the finish line. Amazing, and good luck.
That is it for now for us. Thank you so much for watching and goodbye from New York.