Namaste Varanasi

February 27, 2014

It’s 8pm and we are inside the huge and incredibly busy Howrah train station in Kolkata. The team is exhausted after an intensive three weeks, we would all rather be in bed but our journey must continue. Finally our train and platform number come up on the departure board, so we load ourselves up with our bags and all the kit and make our way onto the train; a stressful experience as the platform is full of people and the notion of queuing does not exist here. After muscling our way onto the train we find our berths in sleeper class, stow the gear and make ready for the 12 hour overnight train journey to Varanasi.

After a disturbed night sleep on the train it is morning, we are close to our destination, and the train makes its way over the huge bridge across The Ganges. We catch our first glimpse of Varanasi, stacks of buildings make their way up from the river bank and the excitement of a new place and new project starts to take hold. Next to me some locals take coins from their pocket and toss them into the Ganges. From this I gathered it was for good fortune to do so, and I quicky followed suit, found a coin and threw it in, wishing for good fortune on this next leg of the tour. Upon alighting the train at Varanasi junction, another busy indian train station, we are immediately swamped by touts offering us transport, accommodation and anything else we could possibly want. Fortunately our accommodation is arranged and transport is all we need. Once we battled our way out of the train station the first task was at hand, haggling for a good price for transport! After 15 minutes of hard bargaining we pile ourselves in to four auto rickshaws. We are on our way to the Ganga paying guesthouse.

Varanasi is not like Kolkata. It’s the second oldest settlement in the world, which becomes apparent in the town planning. We snake our way through the streets dodging other road users from trucks to bicycles and most importantly the cows and water buffalo which are everywhere! After this 30 minute roller coaster ride we arrive at our guesthouse. Its just on the edge of the city at the southernmost ghat, Assi Ghat. It meets the beginning of the suburb called Nagwa, where will be doing most of our work. We are greeted with a warm smile from the guesthouse owner who shows us to our rooms. After dumping our stuff we take our first look around, and stroll along the ghats. Its a completly different vibe to Kolkata, fortunately much more relaxed and immediately the stress levels come down and we begin to to soak in the sights sounds and smells of Varanasi. I think it’s going to be a good project.

On our first day of work in Varanasi the team discuss bicycle as a mode of transport. Met with a varied response, some saddle up, whilst others prefer to walk, and we are ready to go. As a regular cyclist back home the notion of cycling to work is no problem. However once we set off it is clear this will not be a gentle ride to work, the narrow suburbian road is packed with people, motorbikes, rickshaws and animals. As we pass there are street dogs sleeping in the middle of the road, children playing marbles plus all the other traffic coming from every direction, I’m starting to feel like I should have just walked!

Some of the team decorate their bikes for the journey!

20140227-103755.jpg

As we go a bit further the road opens up to small bridge where we take a left turn and we enter into what can best be described as a safari of pigs, cows, chickens, goats, dogs and water buffalo all over the road seemingly oblivious to the traffic. Piglets can be seen running around digging through the rubbish, while a gang of cows and buffalo block the road just chewing the cud! At this point I dismount my bike and walk it through the bovine blockade feeling afraid that I could be crushed at any moment if these beasts decide to move. After batlling through, still yet to arrive at our destination, and the tarmac track ends, it’s time to go off road! We follow the sandy path which is aligned with what can only be described as a cliff face into the Ganges. Moving between the buffalo and the world of dung, we finally come to the end of the path, only to be met by a wall and a slither of mud half a meter wide. Another spine tingling sheer drop into the Ganges! Nervously we wheel our bikes along the path and around a corner, again to be met with, you guessed it………. buffalo and dung!

A local lady works at the river bank where we attempt to navigate the sheer drop!

20140227-103707.jpg

At last we have arrived at a Asha Deep, a school for the children of rickshaw drivers, to begin our first workshop. We park our bikes and walk through the scool to the playground where we will be working, to be greeted by around 100 children. They all shriek with excitement and before we have had a chance to put our bags down we are surrounded with little ones trying to climb on us and older ones desperate to shake our hands and ask our name. Despite the poverty in which they live, they seem like the happiest children I have ever seen and a smile covers my face. I love my job, lets get to work!

Bruno and Ashley lead a warm-up for the excited children of Dunyia School.

