This is a video about my time at the circus school in Battambang. For five days I’ve been teaching contact juggling there and it has been so GREAT to work with these children! So much passion, so much talent, so much joy and so many smiles! That’s how hard the children of the Battambang Circus School rock! A round of applause for those Kids, they are AWESOME!!! I love them so so much and I am so happy and grateful that I have this video, this way I will never forget them.
As the light went red for 1 minute and 45 seconds at the highway exit at the M3 on hoddle str in melbourne, we jumped out in front of the waiting cars and performed a juggling show for them like they haven’t seen before. Devil sticks, contact balls, hoola hoobs and pois were swung in front of them and when the light for the cars turned green, we had finished our show, asked for a donation by holding our hats out and went off the street. Every two and a half minutes we started a new show, for a completely new audience. That was our life in Melbourne for about three months and we loved it!
Yannick, Max, Sarah, me and Sally
There was Sarah swinging the hoolahoob, Sally rocking with pois, Fiametta rebelling with sticks, Skipp mastering juggling with 7 balls, Yannick and Max with devil sticks as well as me with contact balls. We were all travellers in our 20s from different corners of the earth and within one month we grew together as a crew of street artists. A part of us lived together in a beautiful big house with a beautiful garden. In the mornings we made smoothies from fruits that have been saved from the trash. Then we painted our faces, dressed up and performed for one to three hours a day in the streets of Melbourne. Usually we performed at the traffic lights as they were most fun and most profitable. Afterwards we enjoyed the rest of the day jamming in a park or at lentil as anything. This was our daily life and it was full of colors, laughs and joy. Our pockets were full of money and our social circle was getting bigger every day.
Busking in St. Kilda
On the weekends we drove out into the bush to recreational tribal gatherings where mostly ambient trance and progressive trance music was played all through the day and the night for a crowd of usually not more than 1000 people. In the middle of the forrest where the trees shoot up into the sky, in front of a lake or on a hill, we were dancing to the beat together; learning, sharing, teaching and serving each other.
Sally painting her face before heading out.
When the winter knocked on Melbournes doors, most of us split ways. Some went to the north, others to different shores, some went to their homecountry and others stayed. Looking back I feel immensely grateful for this great, great time. The late summer 2013 in Melbourne will always remain in my heart as a very special time. A time in which I felt home, a time which truly revolutionized my life. It taught me how to perform in the streets and how to become an artist.
The traffic light jam helped us all to express ourself and it made us all feel a little bit more professional. Although we were far from professional, it was a great start. It made us feel appreciated about what we love doing and with more practice and effort we would be able to perform on festivals, cabaret shows and resorts. Suddenly we lived the dream and the whole experience was just the start of something that will last for our lifetime.
Apart from learning how to earn some coins and bills together, we grew to something much more than that. We became a family, our own traveling circus family. Without them I would not be where I am now. My friends helped me to progress, to learn and to rediscover the joy of juggling. I will never forget this.
The busking crew of Melbourne on youtube www.youtube.com/embed/6RIEL4BvAuk
I crossed the border just after Yüksekova, a Turkish city that was about to get destroyed by an earthquake only 4 days after I travelled through it. A white, long-bearded old man with thick, dark eyebrows and a black turban was pictured above the counter. The man in the picture gazed at me with a quizzical look. The officer behind the counter controlled my passport for some minutes. Then he smiled, passed me my passport and said
"Welcome to Iran!"
I passed the counter, walked through the building and went outside. There was no questioning, no luggage searching and no inconveniences. I I was in the islamic republic.
The republic which wants the atomic bomb.
The republic where alcohol is forbidden and parties are illegal.
The republic where peaceful protests are brutally cracked down.
I had 30 days to travel in this country and I was just about to get started. What would you expect behind the borders of such a state, a state that is mostly coined by newspapers and the television rather than from tourists.
Before I came to Iran I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew some important things about that country:
I knew about the situation in Iran ever since the aftermath of the elections in 2009.
I knew that the people suffer from governmental oppresion.
I knew that demonstrations are being brutally repressed.
I knew from other blog entries and other travellers that it is safe to travel there and that the people are smart and hospital.
But beyond this I didn’t know what the people are like. Will I need to be very careful with what I do or what I say? Are the majority of the people tolerant towards the west or foreigners? How will the Iranians react on my presence? What about the police? Will they molest me once they see me? Will hitchhiking work there easily?
