After we traveled and performed in most parts of the world, we chose to explore some of the Arabian territories. We toured The Middle East to see if they were perceptible to the danish humor in the retrospect of the Muhammad-drawings. With music, magic and danish comedy we performed for wealthy sheiks in The Emirates and for Bedouins in the Oman desert.
A suitcase without clothes
One of our ”dogme-rules” before taking of is, that we don't bring other clothes than what we wear and the clothes we use to our performances. On the day of hour arrival we therefore have to ”convert” ourselves to the culture by buying the local clothing. Every time it creates a lot of fuzz and attention, which quickly gives us the opportunity to speak with the locals - no matter weather we wear penis sheath in the jungle among the tribe members or the so-called ”dish dash” in United Arab Emirates.
They can tell, that we are not just tourists, but that we wish to give a little as well. And while we speak to the locals, it is easy to show them a few photos from our ”spreading of smiles” all over the world, so they can understand our concept and wonder a bit about the multiplicity of the world. Afterwards Jesper gives a little magic trick or two from the magic suitcase. And people gather around the duo in the street, the marketplace, the barbershop, hotel, hospital or where ever we might be at the given time.
We landed in Dubai and used the first days there. Everyone wondered about our local way of dressing, and they were very surprised, when we gave our show. Everyone had a positive attitude, despite us telling them, that we came from Denmark. Unfortunately when we asked them directly of their knowledge about our small country, they always mentioned the Muhammad-drawings and them seeing this and later circumstances as a great provocation from Denmark. But one of our goals with this journey to the Middle East has been to try and destroy prejudice in between cultures – both Muslim prejudice against Danes but off course also the Danes prejudice against Muslims. Our wish was to show the local, that not all Danes sympathize 100 percent with the Muhammad-case. Off course we support the freedom of speech, but we thought that the dialogue should not continue through repeating provocations. Also most of the Danes only know of the Muslim world through the media and they wrongly believe that every one burns our flag. We wanted to come home and tell about the nice and open-minded people, who welcomed us and our show with open arms.
Very quickly we rented a car and drove through United Arab Emirates. We stopped in small villages, where free shows were given spontaneously. While we travel it is a rule, that we never receive any payment for our shows, and equally we reject being sponsored by companies from Denmark. We are in this manner free and independent, and we can do as we fell like.
We gave a show in a small marketplace, where people quickly gathered around. People were yelling loudly and laughing, when burning cigarettes were magically made to disappear in the locals scarfs, small red balls disappeared from Jesper's hand into theirs, difficult card-tricks were performed and so on. Every time something close to an uproar broke out when balloon animals were handed out - not just for the children like at home, but also for teenagers and adults. Every one wanted to participate.
We would randomly drive into different schools to give a show. It is understandable that people are a bit skeptic when two strangers from a foreign country come knocking. Especially when the country played a major part in such an important, worldwide issue, it is reasonable that we as Danes were widely questioned before anything could happen: ”Who are you, who sent you, what’s in the suitcase, what do you want in return and why do you want to do this?” we were asked over and over.
Every time we told them, that we perform purely of interest, and that we furthermore are completely liberated from religious, economical and corporate relations, and the principal would immediately stop the classes in the boy-school and let the students watch a danish show, where among other things one from the audience would be pierced by a sword and presents would magically appear.
Among some of the danish cultural happenings the students learned to sing along to the theme of the danish “Olsen Banden” (which is a series of classic danish movies)...
Afterwards the teachers were even more interested in talking with us and of course the subject of the famous drawing always came up. We never agreed 100 percent, but neither of us expected that. We created a dialog and in this manner we got one step closer to understanding one another. When we visited a school in Wadi Al Helo we were even honored with the schools beautiful statuette, which was handed to us by the principal.
The castles point of view on the drawings
Not only did we get to know children and teenagers. We had a very special experience when we several nights in a row performed to the wealthy businessmen and officials in their mens joint. Their Arabic hospitality and politeness were unmistakable.
We spend several nights with them and everyone wished to be entertained. They all wished to invite us to visit their families, and as a result of that, they wanted to give us their phone numbers. But most of them had two to four phones with them, which meant that we were literally drowning in numbers. One of our new acquaintance insisted on hosting us despite the fact that his nephew had just died in a car crash that morning, which meant that the man would have the responsibility of the three days of mourning, where 6000 people would visit the family home.