20140227-103617.jpg

Written by Tom Puckett
Arranged by Jodie Cole


Fulbari Village – Kolkata Week 3 (10 – 16 Feb) PWB India

February 20, 2014

We meandered through rice paddies on rutted paths, clinging onto circus equipment as the autorickshaws bumped and jolted us to our destination. Past the jewel colours of sari clad women carrying pots atop their heads, past laughing children, lotus flowers and wandering buffalo we sped, ever more distanced from the chaos and smog of Kolkata.

We were embarking on a very special trip arranged by Abani, a schoolteacher from Kolkata, to his home village of Fulbari. Racing against the setting sun, we arrived just in time to perform our fire show to an eager crowd of villagers. Nightfall brought impromptu circus workshops and dancing with the impeccably behaved children, illuminated by the light from Fulbari’s Christian church – one of the few electric lights in the village.

After a delicious dinner cooked by the women in ovens of moulded clay and eaten in traditional style with the right hand, we bedded down in earthen huts on mats of woven palm leaves, lulled into sleep by the sound of cicadas and softly muttered Bengali prayers.

And so our magical adventure came to an end. The serenity of Fulbari was no more and the return to Kolkata hit us like the swirling dust, the blaring horns and the tangy aroma as we stepped off the train and into a different reality, just as thousands of Indias do for the first time every day.

The last few days in Kolkata were spent teaching last workshops and distributing equipment to the homes we had been working at for the past three weeks with the Hope Foundation – the boys’ and girls’ orphanages, boys’ rehabilitation centre and various Nabadeeshas (day care centres for street children). Our last day saw us performing our show one last time for a special day out at the Hope Foundation Cafe, before heading out for a group meal to celebrate the completion of the project. And so a chapter ends, and a new one – in the holy city of Varanasi – begins. Bidaya Kolkata, we’ll miss you!

By Ashley

Children running, en route to Fulbari Village, West Benal

Children running, en route to Fulbari Village, West Benal

Tea time in Fulbari Village

Tea time in Fulbari Village

8am is circus time! Children in Fulbari village.

8am is circus time! Children in Fulbari village.

PWB volunteer Ashley with Abani's mother.

PWB volunteer Ashley with Abani’s mother.

PWB coordinator Abi with schoolteacher Abani.

PWB coordinator Abi with schoolteacher Abani.


The Children of Topsia – Week 2 (3 – 9th Feb) PWB India

February 20, 2014

During the second week the team started to find a rhythm but this was quickly interrupted by mass illness. We were plagued by ‘Delhi Belly’ and what we dubbed the ‘Kolkata Cough’. The hygiene standards of the street food vendors were poor at the best. Plus the heavily polluted and smoggy air of this massive city was a probable cause attributed to our illness.

This did however not stop the team and we pushed forward with the project. During the second week our focus shifted slightly to ‘The Children of Topsia’ an NGO working with underprivileged children in the slums of Topsia. Their aim is to provide the basic education needed by the children so they can pass a basic entrance exam and be accepted into the Indian schooling system. PWB has been working with this NGO for the past couple years and has become a highlight to all the children involved. Each year PWB spends a week working with the children and at the end hosts a day in the park where the kids perform a ‘mini show’ for their family, friends and community.

On our first visit to Topsia we were barely through the door and the children erupted into cheering. Circus, circus, circus! We were almost instantly surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of over excited children all wanting to shake our hands or give us welcoming hugs. Once we finally managed to calm the children to a panic we managed to introduce ourselves and start teaching.

ImageThe conditions we were teaching in were challenging to put it lightly. We had almost 100 children and only 3 tiny rooms in which to teach. The small indoor space with masses of children also meant it was very loud. But this is India and we would just have to make due with what we have. After a few days of sustained work with the children we saw incredible progress in skills and confidence. It was almost time for the big weekend where they would be performing in their very own show.

The Children of Topsia Playing on Show Day

The Children of Topsia Playing on Show Day

On the day of the show we arrived what we thought would be early, before the kids got there. Instead we were greeted by the majority of the children, some of which had been there a couple hours already. This just reinforced how important and special this day was to them. Shortly after our arrival the days activities began.

It was a hot sunny day, the large park that usually stood empty was now full of children, running playing and having fun. I think it is important to mention that special permission had to be obtained by the local council for us to use the Park; usually it is locked to the public and not available to the children. There was a small unreliable PA system that was playing all the latest Indian hits like ‘lungi dance’ when the system felt like working. The children started the day with kite flying. Then open box with the circus toys.

