It has been almost 20 years since Circus Juventas coach Chimgee Haltarhuu left her native Mongolia for the United States, but the images are as sharp as if it were yesterday. Many of them are violent, reflecting life for girls and women in a male-dominated society.
For more about Haitarhuu, Circus Manduhai, and her return to Mongolia, see Acrobatic advocacy, from Minnesota to Mongolia
“It is accepted in Mongolia that men control the women,” she says. “If the women don’t obey, they are beaten. Or sometimes they are beaten for no reason at all.”
Chimgee speaks from experience. As a child, she was physically and psychologically abused by her father. When she married, her husband continued the tradition.
“I am still suffering from the abuse,” she says. “I have had many painful operations to try to reconstruct my jaw and teeth. The abusers are dead now, but their ghosts still haunt me with the pain of each of these operations.”
An escape route opened when she became involved with acrobatics and earned a spot in the prestigious, four-year, Mongolian State Circus College. After graduating at the top of her class, she joined the State Circus. In 1991, her talents caught the attention of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, who invited her to perform her acrobatics and bungee trapeze act in the U.S. She accepted and brought along her young son, Tamir, performing with the Circus for five years.
Now a United States citizen, Haltarhuu is head coach at Circus Juventas in St. Paul, in addition to operating her own family show, “Circus Manduhai.”
This August, Circus Manduhai will travel to Mongolia to visit nomadic tribes that have never experienced their country’s artistic traditions. During and after the free performances, Chimgee will build awareness of the problem of domestic abuse and to inspire women and men to try to break the cycle of violence.
“I want to use the circus arts as a catalyst for change,” Chimgee says. “I hope to encourage women to get out of dangerous situations and to build self-respect and personal development. My long-term goal is to have an organization that has an ongoing effect on changing the attitudes and culture of Mongolian people toward domestic abuse.”
When she returns to Minnesota, Chimgee will continue to promote awareness by working with other organizations and through lectures, presentations and performances at local schools and libraries to reach immigrant populations locally.
“One in three women in Mongolia is abused, and I’ve seen it continue even with Mongolian immigrants in America,” she says. “I am so happy to live in a country where abuse is not accepted. Here we have ways to reach people through television, radio, billboards, newspapers and magazines. But how do you reach a nomadic herder, where there are none of these resources?
“I want all Mongolian women to feel what I feel now,” she added. “I love Mongolia and the people are wonderful, but something must be changed in the culture to stop this abuse.”
The Circus is working to raise funds to support the Mongolia mission and to raise ongoing awareness in Mongolia and the United States for domestic abuse. To learn more and to donate, visit www.circusmanduhai.com.