When the Moroccan Belhussein Abdelsalam, 58, was arrested and lost his job three decades ago, he saw Charlie Chaplin on television and at that point decided on a new career: posing as the American silent movie star.
Away from his old job as a sports photographer and political activist, posing as Chaplin helped him hide behind a comic mask of the hardships of Moroccan life, drawing parallels with the screen legend that obscured the emotions behind humor and a painted face.
“It was when I lost everything that I became Charlie Chaplin [who] makes the world laugh and cry without saying a word. She is a unique person who fought against discrimination and united [everyone]”Abdelsalam said.
It’s meager life: He earns less than $ 150 a month from tips, but the forced career change has helped him realize the youthful ambitions he once had as a stage artist. In addition, he said, he had few other career choices with the high unemployment rates in the poor North African country. Since then, he has performed almost every day in the streets of the Moroccan capital of Rabat, making people laugh. Now he is proud to be a street celebrity, known to the locals as Charlo.
Charlo’s bittersweet days are spent on the capital’s main artery, Avenue Mohammed V, a stone’s throw from the Parliament and the Royal Palace. Wearing balloons, masks, oversized shoes, trumpets, pigeon food and a smile, he commutes daily from his neighborhood of Sale.
One minute, he can reapply his stage makeup using a broken mirror and eyeliner at one of the nearby flower shops. The next he can be seen delighting children with magic tricks and impressions, or sending the pigeons on feeding frenzy by scattering bags of seeds.
But it is filled with the ghosts of its past. He always keeps with him photos from his time as a sports photographer and images of himself as a fit young man involved in politics. This was before Charlo claimed he was arrested for his political activism and journalism during the reign of King Hassan II and spent a year in prison in the 1980s.
He was in prison for 8 months, what he describes as “the desert with monsters”. Although he regrets what happened to him, he is grateful for the theatrical outlet for helping him to survive mentally.
“Bad things happened to me from bad people. Without Charlie Chaplin, I would have lost my mind, ”he said.