The kids then performed their show which included the following acts; plate spinning, diabolo, a dance routine and even a mime act! The audience cheered and clapped as the little ones did their show, the parents as proud as peacocks. The children bursting with confidence, all beaming with huge smiles over what they have achieved. It hits me then just how significant this all is and how much joy we have just brought these children and families.

Topsia River

Topsia River

I cannot begin to explain to you the harsh conditions most of these children grow up in and what a small chance of success they have of breaking the cycle of poverty. Most slum children do not have the opportunity to go to school. Instead they wander the streets, beg, work as child labourers and even steal. This is why the work of NGO’s like ‘The Children of Topsia’ and PWB is so important; to give these children the best possible chance of overcoming the challenges of poverty.

The sight of the children play in the sun, running around laughing, having fun is a very emotional one. Giving these kids the freedom to just be ‘kids’ for one day and forget about the hardships. The learning of performance arts and circus arts is something that they would never normally have had exposure to. Something they never thought they could do and suddenly there they are spinning a diabolo and doing tricks. This builds confidence from the core. Making them realise they can do anything; they just need to apply themselves and work towards it.

By the end of week 2 I think many of the team had a feeling of achievement and fulfilment.

By Bruno Kopf


Finding Hope in Kolkata – Week 1 (27Jan – 2Feb) PWB India

February 20, 2014

We all set off on our 36 hour train journey to Kolkata excited to finally get started with the first project. Our train journey covered 2662 km and took a total of 38hours. A true Indian train adventure, we even traveled in general class packed in like sardines for a 12 hours leg of the journey.

Kolkata: city of love and warmth, sorrow and despair, dreams and hopes, poverty and squalor, grandeur and glory. Kolkata is compelling, effervescent, teeming with life and traditions – a melody of moods, styles, cultures, politics, industry and commerce. Originally designed to accommodate a population of 1 million during British occupation, today Kolkata is bursting at the seams with a population of just over 14 million. Regardless of how many times the ultimate collapse of Kolkata has been forecast in the past, the people of Kolkata remain proud of their city and never give up.

Tollygunge Boys Home

Tollygunge Boys Home

Upon arrival in Kolkata we were met at the station by representatives of the ‘Hope Foundation’ one of the NGOs we would be working with on this project. They also provided us with accommodation in the form of an apartment in the bustling area of Tollygange.

The Hope Foundation is committed to supporting and encouraging the development of underprivileged and vulnerable children living in difficult circumstances. It has a vision of a society in which every child is educated, protected, respected and valued and grows up to turn the tide of poverty.

Boys Rehabilitation Center

Boys Rehabilitation Center

We were invited to attend a sports day held by the Hope Foundation where we got to meet many of the children from their various projects. The day was spent with the children playing games and running races. In between the various events we performed some of the acts from our circus show. This was something the children greatly enjoyed. The PWB was in town and they were going to get the opportunity to learn circus and performance arts. The Children were bursting with excitement of this prospect.

Deciding as a team to work primarily with the Hope Foundation as they had multiple projects with a large variety of children we could reach. Our first week consisted of visiting the various centres and projects run by this organisation, day centres for street children, orphanages and even a boys’ drug rehabilitation centre.

Our first visits were mayhem! The children were wild and excitable shrieking with laughter between a constant barrage of “Aunty!, Aunty!, Aunty!…” or “Uncle!, Uncle!, Uncle!…” desperate for our attention. We quickly realised our best approach was to split into smaller teams and choose six of their centres to work with for the remainder of our three week stay in Kolkata.

By Bruno & Tom

Ash and 2 Girls at a Nabadisha

Ash and 2 Girls at a Nabadisha


Kamakwei HEY!!!

February 20, 2014

I am sat on the balcony of our house in Kamakwei; children playing, a house being built, the well being used and all surrounded with lush greenery accompanied by the sound of distant roads and chattering voices. THIS is what I thought Africa would be like. (I’ll ignore the very loud chainsaw in the distance for the purpose of trying to set a lovely image for you all!)

Image

Collecting water is easy when you have a band of very willing little helpers!

We are now a far cry from air conditioning, electricity, shops selling more than the essentials and of course cold water. We have 4 rooms between us and after multiple trips to the well are all set with everything we need! Cockroach and lizard pets included. Our host family cooked for us the night we arrived…rice, cassava leaves and groundnut soup and although delicious it did blow our heads off! For the rest of the week Peachi is mother hen to us chicks, making sure we are fed and watered. He nearly blew his hands off trying to light the outdoor stove with kerosene until Mumma Jebe stopped laughing long enough to help him out…it’s all going very well!

