The lion tamer.
Cute.... or deadly?
Although her grandma was always worried about her and her brother entering the lions' cage during training in the circus, Mahasen Madhet Kota, better known as Anosa, has now taken over from her grandparents, Mahasen and Hassan el-Helw, the founder of the National Circus.Anosa, 22, is a pretty girl. Your first impression is that she'd be far better off working as a model than taming predatory animals. However, she is the Middle East's youngest lion tamer.
Courage, insistence, patient and intelligence are the most important characteristics for a lion tamer. Anosa has all these qualities in abundance, in addition to long experience with lions, tigers and monkeys.
"There are three main characteristics for a tamer to be successful: talent, heredity and know-how," Anosa told the Egyptian Mail.
"I trained hard, until I was able to put on chimpanzee and horse shows, thanks to the help of my father [Madhet Kota] and mother [Zohour Akef]," she said.
Anosa's story with the circus began when she was only four years old, with her father initiating her training by letting her loose in a small cage with five, 3m-long snakes inside.
"But my eyes kept wandering to the lions' cage; these beautiful cats fascinated me, as especially as my grandma tried to keep me and my brother as far away as possible from them," this intrepid young woman added.
At the age of nine, Anosa achieved her dream when she entered the cage alone, face to face with lions for the first time without any kind of protection.
"At the age of 16, I did my first show with lions, and then I travelled to many countries including Syria, Tunisia, Bahrain and Sudan," she continued.
Asked whether she'd like to be internationally famous, Anosa said she's happy to focus solely on Egypt and the Middle East.
"Most of the circus shows in Egypt are from European countries, except the lions' shows, for which I want Egypt to be a world beater," she added, noting that her brother is the only Egyptian to compete with the prestigious Russian circuses.
Anosa explained that her family possess all the secrets of this profession, although she dreams of finding other daring, talented young people to work with her in this dangerous profession.
"Even when I was very small, I loved predatory animals. I used to play with the lion and tiger cubs which slept in my little bed with me; they taught me dignity and self-confidence."
A lion tamer needs to keep on training and training, as anyone working with the big cats needs to be self-confident, courageous and patient.
"If the lions sense that you're scared, it makes them angry. I treat them like I would my own children," she told this newspaper.
Although she's making a name for herself as a lion tamer, Anosa also has a degree in law, while, in her spare time, she's started studying for a Master's in this subject.
"My family insisted that I finish my education first, if I wanted to follow them into the circus," she stressed.
"My father is always afraid for me during the shows. When I make a mistake, his reaction is very tough. After all, he's my dad as well as my trainer." Her father always advises her to come up with new ideas too.
"In my show next summer, I'm going to try and get the lions to do a painting with me," she said. "Of course, I've also picked up some ideas from the international shows, but I like to give them an Oriental flavour."
The Egyptian National Circus opened its doors in 1966 on the Nile banks of Agouza. To this day, the circus puts on two shows a day, six days a week. There are three circus tents: one is permanently in Agouza, while the other two tents tour around Alexandria, the Suez Canal and sometimes even abroad.
Starting 1984, the employees were given the maintenance responsibilities of the Circus - they were the ones expected to feed the animals, buy their own costumes, and maintain the equipment.
The circuss downfall started after the death of former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was himself a fan of circus arts and appropriated funding for the performersí training, equipment and wages.
By the mid-1970s, the circus was neglected by the authorities, although it generated a LE3 million annual income, the highest income made within the Ministry of Culture's performance arts division.
At that time, cultural exchange missions between Egypt and Russia stopped, leading to a deterioration in training for the performers. Replacing old equipment became subject to complex bureaucratic procedures.
There are a number of animals in the Egyptian National Circus: lions, tigers, crocodiles, donkeys, pigeons, dogs, monkeys, baboons, an elephant, horses, giraffes, bears, to name but a few.
Renovations and new shows don't mean the price of tickets will change. The three-category seating arrangement with prices ranging between LE20 and LE50 will remain, and a new area with padded chairs will be introduced, with ticket prices ranging between LE75 and LE100 to increase the circus' income during the tourist high session.
These price ranges do however increase the circus' accessibility to Egyptians in comparison with the tickets sold by international circus companies renting the space, which sell for up to LE500.
© Copyright Eltahir House 2006
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