Mersamen the 16 yr old nephew of a famous dead Taliban

This is Mersaman the 16 year old nephew of the famous Taliban chief who was killed last year by US special forces. He is presently living at the Yellow house and travelling with our Cinema Circus each day. He is looking happier every day. Yesterday he went to Tora Bora ahead of us to pave the way for our arrival. He actually performed today in the circus with our professional actors. He was as good and any of them and was beaming with joy as we left.

Audience from TB discussing our show after the event

These guys would regard themselves as Talibs but they were kind to us and came in to see the show. The one in green on the right side actually participated and came up onto the stage for a skit. The one on the left had beautiful blue eyes and came out with tea for us on a silver tray . I took this photo while we were drinking tea and discussing the show. Our show is pure Cabaret with a bit of everything. We do not show full films but segments and then get the actors who are in them to demonstrate their talents live. We have discovered that people who have never seen any form of film or TV before find it hard to read 2D moving images with sound coming out to the speakers. It takes a leap of the imagination to believe the words from speakers are coming from the 2D faces on the screen . Our shows would be a disaster if we did not have the live element. In our culture where kids see TV and movies from the earliest age we do not realize how conceptual and abstract the movie watching thing is. When exposed to film for the first time people find it almost impossible to comprehend and follow the images.

Our show starts with Ashid doing physical comedy which gets everyone laughing – he invites kids to come on stage and follow his routines – and they pick it up quickly. Then the action heros come on and show how they do the stunts in the movies . Then we have some highly scripted comedy drama with 3 or 4 actors . Then some fake fighting with amazing kicks and spins …. kits are asked to come on stage and fight the action heros with similar moves …. of course the kids are allowed to win. We round it off with dance numbers and half our male actors have to take female roles …. this is a big laugh for everyone and lets us get away with playing music.

The road back from Tora Bora and Joy

At one point on the road back from Tora Bora, after doing the Circus, successfully, our truck broke down. We realized we were reasonably safe, however, as we had driven around the badlands. So we started to dance spontaneously. It was a great feeling to have done this thing and to have survived.I have been going through the tapes of what we did there. One of the strongest moments is when the Village Chief (he is a Taliban supporter) says that they do not allow TV or film and that the Koran is against it but he has made the exception for us because I had helped save a man from the village some time ago. I then ask him what he thinks of my monkey and he says he likes it so much he wants to get one for himself and for the village children. This is very funny coming after such a very serious statement. It was a nice man and I liked him a lot. Our personal body language and feeling for one another as humans was as important to this breakthrough as the debt the village felt it owed to me. The real triumph was seeing how well our concept of Cinema Circus worked in reality. I instinctively knew the films would not hold this uneducated and very innocent audience so we rehearsed some physical acts and it was these and not the films that were the hit .When I interviewed the audience as they came out of the tent , they all said it was the physical humour and acting they liked the most. Not the films.

Taliban leaning to paint

Mersamen, the nephew of the famous Taliban leader, from Tora Bora, came back to day to the Yellow House. He brought his father who is a serious Taliban but not as famous as his brother. I had told Mersamen he could stay and learn about art and filmmaking at the Yellow House. This was after he got the bad news about being blind in one eye .

Mersamen had helped us to set up the tent for the Cinema Circus at Tora Bora but remained there when we left. They arrived when we were all painting out on the studio stage in the garden . Both got involved pretty quickly and were happy to see us using traditional not figurative subjects and using the very old wooden stamps . I suggested that they start making traditional art at Tora Bora and stop fighting the Americans on behalf of the Taliban. They agreed it would be a better idea and we are going to work on it. I have a lot of ideas for traditional arts and crafts they could make and sell internationally. Today was a continuing of the growing alliance we are establishing between the Yellow House and Tora Bora.
I had a very old bronze buddah on the table where I was working. I use it as an inspiration. Suddenly Mersamen’s father was pointing at it and obviously it had his attention. I thought things may be going wrong as the Taliban are notorious for being against what they see as idol worship with Buddhist statues etc. But ,like so many things here ,his interest lead to an unexpected revelation. He told me they had some Buddahs at Tora Bora and they were hidden away and their village had protected them. I will be very interested to see these Buddahs that have managed to survive at Tora Bora. That will be at the top of my list to investigate on my next trip there.