Image

Oh my goodness me, it’s a white man cooking!!

The orphanage funded by Australian charity Orphfund is a short and wonderful walk away through palm trees, villages and lush greenery just past the local secondary school. The orphanage shares a sight with the primary school and there are 30 children living there. I was shocked to see their rooms after expecting a similarity to SOS Makeni. Here they are lucky if they have a mattress, even then they are thin and mouldy. It is more run down and dirty and the rooms have small piles of clothes dotted around the edges. They seem cramped but nonetheless extremely happy and grateful for what they do have. With so few belongings they take HUGE pride in going to school and their uniform, perhaps aided by the knowledge they’ll get a flogging if they are late or untidy. As we have found throughout our tour the Mothers and Aunties are big hearted and extremely kind, they have jolly personalities and are highly respected by the children. We had a wonderful welcome with singing and dancing, a great start to a wonderful week.

This week our focus has been different to before. Our aim is to create a show for the children to perform in followed by our acts then a fire finale. The orphans have been like sponges, soaking up everything we have taught them and they really have been a pleasure to teach. We have a booty shaking Beyonce number that ALWAYS ends with a dance off, 2 action packed cultural dances and enough circus skills to tour the world! As we have been able to teach every child once a day their skills have rocketed. There is a very talented bunch of hoopers, the diabolo spinners have mastered over the leg throws and the trampoline trick and one boy who had never juggled before is now mastering 4 balls! Now if that isn’t a success I don’t know what is.

Image

Circus Skills

Thursday was a real treat. We performed for the secondary school in their morning assembly to advertise the show and were met with big whoops and cheers! We were no longer the strange white people walking past their school every day and instead the travelling circus coming to town!

Image

Livi hooping!

Image

We had a following of drumming children, it was great!

After a successful teaching day we marched into town with music blaring, flyers to hand out, circus toys and an ever growing entourage of excited children. (Later, after explaining the story to Brima and Morlai we all agreed we were like the Pied Piper of Hamlet!) We paraded through the town announcing the show and doing impromptu flash mobs…we even did a mini show for the Paramount Chief of Kamakwei and his family. Such a lovely moment to see 100 plus children making a huge circle outside his front door and their grinning faces as we juggled, hooped and danced. The Chief was amazed by the whole affair, he was so lovely and welcoming and promised to be our guest of honour on Saturday. It was a surreal moment but we all left upbeat, energised and very, very happy.

Image

Tim juggling in the parade.

Image

Tim, Livi, Emma, me and Brima with the Paramount Chief of Kamakwei!

Friday came round surprisingly quickly and we spend the day polishing off the routines and finalising running orders with the children. We had a well-earned night out at a very surreal Beauty Pageant in the town hall to celebrate Valentine’s Day, which is unexpectedly a huge deal amongst the youth of Kamakwei. We played how many Africans does it take to change a light bulb and enjoyed the guy selling eggs at the disco. Three hours later we had seen the dimly lit silhouette of 2 contestants and decided to call it a night.

The show on Saturday was AMAZING! We turned up at the orphanage (after me and Emma had spent the morning getting African braids and new visors!) to see all of the children washed, dressed in matching outfits and ready to go! As soon as we had parked the car, all the little ones came flying at us, and it was cuddles all round. The older girls followed, so excited to show us their beaded hair and special costumes. It was great to see them so amped and excited for the show, it really made it clear why we are here doing what we’re doing. To be able to support a performance for kids like the ones in Kamakwei that have so little, was incredible. The excitement that came from knowing that the whole village had come to their home, to see THEM radiated off every single smiley face.

Image

The girls made so much effort with their costumes and face paint, they looked incredible!

After starting with not much more than a big, dusty field, we soon had a stage with backdrop, a huge backstage area, seating, lights, music rigged up, flooring and 40 children in their costumes, faces and bodies painted – knowing exactly where, when and how to come on and off stage. Then when the audience were seated (with the Paramount Chief right at the front), it was showtime!

Image

The boys were really excited to perform!

