They call New York the city that never sleeps but the people of Cairo live throughout the night. Right now it’s 4am here and I can’t sleep. The call to morning pray should begin any minute on loud speakers throughout the city. The roosters are already awake. Under one of the street lamps outside our building I hear street children talking, playing maybe. Just a couple hours ago some local workers just finished working. The sounds of ancient machinery, grinding, hammering, and yelling kept me up and now someone near by is playing music to keep me company as I write.
We are staying in Islamic Cairo, a medieval part of the city. To get to our apartment we walk 10 minutes down a very narrow dirt road. This part of the city is like a maze, paths winding in every direction with shops and workshops practically stacked on top one another. The architecture is very old, crumbling and dusty. Scooters honk to tell us to move as they zip past us, donkeys with stacks of goods pass us, men on bicycles balancing trays of bread on their heads. They all just miss us by a few inches as they pass. A man takes a chainsaw to some stumps of a tree as sheep eat the bark off the stumps three feet away from him. Walking home is a hazardous adventure. As Nate put it so eloquently today, it’s as if bombs keep getting dropped all around us. But we and everyone else on this dirt road keep walking as if everything is calm. It’s hard for me to believe that what seems like chaos to me is normal, everyday life to the people here.
Cairo recently kicked Mexico City out of first place for being the most polluted city on Earth. The air is clammy, dusty and you can’t inhale without getting a good whiff of car exhaust. The pollution makes me very tired, and a large family of very dirty boogers constantly inhabits my nose.
Okay, I’m done complaining…This is Gwen and my fifth trip to Cairo to clown. But this year is the best by far already. We are partnering with three local artists. They perform around the city together with a group called El Khayal El Sha’bi, which means, The Folkloric Imagination. They have also performed with Clowns Without Borders France. It’s wonderful to be working with them! In addition to being great people full of light and warmth, they are also wonderful clowns. Although we just arrived on Tuesday already created and performed our show twice.
Our first performance took place at the Children’s Oncology Department at Nasar Hospital. We took over a tiny office and quickly prepared for the show. We raised our beautiful new backdrop and put our musical instruments and puppets in their places. (Yes! We are incorporating puppets into this year’s show!) At first, only a few children came to see what was going on, but when Maysara and Gwen played music and danced up and down the halls, nearly every child got out of bed to come see the mysterious and joyful spectacle unfold. Everyone had a great time. The distraction from the daily pain and boredom of life in a hospital receded and kids danced!
The second performance of the day took place at a youth center for children from The City of the Dead. This is a poor community built among the graves, crypts, and mausoleums of Cairo. The small, precariously placed houses and businesses here have electricity and running water, but the community itself is definitely regarded one of the more marginalized and poor in Cairo. When we arrived at the center about 100 children were eagerly awaiting us. We were on a hill a little bit above Cairo’s downtown area where the wind tried unsuccessfully to lift our sail-like set off the ground! We secured the set and began the show! At one point we dance with a giant scarf that Gwen discovers in Jakob’s ear. Two wonderful little girls joined in and really showed us how to move!
Morning prayer is over and now the birds are awake. I’m delighted by our first few days in Cairo but I know I should really try to get some rest because we have a very busy schedule ahead of us and so many shows to come. I can’t wait to write more to tell you all about it.