Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Activist planning ninth trip to Mongolia to fight domestic abuse

Posted on 24 September 2018 by calvin

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
To hear Chimgee Haltarhuu tell it, she is the luckiest woman in the world—but it wasn’t always that way.

A native of Mongolia, the 53-year-old East Nokomis resident grew up in a country where domestic abuse was, and still is, widespread. She first experienced violence as a child, witnessing domestic abuse in her home. Haltarhuu said, “While this happens all over the world, there is an especially high level of cultural acceptance for men hurting women in the country of my birth.”

For years, Haltarhuu wanted to do something about it. In 2010, using all of the energy and talent at her disposal, she did.

Haltarhuu is a skilled gymnast and an experienced circus performer. A veteran acrobatics coach at the St. Paul-based Circus Juventas, she approached her boss there eight years ago with an idea. Would he be willing to sponsor a weekend performance in the Circus Juventas building, with proceeds benefiting a Mongolian circus tour? Without hesitating, co-founder and circus director Dan Butler, said, “Yes!” Mission Manduhai was born.

“Manduhai means a woman warrior hero in Mongolian,” Hal­tarhuu explained. “Our mission was to travel to remote parts of the country using free circus performances as a way to draw crowds. The people there are nomadic herders, and they never have the chance to see live entertainment. We drove through the villages in the afternoon shouting, ‘Free circus show tonight at 7!’

Because nobody owns the land in Mongolia, we could choose a flat spot anywhere, roll out our carpets, and start to rehearse.”

“Our goal with the tour,” Haltarhuu continued, “was to spread the word, especially to young people, that domestic abuse is wrong. Before each performance, I gave a short talk in Mongolian about how domestic abuse hurts women. Afterward, we handed out flyers with resource information for victims. There is a domestic abuse hotline in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, as well as a safe house where women (and their children) can stay if fleeing abusive partners. After every performance, many women would stay to tell me their stories.”

Photo right: Chimgee Haltarhuu of Mission Manduhai said, “Domestic abuse is a global issue. It’s been considered okay for men to control their wives through violence in my country, but we believe that people’s views are changing.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Haltarhuu understands the feelings of fear and hopelessness that come from being in an abusive relationship. She said, “I was a victim of domestic abuse in my first marriage too. I married young, to another circus performer; he was my first love. When he drank, he got angry—and when he got angry, he beat me.”

“I was one of the lucky ones though’” she continued. “Not many people can say that the circus saved their life. I had taken gymnastics classes when I was young, and gotten accepted into Circus College in Ulanbatar at the age of 16. I was small and strong, and I learned quickly. In 1991, I was chosen for an American tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus. I was able to leave my abusive marriage, and take our 5½-year-old son with me.”

After traveling by circus train across the United States for six years, Haltarhuu and her young son settled in Vermont. They joined the Yankee Doodle Circus in upstate New York, where she met the circus music director Eron Woods, a highly trained jazz musician who now teaches at Cadenza Music. They married and eventually found their way to East Nokomis, where they bought their first home in 2003.

Mission Manduhai has made the long journey to Mongolia eight times since that first trip in 2010. Every year, Haltarhuu has brought three or four teenage students from Circus Juventas, and hired a few young Mongolian circus performers to round out the troupe. They travel together for 3-4 weeks, logging thousands of kilometers across the often road-less countryside in rented Russian military vans. She took this summer off, and used the time to plan for the 2019 tour.

“Next year,” Haltarhuu said, “we’ll be bringing Helen Rubenstein with us, the Deputy Director of the Minneapolis-based organization Global Rights for Women. We also plan to hire a Mongolian doctor to join us. The villagers in Mongolia don’t have access to health care, and it is badly needed.”

For more information on Chimgee Haltarhuu’s Mission Manduhai, or to donate, visit www.missionmanduhai.org. Haltarhuu regularly performs around the Twin Cities with Circus Manduhai, the family circus which includes her son Tamir (now 32, and also an acrobatics coach at Circus Juventas), and her husband Eron on percussion. Check for upcoming performances at www.circusmanduhai.com.

Haltarhuu is also available for speaking engagements on her experiences, and the work of her mission to end domestic abuse in Mongolia.

 

 

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