These questions and many others were on my mind and I was endlessly curious to find the answers. I found the answers for myself and I hope that you will get a better understanding of the people of Iran after reading on.
Now that I am in India since more than three weeks, I am still thinking about my time in Iran and sometimes, my heart is still there, as I am endlessly thankful for the experiences that I had there. I owe these posts to the many Iranians who invited me to their home, who gave me rides and who welcomed me with a genuine hospitality.
So once there was and once there wasn’t.
Flip a coin and roll a dice.
Throw away your preconceptions and read on.
Because Iran is not like what you would think it is.
"Hello Mister! Wanna change money mister? I give you good rate!" says the 18 year old guy right after the border. "No, thank you, I’m gonna hitchhike!" I said proudly "I don’t need money." The young man didn’t understand, but he decided to leave me alone. "But you need money in Iran!!!" he shouted after me and I kept on walking.
"Urmia?" "Taxi!" "Urmia!" These were the taxi drivers, I needed to go to Urmia, yes, but I didn’t want to go by taxi. So, I kept on walking towards the main street.
Finally I was there, I arrived at the main street and compared to East-Turkey, this road was much better build, flat and solid. I stood on the street with my thumb up waiting for the next car. And yes!!! The first car stopped, I opened the door and asked: “Urmia?” “Urmia!” The driver replied. Great!
So, I called my host Pooriya:
… one minute later …
Pooriya bursts out laughing and told me that this is normal in Iran. Normal cars, which have no taxi signs at all can also be taxis. There is a huge taxi culture in Iran. Because there is no such thing as a VAT, anyone who drives a car can just become a taxi.
At first I thought that it will be easy to hitchhike in Iran because I heard of the big hospitality there, but due to the big taxi culture there, most of the cars stop only for you if they are also a taxi.
So, I told the taxi driver with sign language that I had no money at all and that he should drop me at the next junction.
At this junction I met someone doing his military service. He smiled at me and said “Welcome to Iran!”. He spoke perfectly english and asked me if he could help me. I told him that I want to hitchhike to Urmia. He seemed to understand and told me: “No problem! I will stop the cars for you and tell them in Farsi that they should take you to Urmia.” Great!
It didn’t take a minute and I sat in a car with three other people. Now I must be sitting in a normal guys car I thought to myself, but after calling Pooria again, I got to know that I was in a taxi again and he charged me 5$ after arrival.
After that Pooriya also told me that the thumb is a insultive gesture which is equivalent to the middlefinger, which is not the best sign to show to people who should give you a ride.
Now that we can’t use the thumb anymore and every car that stops is a taxi, what to do?
First, go to a good location at the edge of the city where there are no taxis, if need be, with a taxi. The best spots are always the toll stations because there is a lot of traffic, they all drive somewhat the same directions and they need to stop at the counter. Unlike in countries like France or Spain I haven’t been sent away from the toll stations. Nobody really understood why I didn’t take the bus and they actually helped me to get a ride. The police was also there and they were quite nice to me. They smiled at me and wanted to know where I come from, but didn’t ask for my passport, so they were just curious.
Second, don’t use your thumb, instead strech out your arm and start to flutter your hand up and down in order to signal the drivers to slow down and to stop for you. This sign is also used for taxis. After a while, it can become quite exhausting to flutter with your hand up and down and if someone makes a photo of you in an unfavorable moment, it might look like something else but what can you do ;)…
Now that we don’t have those two problems anymore, we can easily hitch a ride. My average waiting time was maybe 25 minutes. Not the best, but absolutely average.
Unlike other depictions of Iran which come from the news, kidnapping is not a big thing in Iran. Neither are there radical islamists trolling the streets. The most annoying and most dagerous thing in Iran is the traffic. Iran has one of the worlds worst road accidents rates with more than 200,000 reported every year. Nevertheless the Iranians are averagely very good drivers and one has no chance but to surrender to the madness and play the game. Moreover the Roads, especially the highways are big and very well built. Below you can see a random picture of the highway and the traffic in Tehran.
The earthquake of magnitude 7.2 which happened on Sunday, the 23rd of October in the very east turkey close to the Turkish city Van in the afternoon was a devastating blast for the whole region.
With an estimated number of 1000 deaths and 85 confirmed deaths, the city is dramatically destroyed. As it was a Sunday and many people of Van were inside their homes during the earthquake to have lunch with their families.
