Since we last wrote we’ve been performing at schools, disabled youth vocation rehabilitation centers, an orphanage, and a couple shows at a children’s park. We have also been meeting with a group of Egyptian and Sudanese adults interested in becoming clowns and creating their own show to perform for children after we leave. None of the men have had any clowning experience in the past but all are natural comedians. We are so impressed with their abilities as performers and thrilled that they are interested in volunteering their time to make the children of Cairo smile.
We say that laughter is the best medicine. I’ve always enjoyed this sentiment, but my experience clowning for sick children is what really drives the truth of this saying home for me. A few days ago, a pair of very energetic Englishwomen brought us to the children’s cancer ward at the Nasser Institute. It has taken these women two years of bringing in donated hospital equipment and toys to gain the trust of the doctors there, and yet they were prepared to invite us after only a phone conversation. After the show we did at the hospital, the women told us that they were amazed when a particularly sweet little girl chose to sit near the front of the audience without her father and accept the tambourine Les offered her. Before our show, they had never seen her express an interest in anything going on around her. They also told us about a very sick girl who hadn’t gotten out of bed for three weeks until she heard about our show and decided to watch. They said that afterwards, when she returned to her room, she refused help getting back in bed because she wanted to do it herself. What incredible spirit!
One of the many communities we visited over the past week was a disabled youth vocational rehab center called Aghsan El Karma. We arrived at the center in time to join their morning exercises and to pledge allegiance to the red, white, and black Egyptian flag. Then we performed our show, and for extra fun we included some of their exercises in one of the bits. They loved seeing the exercises they do every day being performed by clowns! They were a very attentive audience and gave a few hoots and hollers of encouragement. After the show they decided to include us in a game they were playing. There were two teams: Gwen and I were on Team Farawla (strawberry), and Les was on Team Manga (mango). The caretakers and we clowns enjoyed ourselves as much as the students. It was the perfect amount of healthy competitive game playing for getting us all wound-up.
After the games, our contact at the center showed us around and told us about the unfortunate way disabled people are treated in Egypt. The cultural norm here has been for people to have deep feelings of shame for the handicapped in their community. Many prefer to keep disabled people out of sight and out of mind. The disabled are typically neglected, abused, or abandoned forever in inhumane institutions. Aghsan El Karma is trying to change this. Three of their students went to China this year for the Special Olympics! We had the great honor of meeting the 2nd place champion of ping-pong while we were there.