The evening is cool in Cairo. Today’s performances were really amazing and beautiful. I’m feeling deeply content relaxing in one of the two wicker chairs that sit in the front room of the apartment where we’re staying. It’s an old, peaceful place with high ceilings and dusty tile floors, and it stands in a section of the city called Bab el Khal. The area is surrounded by giant walls and is named for the many doors that grant access to the medieval city within. Our familiarity with this neighborhood increases exponentially each day that passes. The sweet bread we tentatively point to and purchase on our daily walk home just caught our eye for the first time last night. We returned to the bakery today. We’ll likely go again tomorrow.
A few nights ago we took a walk deeper into the maze of narrow ancient streets around our place. This was after a really good dinner that included a very rich, strong broth of mutton and bowls of freekha, buckwheat in sauce, and we came upon a very noisy outdoor performance alongside a grand old mosque. A whole band and a giant PA blasted the small audience with its ring of red plastic chairs and many sheesha pipes. Singers took turns wailing emotionally with the reverb cranked up all the way. The MC, a domineering man with an orange tobacco stained mustache, invited/instructed us to sit, and a round of Egyptian whiskey (black tea) was ordered. A beautiful young man with sad-eyes and missing fingers sang first. Then the most accomplished performer of the evening stood before us, wearing, presumably, his favorite pinstriped suit. We were a captive audience, to be certain, but the experience was mesmerizing, none-the-less. We walked home afterward giddy and laughing at our good fortune at having stumbled upon such an entertaining scene.
Then we get up, and we carry our costumes, sets, and props down to the Metro. The process is physically demanding and a bit awkward. Locals watch us with curiosity. Tuesday, on our way to one of the Sudanese schools, our taxis were in a fender-bender with one another. Arabic cursing ensued. Thankfully, everyone was all right. Then we were at St. Joseph’s School (returning after visits in ‘06, ’07, and ’08) and performing before the sweetest group of about 50 children. They squeaked and giggled raucously at our gags and especially loved the part of the show where the clowns wave fly swatters playfully at the audience as they hunt invisible flies buzzing through the air.
The second show of the day took place at Sayeda Zeinab Park, the children’s park we visited last year. It was Egypt’s 7th Annual Day of Solidarity for Street Children, and the park was hosting talks and events for the day. There were approximately 40 Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s) participating as well as UNICEF and the National Council for Childhood and Womanhood. Throughout the day they had food, face painting, film screenings and performances for the street children. We played in the park’s large, outdoor theatre before an audience of approximately 300 people. Maysara, one of our local clown partners, works with street children, and we talked about these kid’s situations. He explained that many of the kids who live in the streets have fled from violence and abuse, and that others have been thrown out of their homes because of poverty or divorce. In Cairo, food is incredibly cheap and independence is exciting, so these children naturally avoid the few institutions that are in place to house them. Their lives in the street are not idyllic, however. Many are the victims of rape and physical abuse. Glue huffing is common, as well as other drug and substance abuse. Maysara also explained that not all children are ruined by the street-life. Some become very smart and self-reliant. Some make large profits from begging. Some are leaders to the other children and keep cell-phones and appointments with NGO’s.
We are still raising money for this expedition. Please consider making a donation!