Opened by the youngest orphans singing a welcome song, the show got into full swing much to the amazement of the crowd who had clearly never seen anything like it before!! The children did so well and got a real buzz off performing. We did all of our regular acts and finished with a fire show, but it was so refreshing for the focus to be on the children and their achievements rather than on us. A great night was had by all and we were all ready for bed after a rewarding and challenging week in Kamakwei. 

Image

Goodbye everyone!

10 Things I love about Kamakwei

  1. Not being able to tell the difference between tan lines and dirt
  2. Being local celebrities
  3. Hair braiding
  4. Being laughed at for washing up wrong, Peachi being white & cooking and clothes washing too slowly.
  5.  Having hoards of children help us get water from the well.
  6. The hat shop and cold drink shop in town.
  7. Pointing at invisible things in the distance to confuse children.
  8. The excitement from the children at an empty water bottle.
  9. The confused cockerel and baby chicks.
  10. Tim’s new hat and sandals.

1 Thing I hate about Kamakwei

  1. Someone keeps stealing my soap.

By Kay-T 


SALONE TEAM- Questions about socks, moles, beards and husbands. AKA the confusion that white people caused children at SOS Lumley and SOS Makeni

February 17, 2014

27th-31st January

This week we transitioned from the fairly inward work of producing and performing our fundraiser, to beginning our outreach work in schools. On Monday morning we pulled up to the SOS Lumley School in Freetown, still riding on a massive high from the success of our show on the Saturday. Considering we had been planning our tour for about 5 months, we were a little concerned to see that the Headmistress clearly had no idea who we were and why we were at her school. We’re starting to get used to the Sierra Leonean fondness of last minute planning, so shouldn’t have been too surprised when she took one look at our hoops, mats, juggling clubs and African drums, clapped her hands and summoned the Primary school for an impromptu assembly. Performing for the primary and (in the afternoon) the secondary school gave us our first taste of what it would be like to show our skills to African school children.Image 

I’d like to say that it was our beloved, respective crafts that we have spent most of our lives working on that really amazed the kids. I’d like to say that. In reality, although we got a great response in general, the roof nearly blew off when we danced an African cultural dance we had learnt for the show with our other PeWiBo members. I’ve never heard an audience react so…excited? Shocked? Amused? Well…definitely loud. They thought we were hilarious.

Image

Image

Image

Doing our cultural dance

After being plunged headfirst into the unknown (ages, class sizes, language, ability, enjoyment, engagement) on the first day, by the second day of teaching we had found our rhythm. We had two classes running simultaneously; circus in a classroom, and dance outside under a tree, with 12 classes in total to teach per day. As the token dancer of the group I felt a bit fraudulent sneaking into the circus classroom, but as it was for five year olds, it didn’t really matter that I was only juggling with 2 balls…

Image

Practicing the essential skill of moustache balancing with the younger groups

The younger groups that we teach are just so cute and really easily excited. I’ve got into the habit of punching the air and shouting “Yay!!!” every time we manage to do anything- whether that’s finishing a game or just making a circle. I do it, the kids follow. I love it because we just sort of celebrate every tiny little success and I definitely don’t so that enough in real life. I’ve also discovered ‘clap for yourself’ which is equally brilliant! It’s so nice to see these tiny balls of energy using every ounce of solemn concentration they have to catch a ball with one hand, or spin a diabolo and then exploding into 5 celebratory cartwheels afterwards in pure joy. 

Image

Cultural dancing

 

The older groups (up to 16) also made us laugh, but for very different reasons. Katie and I swapped nervous glances as we watched about 40 surly looking 16 year olds in the full throws of stroppy puberty drag their bags reluctantly towards us. It was nice to see that it’s a pattern repeated all around the world! We managed to win them over in the end by fulfilling the request for a “European shakey dance” –cue a routine to Beyonce…

1.) Are those the feet of a lady?  And
2.) Is it socks or paint?

That made us laugh. A lot. And gives you an idea of the degree of confusion that we strange, white, circus people have caused around Freetown!

Though I’m on blog duty this week, I tore a muscle in my leg and couldn’t join the others on Wednesday and Thursday. As I stayed in the Save The Children compound, getting on with blogs, flyers, videos and generally getting a touch of cabin fever, Tim, Livi and Katie cracked on with teaching. The teaching style here is very obedience centred. Teachers seem quite serious, are very quick to shout, and are not afraid to threaten with their canes. It’s quite a different culture and Livi even had to find a nice way of asking a teacher to stop telling her class off for laughing during their circus lesson. It might not be too much of a surprise then, that the big hit of the week was a version of musical statues where when the music (drumming) stops, we do everything in our power to make the kids giggle. I don’t think they have much exposure to adults being silly and just wanted to play again and again and again.

