I offer these photos as proof that the circus is alive and well in Nablus.
Emotions run high in the West Bank. Anxiety, fear, joy, sadness, pride, delight, horror. The negative and positive justapose daily between the normal routine of living and the added stress of the military presence in everyting from school, work, and going from one place to another. Parents worry for their children, often clinging to them, not wishing to let go.
A circus is an appropriate way to escape from the fear and anxiety of daily living, which includes right now the annual exam period for all children in all levels of schooling. This is also a time when the Israeli military targets school aged boys for arrest, often coming to their home in the middle of the night. For added punishment, there is no studying, reading text books, or taking exams while being detained or under arrest.
The Circus School in Nablus has created a wonderful way for children to escape from the realities of life into a world of fantasy and physical discipline. Funded by the French, this school draws children in villages for four days of training ending in a performance for the entire village. The four days are spent learning the fine art of acrobatics, juggling, and clowning. Mustafa, the founder and director, says he can teach anyone to juggle in 20 minutes. He says that if you focus too much you cannot keep the balls in the air--that one must relax and forget about the balls. This is an important lesson for the children who face anxiety in their daily life and need to learn to let go of it.
Clowning is not about painting the face and making people laugh, but rather it is about using your emotions to make people laugh. What makes people laugh is the topic of discussion over the 4 days where children are taught how to use their own feelings to make expressions, gestures, poses, to delight their parents. There is little make-up and minimal costuming but lots of mime and body control.
Learning to become an acrobat is serious business that includes stretching the mind, and body, balancing, teamwork, and trust. The acrobatic teacher spends a lot of time with the children getting them to work with their bodies in synchrony. In order to accomplish the poses and movements each child must trust the others whether catching or being caught, to move in sync with one another to use ones strengths to balance the other's weakness.
A day in the life of the circus is not unlike a day living under occupation. The Israelis are skilled in keeping everyone off balance by changing tactics momentarily. Just when you think you have their system figures out things take a 180 degree turn. Being able to juggle ideas and things, being able to keep your balance in the midst of turmoil, having trust in your teammates, and being able to laugh at yourself and make others laugh are perhaps the most valuable skills to teach Palestinian children.