With Van being one of the poorest of the poor big cities in the Kurdistan region in East Turkey, it makes the brutal catastrophe which is the worst earthquake since 1999 even worse.
Having lived in Van for a total of 6 days and having travelled in the Kurdistan region for 13 days, I was able to listen and to see the region’s problems. My hitchhiking trips which led me once from Trabzon to Erzurum, Agri and Van and once from Adana to Urfa, Diyarbakir, Tatvan and Van enabled me to encounter many different people in the Kurdistan region and to feel the daily struggle of the Kurds. The ongoing war between the Turkish government and the PKK which now lasts over 30 years have created an equation between rich and poor, between educated and uneducated from the west to the east which doesn’t exist like that in any country.
During my time in Van I have been hosted by two different hosts.
One of them is Necip, a 45 year old Kurd who became an animal vet and who is also active in a Kurdish human rights organization. I got to know him over Couchsurfing and together with his friend he showed me the major parts of the city and he prepared a splendid breakfast for me each morning. He is divorced from his former wife and has an 8-year old daughter who also lives in Van at his mother’s place. He was the first person in Van with whom I could have a proper conversation in English and spending three days with him meant also getting to know the opinion of an educated Kurd who has always lived in Van and who has experienced the most horrible period of the War against PKK in 1992.
My second hosts have been two women called Ruhan from Trabzon and Marve from Ankara who worked as teacher in Van schools. I got to know them in a shop while asking for the way. Marve teaches in an elementary school and Ruhan teaches in a high school. Both of them talked a very good English and both of them were of Turkish origin. They didn’t choose Van as a city to live, instead they were sent there by the the government to teach at least one year abroad. Together with them we met one of her students in a shop. Ruhan turned to me and said “this is one of my students. I can’t really recall his name, but he is a very good one.” I thought for a second and surprisingly replied “what? He is your student and you don’t know his name?”
“I am sorry, but in one class there are 45 children and I have 11 classes a week and even that changes each month”. Wow, I thought to myself. That means she sees an approximate amount of 400 children each week. There are some families (not all of them[!]) who have 15 children and some of those children don’t even go to school. Walking through the streets made me realize that there are many, many children in the streets of Van. On 6 adults comes one child between 4 and 10 years old. Some of them go around and try to sell tissues or sell cheap cigarettes from Iran in order to earn some few Liras. Some of them just walk through the streets and some of them help their parents with works. Some of the children were forced to come to the bigger cities from the villages because they have been destroyed by the Turkish military. With Marve being an elementary school teacher she told me about the neediness of some of the children. Teachers often serve as a substitute parent as they hug and cling to them during school and when they meet them in the city.
The problem is already getting worse and worse over the years even without the earthquake. Losing home and family is the worst thing that I can imagine could happen to a region which is so troubled with the living conditions which have been already concerning bad.
Turkey serves as a gate between Europe and the middle East. Western cities like Istanbul stand in a stark contrast between the struggles in the East. With the government enjoying a rapid economical growth which has been mainly due to the western cities Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya, Ankara and Adana, Turkey is pushing towards a big major power in the region between Europe and the middle East. When you go to the west of Turkey as a European, the west seems secular and liberal, even western. Ongoing debates and enthusiasm about joining the EU and making new profits shows the West-Turkish’ aspirations and dreams to strive for wealth and modernity. The east of Turkey however remains poor, religiously conservative and stuck in between a war of the PKK and the government. The problems of the people in the East are in their head everyday, it was in my head everyday. As you walk through the cities which have at least two army stations with wired fences and guarding military along the way, it is hard not to see the brittle and harsh reality of the East. However having lived in west Turkey I was able to enjoy nice parties in the cosmopolitanism of Istanbul, sunny beaches in the beautiful area of Antalya and a paradise resort called Kabak Valley in the south west close to Fethiye. The problems of Turkey in these nice places have not been in my head at all, they were out of my sight and thus out of my mind. Travelling towards Van from Adana however put them in my ind again and made me reconsider wether or not Turkey should join the EU.
I contacted Necip and I was relieved and shocked to get this reply: “We are all fine, but Van is destroyed. I‘m so sorry. We live out and the weather is cold…” I still didn’t hear from Ruhan and Marve. I really hope they are fine.
My deepest condolences to all the families of the wounded and the dead.
I am so sorry.