Instead of this we decided to accept the invitation from Mr. Al-Shamsi, who is one of the influential businessmen from one of the country’s more well-know families. Their ancestors can be traced back several hundred years and it is one of the most important clans in the country. Mr. Al-Shamsi himself has lived and studied approximately ten years in Great Britain before receiving a top-job in Dubai.
His almost castle-like country-house was found in the countryside, where we lived behind tall walls with the UAE-flag blowing in the wind. Inside the castle there were spikes, canons and servants. We had a lot of serious talks about the things which divide our worlds: Religion, culture, the way we look upon women, sex, money, power and not least freedom – both in general and as freedom of speech.
He admitted that it brought up harmful feelings in him, as well as in the rest of the businessmen, when we presented ourselves as Danes. Everybody had negative expectations. Many thought, that we were a people who only thought of provoking and denigrating others. But non the less they all changed their point of view and found the company exciting and educational. Early on the powerful businessman told us, that he would never set foot in Denmark, but as the hours passed and the conversation grew, he ended up inviting himself to Jesper's wedding the next summer. He even looked forward to visiting a danish, christian church.
Him as well as the other in the gathering could tell that we were individuals just like themselves, and that nationality doesn't need to count, when forming a friendship.
To us it meant a lot, that many of the locals changed their point of view, when they talked with us. A point of view that had focused on the lack of apology from the danish government and a general idea of the Danes as being provocative and without empathy. They had not expected it to be so, but the personal contact with us as travelers weighed more than our nationality. They adopted us as part of their family, they were protective towards us, and they were extremely helpful. Our new friend chose in this spirit to cancel an important meeting to be our host, and we spend most of the night exchanging joys and sorrows from our lives.
On every journey we bring a special sculpture. This is a symbol of an award, which we present to a person, we have met, whom in an exceptional manner has opened home and heart to us, or in another manner has been able to spread joy around him. This Smiling Globe Award has earlier been given to for example one of the worlds most famous TV-personalities, the American talk show host David Letterman. This happened when we traveled in the states a few years back.
The sculpture is created by the danish artist Søren Brynjolf and it is made of copper and rock. It shows smiling faces from different parts of the world, which have been connected to form a globe. This is to show that no matter the nationality, we all have a language, we can understand: The smile.
On this tour we chose to give the award to Mr. Al-Shamsi, who from the first second, was very positive towards us.
Mr. Al-Shamsi had taken us under his protective wings. He met us with an open mind and curiosity, and he was interested in knowing more about our daily lives. He proudly told us about his family, which generations back descended from the mountains to live in the cities, and from then on they have experienced great success. Furthermore he told us of his political, religious and philosophical points of view, and he even told us about his private joys and sorrows.
Off course we also discussed the Muhammad-drawings. As in all other aspects as well as this our host succeeded in being open-minded and selective. So when our journey came to an end, we chose to give Mr. Al-Shamsi the award at a private show for the proud guest of honor and his closest friends. In this manner our show did not only open his home but also his heart.
Show with camels
Sometimes the unplanned show and experiences are the funniest ones. This we learned ones again when we in between shows drove along the small roads and passed a small village. Suddenly the inhabitants surrounded us on camel-backs. More than 200 men and their camels.
We did not yet know, that we had ended up in a town, which practically was full of camels and coaches. It was a gigantic camp – basically an enormous fencing, where several thousand camels were living. We arrived at the city on a day where a lot of them were headed for a great track, where camel-races often take place. People came riding from here and there, and it was an exotic buzz with animals and people, who yelled and cheered, while we were allowed to follow the parade through the ten kilometer track.
Off course they wanted to know who we were and why we suddenly were visiting their town in our fancy red show-suits. When they heard of our tour they quickly invited us to visit them. And this was the beginning of an unplanned show in front of a bunch of camelback-riders. Between camel-droppings and simple tents we did our magic tricks and sang as never before. The local riders live with their animals so for them our show was a fresh breeze in a daily routine.
Our very simple show quickly made the men laugh and yell for more. But the camels had to be trained, and we had to continue our journey.