We have just returned from an unforgettable two weeks in Cairo where we performed for Sudanese refugees, street children, hospital patients, and a juvenile delinquency center.
We performed for over 2,800 children with the help of our local clown partners, Jakob, Nora, Maysara and Marwa. This trip marks our first collaboration with local artists in Cairo and I’m happy to say it went extremely well. The six of us created an amazing original 40-minute show in just one day.
We were fortunate to perform for about 500 people at the 7th annual Egyptian Day of Solidarity for street children. UNICEF estimates there are 1 million children living on the streets of Cairo. These children are often runaways who have escaped abuse and violence at home only to deal with poverty and neglect on the harsh Cairo streets. With the help of local NGO’s like Plan International, we were able to reach these populations who have little access to psychosocial support.
One section of our show is about littering, a serious problem in Cairo. Each show we invited audience members to teach us and the other children how to properly dispose of trash. This little boy from the Zabbaleen trash community showed us how to correctly dispose of plastic bags.
The Zabbaleen (Arabic for garbage people) are a community of mostly Christian Egyptian who survive by collecting garbage throughout the city, sorting through it and recycling, but they also live in it. Most children in this community are surrounded by trash 24 hours a day, living in it, working with it, and even playing with it. Many Zabbaleen suffer from health issues such as Hepatitis from this constant contact with waste.
Go to: The New York Times for more information
Performing for people of other cultures can be challenging. Not everything translates as you expect it to. Egypt is an extremely religious country where many men often didn’t want to shake my hand because I’m a woman, there’s even a separate car for women only on the subway. In some sections of the show I straddle Gwen or stand on Jakob with one leg wrapped around his neck. I couldn’t help but feel a bit self-conscious during these parts. After all, men and women treating each other like trampolines in public isn’t the norm here, and my clown costume exposes my forearms. I’d keep my eyes on the adults for any show of disapproval. But to my joy, the children always seemed to love this part of the show. Boys often came up to us after asking that we teach them how to perform these moves on their friends. Then they’d show me some move they had been working on themselves. One of which, was a complicated three-person stunt that Gwen and I had performed three years earlier with our third clown partner, Dave. I couldn’t help but wonder whether this move had been working its way around the Cairo streets since that time.
At the end of each day Gwen, Nate and I made the long walk home down this very busy street with our five bags of clown gear. By the end of our two-week stay, we became a familiar scene, the beloved resident freaks from a far away land; at least that’s what I like to tell myself as we’d try, usually unsuccessfully, to mime our days adventures to our neighbors. We struggled to put in our orders everyday at the local bakery and would try to dodge Hassan, the local pharmacist who had taken to forcing food and shea (tea) on Nate for hours at a time.
After 18 shows in our two week stay, we had to say goodbye for now to our great new friends in Cairo. Hopefully they will be waiting for us next year when we return. And of course, we are encouraging them to perform here in the US.
This is the 5th year in a row that Project Egypt, a Clowns Without Borders expedition, has been able to perform for the children of Cairo. Each year we see old friends and make new connections. We were especially proud to collaborate with our Egyptian clown counterparts in what we hope will be the basis for future cross cultural clown shows. If you’d like to make a contribution to support these international exchanges, we would greatly appreciate it. Please click here. Be sure to write that your contribution is for Project Egypt.