Domestic Violence: How the Circus Saved a Woman’s

Nabil Anas
Nabil Anas

Global Courant 2023-05-08 20:17:05

ST. PAUL, Minnesota –

The phrase “running away with the circus” is familiar to many, but for a woman from St. Paul, Minnesota, it was a literal lifeline to escape a life of domestic violence. She is now on a mission to help others in her homeland of Mongolia do the same, but she needs your help to do so.

Chimgee Haltarhuu is a circus artist and coach at Circus Juventas and she invites the audience to think along.

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She keeps a taste of her childhood home close by using her yurt in her backyard.

“I grew up in a house like this,” she said.

On nice days, she trades in her traditional American cooking for her wood-burning cooktop in her yurt.

“I like to cook,” she said. “Seven, eight, I’m already helping my mother.”

For her, cooking is a reminder of the good times as well as the hard times.

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“I could say, ‘Yes, fortunately,’ but also, ‘Okay youth,'” she said.

Growing up in Mongolia, Halterhuu fell in love with gymnastics.

“I loved it and I enjoyed doing all the tumbling,” she said.

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She said love fueled a passion to perform.

“I said, ‘Yeah, I want to go, I want to be a circus performer,'” she said.

She beat hundreds of applicants to be accepted into Mongolian State Circus College and graduated top of her class. Soon she traveled internationally to fulfill her dream. Behind the smiles and colorful costumes, however, was a dark family secret.

“I grew up watching domestic violence,” she said. “I was in the situation.”

She said the cycle continued in her first marriage.

“Seven years,” she said. “So I had some damage,[he]broke my jaw, some major issues.”

She said, like many, because of the shame and stigma associated with domestic violence, especially in Asian cultures, that she didn’t talk about her situation for a long time. Then in 1991 — a way out. The Ringling brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus hand-picked her act to join them under their big top in America, giving her the chance to run away with the circus.

“The circus saved my life and completely changed my life,” she said.

She left her husband, took their young son with her, and never looked back. Together they toured with the famous Greatest Show on Earth. She eventually found her way to Minnesota, remarried, and began teaching at Circus Juventas.

“I love my job,” she said.

But she said there was always something missing.

“Even (if) I came here to the States and I have a great life, a great husband, a great job, I can’t forget it,” she said. “I just have to do something you know.”

She started her own non-profit, Mission Manduhai, named after the great Mongolian female warrior.

“Wonderful woman,” she said. “I want to be like them.”

The mission was to travel to some of Mongolia’s most rural and underdeveloped communities to perform free circus shows featuring both American and Mongolian performers and raise awareness of domestic violence.

“Before the show, just a quick and sweet note,” she said. “I’ll start it like this: ‘This is the show where we raise awareness about domestic violence.'”

The performers then help reinforce that message during the performance.

“We keep the posters (that say abuse is not right so all kinds of people can read,” she said. “After (the) final bow, we provide information and the number of the hotline.”

Each trip includes dozens of free performances within weeks, and after each stop the phones light up at the Mongolian National Center Against Violence.

“When we’re there, (it’s like) power like, ‘Hey, you know what people are there to help, so I want to talk,'” she said.

She has made 10 trips over the past 13 years, saving hundreds if not thousands of lives, but funding each trip is getting more and more difficult. Fundraisers with performances by Circus Juventas and Mission Mandukhai have helped, but now she is launching another fundraiser ahead of her next trip in August.

She invites the public to come to her yurt for a lesson in dumpling making and conversation that spans across different cultures. The first event will take place on May 15 and there will be several opportunities to participate over the next few months.

“Hopefully a lot of people are interested in coming and cheering,” she smiled.

The hope is to spread some food for thought and make an impact around the world.

“(For) the rest of my life I’m going to talk and help,” she said. “I don’t want them going through my life and I just want to do something.”

Mission Manduhai will also hold a special circus show on June 17 to raise money for the trip.

Domestic Violence: How the Circus Saved a Woman’s

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