Image

All smiles at Don Bosco

After enjoying a rare day off on Friday, on Saturday we headed to Don Bosco, an organisation in Freetown that works with street children. It is the organisation that took in Brima, our very own plate-spinning, hot footed, pasta (but not spaghetti) eating PeWiBo performer when he was young, and he still works with them today. There were hundreds of children there, some with adults, but most without. Watching and filming from the side (leg still wasn’t happy), I could see the children were completely transfixed though also slightly puzzled by seeing adults- white adults- acting so silly.

 

SOS Makeni 3rd-7th February

On Sunday morning we bundled our bags, circus equipment, speakers, novelty blue afros, and all other necessary equipment into a pickup truck and set off on our 4 week road trip. First stop; Makeni.

The SOS village in Makeni has 200 pupils, 115 of which live on-site in the orphanage. The orphanage is split into 11 houses and each house has its own mother and several assisting aunties. We are staying on site in their guest house and our welcome could not have been warmer. After a couple of hours of arriving and settling in, we heard children singing and clapping from outside and went to investigate. The entire orphanage were stood around a grass hut singing- faces screwed up, eyes shut, not even stopping when some strange, unknown white faces came to join them. I just had to let it all sink in. The weather was calming; the harshness of the midday heat was over and the sun was starting to set. The kids’ voices were harmonising so beautifully and were just so full of whatever it is that you lose as an adult. Afterwards the headmaster introduced us to the children and he spoke with a lot more care, love and charisma than any teacher I’ve seen here yet.

Image

Brima and his padiddle act (spinning trays) wowed the kindergartners!

On Monday morning, we did two performances; one for Kindergarten and one for the school. 

Image

We then got into the rhythm of our new teaching timetable, starting with the 4 year-olds. They toddled into our classroom with a little apprehension that we’ve gradually come to expect and left with massive smiles on their tiny faces. We’ve held morning classes for all the children in the school, so that every child has one lesson with us, but also have been able to prioritise those staying in the orphans’ village by teaching them separately in the afternoon.

Image

Teaching here is a fantastic whirlwind of African drums, street dance, Marco Polo (with optional dress-up afros), singing songs, cultural dancing, rubber chickens, and of course a very full circus kit bag unpacked and explored every lesson.

Image

It feels great to be living in the SOS village. We’re so connected to the project, and every face we meet is so excited to see us. The house mothers and aunties invite us in to their houses, ask us to hold their babies (we gave them back, I promise!), give us cooking lessons and request that we ‘snap’ their picture again and again as they pose, hands on hips. I’m ambushed by excited little faces and shouts of “Aunty Emma!” wherever I go.

Image

Marco Polo with afros!

ImageImage

We performed two fire shows this week. The first was for the orphanage who were patiently, but adamantly sat on their chairs about 2 hours before we were ready to start, out of sheer anticipation. Safe to say that we met their expectations, especially when Tim and Morlai did their fantastic staff routine to the song of the moment, ‘Chop My Money’ (the Sierra Leonean equivalent of Gangnam Style). The second was a fundraiser that we did at a café operated by a charity called Street Child, who use the profits made through the café to take kids away from the streets and into schools and homes. We noticed half way through that we had a large (and growing) unofficial audience peering in from the street, over the top of the café’s wall, and I was so happy to see them enjoying it…seems we can’t avoid doing outreach work, even if it’s unintentional!

Things I’ve learnt this week.

1.)    Kids like watching me dance, but not as much as they like watching me fall over

2.)    You can’t get a whole orphanage to stand and wait patiently while you put them into groups and then expect only one group to follow you for a subsequent lesson. You will initiate an African child stampede.

3.)    Livi is surprisingly talented at miming that she is being squashed by an elephant

4.)    In an Africa V England singing competition, it will get noisy and glasses will get broken in the excitement

5.)    I will be renamed as Mara, Katie as Clara, and Tim as Christopher, due to our UNCANNY resemblances to 3 main characters in a Pilipino sitcom that is one of the very few DVDs floating around SOS Makeni…

6.)    Doing races with 4 year olds will result in fun, but total chaos. Nobody will understand what’s going on, but they will all be happy to be there. The kids that don’t need a wee will get too distracted by the dust on the floor to run at the right time

7.)    Learn to expect a plate full of carrots and a plate full of spaghetti for breakfast as the incredibly hospitable hosts bend over backwards to try and understand weird western eating habits…as well as the total surprise that spam isn’t suitable for a vegetarian. Similarly, if you say that a plate of cakes isn’t really enough for an evening meal, expect to get 3 plates of cakes the following evening.

