Unicycles and Afghanistan

Dear Friends,

Salaam aleykum. I hope you’ve been keeping warm and healthy through the winter! This email includes events and updates on the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children (MMCC).

BENEFIT PERFORMANCE!! Sat., March 18 — 6:30 pm

@ Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Building 54, Room 100

Map: http://whereis.mit.edu/map-jpg?mapterms=54%2BE34

MIT’s Juggling Club is throwing a Juggle Mania!! benefit performance for the MMCC. Some great entertainment, for a good cause. Club President David Rush brought in Peter Panic, and I’ll do a straight jacket escape while jumping rope. We all must escape from something, a bondage of some sort…

If you can make it, I encourage you to come!

Other quick updates, in no particular order:

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… What do Jennifer Garner and Afghan refugees in the circus have in common? For starters, they both do amazing acrobatic and theatric stunts, though the kids have less padding/protection equipment. Jennifer Garner, the actress from Alias, and Patch Adams, MD, both posted statments of support — webmaster Andreas put them online: www.Unicycle4Kids.org.

… MMCC has a new international circus ally in Canada! Check out the “Dr. Kaboom Mobile Mini Circus” of Ottawa: http://www.drkaboom.com/ .

…I return to Afghanistan on June 1st for six weeks. Two courageous, inspired and gifted circus performers will be joining me to help lead workshops: Ben Sota of the Zany Umbrella Circus ( www.zanyumbrella.com) and aerialist and photographer Renee Rosensteel (www.rosensteel.com ). I can’t wait to see what comes from this collaboration!

… after a recent presentation at MIT, an American-Iraqi student asked me if I knew of any good books to recommend on Afghanistan. If you’re interested in a great read, one just came out, published in February. “My War at Home” is a book by MMCC-supporter and Harvard graduate Masuda Sultan, about her powerful and inspiring life story, a journey from Kandahar to Queens and back again. It describes one woman’s personal, political, and human struggle for rights and Muslim identity in America and in Afghanistan. Published by Simon and Schuster. Masuda’s story is one that needs to be told. http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?sid=33&pid=515187

…The Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children is suffering some major financial setbacks. Three major grants fell through, in part due to changing security situations in the provinces where MMCC is contracted to perform. Your support helped to keep the winter programs running. Despite setbacks, the MMCC is continuing to offer 38 classes for refugees in Kabul through its winter program.

…Some of the older refugee artists are now learning to be apprentice teachers at the circus. Part of the circus’ mission is to train teachers to be effective in the art of engaging children, so that the education system in Afghanistan is alive, effective, and kid-friendly. Through teacher training workshops and demonstrations, the circus equips educators and parents with tools to communicate with children in ways that stimulate and challenge kids to be creative, to think independently, and to express themselves. These are not for mere fun, but rather they create infrastructure for a successful democracy. The results? Children are more interested in learning, more entrepreneurial, and more independently minded. In the process of engaged learning, they are rewarded for playing with (and sometimes changing) the rules. For example, they challenge rules of gravity when learning to juggle, rules of the body when learning to dance, rules of pain when learning to laugh, rules of expression when learning to act in skits.

…I’ve been grateful for time to reflect after Afghanistan, and as with any transformative experience, ideas tend to shift. Below are some of my thoughts, still in progress, and I invite your additions and comments.

“Security” and “freedom” have become extremely popular keywords in public debates about Afghanistan and Iraq, and they lead me to wonder, what role does a circus play in creating security?

My thinking shifted. I used to think that matters of “play” were separate from matters of “security.” Play wears a brightly colored hat with bells. Security wears a gun and a badge. One is serious. One isn’t. But now I think of play and security in the same breath, as natural partners in human development. What adults want in Afghanistan is precisely what Afghan children need, a sense of security. Security means more than protection from bullets and landmines, more than protection from physical violence, in the home, at work, or on the battlefield. There’s an unseen dimension to security, complementary to physical safety, and that is emotional security.

Erik Erikson argued that the key to most human development lies in our sense of basic trust. We wonder, on a deep level, is the world a place to be trusted? What and who can we trust? Can we trust the world with our dreams and desires? Can we trust others to be gentle or forgiving? Can we trust Mom and Dad? Neighbors? Other ethnic groups? Foreigners? America? Israel?

I wonder how different people experience “security” — in what degrees of sensitivity and through what means. Governments seem to experience safety through calm, through participation, often through police and military. Workers experience safety through adequate income, a strong economy, and protected work environments. Children experience safety through playful environments, where the rules can be broken without severe punishments. They feel safe from but also safe to . They are safe from harm, and safe to explore and express and engage the world. In this respect, play is liberatory. It brings freedom for the development of critical thinking, creativity, and a sense of hope — the emotional foundations for innovation and social change. The stuff that sustainable democracies are made of.

… If you haven’t already donated to the Unicycle4Kids.org campaign, you have more time left! On April 2nd, I head to Fargo, North Dakota, to attempt the world record for “most miles on a unicycle in one hour.” If weather conditions are good, I may go for the 100 mile record, too. In any case, I’ll keep you posted. The plan is to joggle the Boston marathon on April 17th, and do 100 continuous miles on a unicycle in May. I am deeply indebted to those little powerbal gel packs!

Stay warm and safe.

Your one tired guy,


Zach Warren

Harvard Divinity School

“One Wheel, One World!”