From Kabul to Istanbul: Rickshaw circus rumbles through Pakistan

Aims to raise money for a charity and spread skills among refugees, orphans.

Afp July 18, 2012


A Canadian man and his German girlfriend are braving the Taliban to take a rickshaw on one of the world’s most dangerous road trips to bring circus to children in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.

Adnan Khan, 41, and his anthropologist sweetheart have embarked on an 8,000-kilometre trip to Istanbul, which necessitates a police escort and the hoisting of the rickshaw onto trucks to navigate the tricky routes.

Their purpose is twofold: raise money for a charity that uses circus training to lift the spirits of children in war-torn Afghanistan, and to spread circus skills along the way in order to brighten the lives of refugees and orphans.

Adnan left Kabul by road on July 11 as 25-year-old Annika Schmeding flew to Islamabad to prepare the way. Accompanied by the Afghan police, Adnan drove to Jalalabad, and then into Pakistan’s tribal belt on the Durand Line. Owing to security challenges, the area has not seen Western tourists in years. Nor does the colourful three-wheel rickshaw with a jazzy “Rickshaw Circus” written on the side and sporting a brass clown horn go unnoticed in terrain synonymous with kidnapping, suicide bombings and ambushes. Khan and Schmeding expect to spend two months winding their way through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. They are expected to average 300 kilometres a day, in temperatures that can easily reach 50 degrees Celsius.

“I finally got the rickshaw to the Pakistani side. It took hours. It was quite funny. A policeman told me that he hadn’t seen a carnet de passage (the document needed for tourists to cross the border) in years,” Khan told AFP on Monday.

The couple is determined to raise as much money as possible for the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children (MMCC), which was recently forced to close its school in the western city of Herat and sack staff because of a shortage of funds.”We realised that MMCC is very good at running their programmes, but not really good in terms of publicity. So we wanted people to know that there’s been an actual social circus running in Afghanistan for about 10 years,” said Khan.

Since 2002, the charity claims to have reached more than two million children in a country where singing, dancing and cultural shows were banned by the Taliban regime. Apart from children, the MMCC also puts on shows for grown-ups to raise awareness of basic hygiene, malaria and anti-personnel mines.”One thing is the educational message in it. Another one is to entertain children,” said David Mason, the founder and co-director of MMCC.”In Afghanistan, entertainment has another mission. It’s therapy, collective therapy,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2012.


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