Palestine 2019

The First Arab Bedouin Female Clown

CWB – USA embarks on a three-year partnership with Diyar Theatre, a Bethlehem-based dance company. One of the Palestinian clown students invites CWB artists Ania Upstill and Michael O’Neill to her village, where she and other local women are dedicated to providing arts education. 

Starting a Foundation

Manal, one of the students in Diyar Theatre’s clown program, describes herself as “the first Arab Bedouin female clown.” I was inspired by Manal in class, where her smile lights up the room, but even more so after we visit her Bedouin village to perform for the local school.

When we arrive at the village, we need to ask directions to the school since there aren’t any signs. This Bedouin community was displaced by a settlement, and it feels hastily re-built after the move. We’re directed up a dirt road and at the top, right next to the school, we see a blue container where Manal waves at us from the doorway. She welcomes us inside, and it’s surprisingly bright. The container walls are hung with fabric and we’re offered seats on a few plush sofas or at a table set with chairs.

Manal serves us coffee and we chat for a few minutes. We learn that this container was used by foreigners teaching art classes, before it was abandoned. Once Manal’s sister finished her university degree in social work, the two of them decided to rehabilitate the caravan and set up an arts education foundation for students in their village. They don’t have any money but they do have the help of a few other female Bedouin friends. Now, thanks to the resources they’ve gathered from the community and their own homes, they’re able to offer after-school classes to local children.

Infectious Laughter

We go next door to perform at the school after we finish our coffee. The children all clearly know and love Manal. She helps the teacher bring out the classes into the yard—lines of students following her like ducklings—before sitting them down in orderly rows. Manal helps them behave throughout the entire performance and volunteers for our magic trick, playing along perfectly while spreading joy through her infectious laugh.

After the performance, we return to the caravan and share lunch with the women of the foundation. Our conversation is translated and I’m increasingly impressed with what they’ve achieved, especially considering the conservative social expectations placed on Bedouin women. These women are building something out of nothing to serve the children of their community, and I find myself humbled and inspired by their work.

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