Mobile Mini Circus for
Making Mullahs SmileStarted in the
summer of 2002 in the Afghan capital, Kabul, the 'MMCC' aims to support
traumatized children. Sponsored mainly from Denmark and the US, the circus
pursues therapeutic as well as educational goals. Martin Gerner
The circus is
currently visiting and performing in Germany and Denmark |
A map of Germany adorns the wall of the small
room in Kabul. Next to it stands a 24-year-old man, Shir Khan. He points to the
map: "Most of the people in Germany are Christians; they have a God, too. There
are Muslims in Germany as well, but not nearly as many as here."
of children sits cross-legged on the ground, attentively following Shir Khan's
words. "What is the capital of Germany, Bonn or Berlin?" one of them asks. "What
is the most famous place in Germany?" another child wants to know.
Khan, an actor by training, who also teaches these young members of the
Children's Circus tricks and theater, unfolds a large information display that
some of the coaches have put together. Improvised lessons about
taking part in the circus project come from different ethnic
forests and half-timbered houses, along with castles such as Neuschwanstein, are
pasted onto the pages. Also included is Frankfurt with its imposing skyline, and
Berlin. Some of the children have heard about the Berlin Wall, but Shir Khan is
not able to answer all of their questions as to why the wall was built, how high
it was and how long it stood.
During these days, the children sit every
morning in this classroom in Kabul for their improvised lessons about Germany.
Twelve of them, seven boys and five girls aged between 9 and 16, have hit the
jackpot. They belong to the group that will tour Germany and Denmark for two
Germany is still a mystery to them, but they have nonetheless
been dutifully practicing German folk songs for weeks: "Oh du lieber Augustin,
Augustin ...," the young Afghans chime.
"Three days ago, they received a
cassette with the German original," explains Berit Mühlhausen, one of the two
founding members of the Children's Circus, both foreigners. "We translated the
German text into Persian phonetics and, with a little bit of practice, they were
able to sing the song." "Warning: Landmines!"
trip to Germany is a big adventure. "The children will do acrobatics and
juggling on stage, ride unicycles, walk on stilts and perform as clowns," says
David Mason, the other founding member.
In addition, the group will
present excerpts of programs they perform in Afghanistan. For example, "The
Humming Mosquito," in which a boy in a green bodysuit with red paper wings tied
to his back plays a malaria-carrying mosquito, from which four additional
performers and the curious young audience try to protect themselves.
Most of the performances in Afghanistan deal with the grave dangers
young people in the Hindukush face in their daily lives, such as landmines and
diarrhea. When the mini-circus plays at schools before peers, a giant white hand
made of sponge comes on stage.
The sponge is dirty; underneath it is
hidden an actor. In short scenes he acts out how people can protect themselves
from dirt: fetching clean water, soaping up their hands and drying them well,
doing the same with fruit and other foods.
"Warning: Landmines!" is the
name of another piece, excerpts from which the children will be performing in
Germany. "We don't re-enact scenes of death and horrible injury here," Berit
Mühlhausen explains. "Instead, we put a monkey on stage, who gets hurt badly."
In reality, children die every day in Afghanistan after stepping on
landmines. Several million of these treacherous weapons are still slumbering
just below the surface of the ground. It is estimated that it would take more
than twenty years to clear or destroy them all.
The Children's Circus,
whose full name is 'Mobile Minicircus for Children,' has been in existence for
two-and-a-half years. Today, it provides artistic training for 80 children,
ranging from storytelling and puppet theater to sports and creative radio
For the other half of the day, the children attend school.
"We want to motivate the children to make the most of their own potential; we
want to open up new horizons for them and distract them from the poverty in
which they live," according to Berit Mühlhausen. 300,000 young
viewers so far
Last year, the Children's Circus brought some laughter
into the lives of over 25,000 children and youth attending schools in Kabul.
Nationwide, the circus performed for an estimated 300,000 young
These shows help children to deal with the trauma of war and the
resulting psychic deformations. "When our oldest performers play in rural areas,
there is sometimes a mullah or former Taliban sitting in the audience," David
Mason relates. "At first, they sit there unsmiling with crossed arms, but, the
longer the program goes on, the more the stern face relaxes, and at the end they
even join in the laughter and applause."
The children training for the
minicircus have often lost parents or family members in the war. They know what
it is to live as a refugee, and frequently have to work to help support their
family in addition to attending school and circus training.
minicircus itself shares in this struggle for survival and is, in a certain
sense, a mirror of everyday Afghani reality. Facing a chronic lack of funding,
the circus keeps solvent by undertaking short-term projects and offering
services such as teacher training, in which the emphasis is on creativity.
Unlike the major aid organizations, the Children's Circus does not
possess its own vehicle. The United Nations in Kabul has evidently not yet
recognized the value of fostering children, as the circus has been doing with
success since November 2003. "They make big plans and talk a lot, but we are
more practice-oriented," maintains David Mason.Martin Gerner
© Qantara.de 2005
Translation from German: Jennifer
Letter to the
Women's Sport in
in Secret for Fear of Extremists
Afghanistan's very first fitness and
beauty center has recently opened in Kabul. The owner has nonetheless decided to
keep its location a secret. Three years after the fall of the Taliban regime,
she remains fearful of arousing the fury of those aiming to preserve traditional
customs and practices. A report by Ali Matar
Were Lacking Just about Everything"
At 25, Roya Sadat is Afghanistan's
youngest filmmaker. During the years of the Taliban regime, she sat alone in a
small room in Herat and learned about directing by reading American handbooks on
filmmaking. Interview by Fahime Farsaie
The Afghan Magazine
Voice of Afghan Women
Jamila Mujahed is editor of the only women's
magazine in Afghanistan. For her work on the magazine "Malalai," which she
founded to promote women's rights, she has been awarded the Johann Philipp Palm
Prize. Petra Tabeling reports
Interview Siddiq BarmakAn
Afghan View of Suffering
Interview "Osama" is the first full-length film
to emerge from Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime. It is an
attempt to come to terms with the country's history – and it already won a
Golden Globe Award. Amin Farzanefar spoke with the film's director Siddiq
BarmakwwwWebsite Mobile Mini Circus for Children