8.)    Katie can fit a whole orange in her mouth but it will make her eyes pop out a bit

9.)    Kids really, really, really love marching

10.) It’s a strange feeling to be performing a fire show in Africa, and then catch the end of the opening ceremony for the winter Olympics in Russia on TV.

 

Written by Emma 🙂


Sombra by Valentina Martin

February 14, 2014

Jumping from “sombra a sombra” as we walk down the street in the scorching heat. Shade is such a commodity here, a necessity for survival as a “chele” (slang for foreigner or light skinned person – slightly nicer then saying “gringo” – I think?) Eating frozen chocolate covered bananas, drinking Mexican Coke and “jugo natural” out of plastic bags. The locals turn the plastic bag (bolsita) up-side-down, bite off one corner and suck out the juice. It takes a couple tries before mastering the technique and not spilling sticky, sugary liquid all over yourself.

P1100209

Las Penitas Beach for Bootcamp

We have now been in Nicaragua for one month. On New Years Day at 6am, five of us got on a plane to Central America from London. It has been an amazing experience – one that I am already grateful I have decided to embark on, and we’re only 1/3 of the way through it!

The amount I have learned in the last month should be illegal. Not only have I learned all kinds of new circus skills, I have also continued to grow my Spanish speaking ability and team living/working skills. I’ve never worked, lived, traveled, taught, cooked, eaten and performed with the same small group of people in a foreign country before this. Whoa! The whole thing is intense and beautiful for both its successes and challenges.

The first ten days we were at Las Penitas beach which is about a 30 min bus journey outside of León, the city we are living in now. We stayed in a house on the beach with hammocks and a beautiful yoga deck, right on the sand. The beach was pretty much deserted the whole time we were there. It’s definitely an undiscovered paradise. Or maybe just not tourist season? The water was warm, the sun bright, the beach empty and the waves quite intense. One of my favorite memories from swimming in that sea was our last day there before we left for Granada. The whole team was in the water for one last family swim. Jake had the idea that we do our group dance routine from our show. We did it, stage placement changes and everything, while the crazy waves crashed on us, giggling all the while.

image

7 person – 2.5high!

Those ten days were packed full of some of the most learning I’ve ever done. We had an amazing tropical fruit breakfast together every morning. After that we would take turns leading sessions for each other. We played lots of amazing games. We played improv games, name games and just plain ol’ fun games! We taught each other our own specialty in Spanish to get us ready to do so with the kids. Highlights include learning staff from Aileen Lawlor, diablo from Jake Holland and acro balance from Tilly Twist – all in Spanish! Our initial group acro sessions left me high as a kite. I learned to base a 2.5 person high pyramid with all 7 of us, and am now doing it in the show we perform multiple times a week. I also had to teach hoop to the team that week in my version of “Spanglish” which was a good way to break my fear of doing so, and get me ready with important words for our projects.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Performing our dance routine

We also came up with our show in those 10 days. I am extremely impressed with what we came up with. It is a 10 act show with 7 performers, some of which had never performed together before. It’s about 40 minutes long and includes a group ball juggling/clowning act, a group dance routine, a staff trio, a 4 person poi routine, a diablo trio, a Magical Realism act (in which I belly dance, there is an Isis wing dance, contact ball juggling and floating wand), body percussion, rope walking, a club juggling trio, a hoop trio (Bags, Tilly & I – hoop juggling and multi hoop tricks!) and finally a group acrobatics routine to finish the show. The dance routine was a concept that I came up with at bootcamp. We were brainstorming Performing our dance routine about the show and trying to see if we wanted a narrative or theme for it. It came time for Aileen, Penny and I to create the dance routine before we had decided on a story. I was confused to as to how we could choreograph a dance without an obvious concept to work from. I was talking to Bags about it and he said something along the lines of, “Can’t it just be for the purpose of fun?” That got me thinking. What about a dance routine in which the theme is in itself dance. An homage to popular culture dance crazes! So I proposed the idea to the team and everyone seemed quite keen. It ended up with Jai Ho (Bollywood thanks to Penny), Madonna’s Vogue, a cheesy/clowning ballet to the Sugar Plum Fairy (I made tutus for the boys to wear and us ladies lift them up for a leap 🙂 then it goes into 80s hip hop choreographed by Aileen to MC Hammer’s 2legit 2Quit, after is the beloved Gangnam Style which was a big hit EVERYWHERE in the world apparently, Thriller by Michael Jackson, the Macarena and finally the Harlem Shake – the Harlem Shake is an opportunity for us to freak out crazily with no real choreography – organized flailing. In between each song is a robot-battery-dying moment where we all loose energy and regain it before the next part.

P1100526

El Berrilete

There were definitely moments in rehearsing these pieces in which the team as a whole was skeptical – were we going to look good doing this? Were people going to get it? Laugh? Love it? Hate it? Ahhhh! Not many of the team consider themselves dancers, but primarily circus performers. There were several times in which I wasn’t feeling good about this contribution. But the test came in our first show at Sonflora (a Swiss funded project for kids who have domestic violence in their homes) in the Las Penitas area. They absolutely LOVED our dance routine! They laughed and cheered 🙂 Since then we have performed it in every show and have received masses of positive reactions. One of the other participants at the El Berrinche Ambiental Festival in Granada saw a message in it – that everyone can and should dance their own unique way. Which I love. Yes, that is SO the message! Not only have the audiences loved the dance routine, we have also started teaching it to the kids. They have expressed the most enthusiasm about it out of anything I have taught them so far. Screaming “Otra Vez!” (Again!) after every time we run it. It was the most fun (and the most sweaty) I’ve had teaching here in León at El Barrilete.

P1100592

Dancing w/ the kids at El Berrilete

El Barrilete is an after school program for kids who’s parents can’t give them help with homework – usually because of their work. Lots of them are extremely poor, living in conditions of abuse and/or drug addiction. They go to El Barrilete to get help with homework and eat lunch. We go there everyday for 2 hours to play games with them, teach them hoop, poi, staff, dance, acro balance, body percussion, juggling and diablo. We have now been there for about a week and a half. We have 2 more weeks with them and are planning to put together a show with them at the end – to perform all of the skills they have learned with us. I have created some serious bonds with these sweet kids! I love them! They are extremely eager to see us everyday when we show up at the school. Hearing them say “Valentina! Valentina! Mirame!” (Look at me!) every time they get a new trick down just melts my heart.

Before coming to León, we spent a week in Granada at the El Berrinche Ambiental Festival. It was held at the beautiful Casa de las Botellitas (House of the Little Bottles) – and it’s just that. A house painted in multiple bright colors, lots of beautiful graffiti, glass bottles in the walls and a wonderful training space. This organization, The Escuela de la Comedia y el Mimo, teaches local children from the barrios performance skills and they are serious little circus badasses! We got to see them perform their show which included fearless group acrobatics, juggling, poi, clowning and even a story!

P1100339

Hooping w/ the kids in Granada

This circus and performing arts festival was conceptualized around the ideas of recycling and Earth preservation involving performance artists from around the world – mostly from Central America. We took and taught workshops with the artists and local children. We slept in hammocks and performed twice. We paraded down the streets of Granada, to the Casa de Tres Mundos, the main square and spot of various shows that we watched and performed in. When we performed there, Jake set up a high line on the building and walked it with no safety! It was the highest line he’s walked sin safety and quite a scary/inspiring thing to witness. We also performed inside the Mimo y Comedia Cafe that the Escuela works with often. It’s a beautiful space with a large outdoor courtyard that serves as the stage. I had the opportunity to perform a belly dance solo at the Cafe. I don’t think there is very much belly dancing here, though they do lots of latin dancing which has much cross over with the isolations in belly dancing. It got a huge response, especially from the kids. Two little girls followed me around for about 30 minutes after I got off stage, they just kept staring at me and asking me questions, quite endearing. I was astonished by the thriving circus scene represented at the festival. It makes me wonder what other corners of the world are pulsing with the life of circus! You can see the video from our week in Granada here.

After Granada we came here to León to start our project with El Barrilete. We settled into our house here, it has been nice to have roots down in one place. Everyday we get into a “camioneta” (truck) to take us to the area Guadelupe where El Barrilete is. It is literally a truck with a cover over it, 2 benches and lots of people. