Visiting the children’s circus in Kabul. Life goes on. People wake up. Put their clothes on. And they go about their day. Yet, some people have to overcome much larger challenges every single day. Over one billion people live on $1 a day. Tens of millions have been forced to flee their homes. Others in Yemen or Syria live in war zones. Thomas Hobbes, a 17th century philosopher wrote, “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” But yet, life goes on, and people strive and endeavor, dance and laugh, and live.
I traveled to Afghanistan and of course I carried with me my preconceived notions. I have followed Afghanistan since the 1980s when the Soviet Union invaded this landlocked nation. And Afghanistan has been smothered by the media since Bin laden and the subsequent US invasion. The headlines are consistently not positive. Attacks, bombings, killings. Death.
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But one of my first experiences in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, was having a relaxing lunch. I was at a restaurant in the basement of a nondescript building on a lively street. The restaurant was comfortably appointed in a trendy-café way. Besides having a very solid menu and a very tasty meal, the restaurant served a second purpose. Women who have been subject to domestic abuse could find a home here as part of the staff.
I ate a filling meal of chicken jalfrezi, Afghan salad, fresh bread, and even a fresher pomegranate juice. A man sat on a small stage, smiling, strumming a Rubab, a musical instrument. Tables were filled, with men and women, talking and laughing, playing on their mobile phones.
And throughout my time traveling in Afghanistan for two weeks, I witnessed life endure. Men sipped tea, women shopped in the markets, and children walked to school.
One of my most inspiring and reassuring experiences was my visit to the Afghan Mobile Mini Children’s Circus (MMCC). My group approached a structure of stacked multi-colored cubes made of containers. A guard with an Ak-47, opened a gate and invited us in.
Immediately my eyes were met by dozens of kids, boy and girls. The kids were broken into two groups, with some of the kids juggling and the other half were practicing acrobatics.
When MCCC opened its doors in 2002, less than one million Afghan children attended school (today, that number is nine million students). Governments and NGOs were focused on the basics, but MCCC opted to target soft skills and values.
Under the Taliban, this children’s group would not exist. Music was banned. Girls were prohibited from going to school or performing in public. But today, the kids gather, play, and train together.
The kids learn the circus arts like juggling, acrobatics, the wheel cir, and even fire spinning. MCCC started in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, but due to its success, has spread to other provinces.
Since 2002, the children have performed throughout Afghanistan, with a combined audience of over 2.7 million children. They have traveled to 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. And MCCC’s reach is international, some of the most talented kids have performed in Denmark, Germany, Italy, and Japan.
Before we left, we had the opportunity to sit down with Hamid, the National Program Manager of MCCC. Hamid told us that this program is similar to others around the world that give kids an alternative to the streets. Some of the children in MCCC are impoverished or refugees and are at risk. MCCC gives these children an option to learn a skill, interact with their peers, and develop a passion. Hamid shared his optimism and hope with us. Yet, one story stuck with me that chilled me. Much of what takes place at MCCC is considered haram, forbidden by the Taliban. Hamid told us that the MCCC hadn’t had any challenges with the Taliban except once. The Taliban had leaned that the children were watching films together at MCCC. Hamid received a call one day from someone representing the Taliban. That man warned him and the MCCC to cease showing films to their kids. MCCC complied with the threat. To me this conversation was illustrative of the fragility of the security situation in Afghanistan. But yet, life goes on.
I left MCCC with hope and a smile. Visiting the children’s circus in Kabul.
If you want to read more about Afghanistan, check out these other posts.