Photo by Vera F.
TEXT BY DANIELLE B.
VIDEO BY KAMI L. RICE
When people learn that I’ve recently moved to Kabul, their first question is usually, “What is it like?”
How do I describe a city filled with such contrasts and contradictions? Exquisite rose gardens bloom behind walls edged with razor wire, guarded by Kalashnikov-toting private security.
Whatever preconceived ideas I had about Kabul were completely upended the moment I stepped inside the gates of the Gol-e-Sang Centre for the Afghan Educational Children’s Circus. Brightly painted shipping containers stacked atop one another form a sanctuary where children are free to do what children do best: run, jump, cartwheel, spin, flip, and climb.
The AECC was founded in 2002 as a nonprofit social-circus with a goal to help children overcome trauma through circus arts. They provide after-school programming for hundreds of kids each week, and entertain thousands through educational performances at local schools and events.
As the name of the center (which translates “flower from the rock”) implies, the circus helps these young people find a way to grow and thrive in the midst of hardship and ongoing conflict. It provides a safe space for them to develop confidence and learn teamwork.
More than that, it is a family. A circus artist myself, I immediately realized I had found my tribe in Afghanistan. It took no time at all to connect with the students through the universal language of physical exertion and the joy of mastering a new skill.
It turns out that kids in Kabul are like kids anywhere. They love to laugh, play, imagine, and explore. As a boy shows off his juggling skills for the camera, for that moment his entire focus is absorbed by several small objects flying through the air in a carefully choreographed pattern. The unspoken “look what I can do!” requires no translation.
“We established the circus so that the children have a space, and they can learn and they can improve their talent and have their fun.”–Khalilullah Hamid, National Program Manager, Afghan Educational Children’s Circus
In the beginning of 2019, Rabia performed in Germany, “to show the Afghan circus to German people that they should know that if they see and hear bad news in the media, she can show the other Afghanistan to them.”–Hamid about Rabia, one of the top AECC jugglers
“When I do performance, I get to enjoy it, and also by my arts I can bring a smile onto the people’s faces, because…everybody knows the situation, but when I do a performance on the stage, and the people smile, I get excited and get energy because I had the talent and the arts to show to the other one, and also I encourage other children that they can perform and so they can learn a performance to bring a smile to other peoples.”–Rabia via Hamid’s translation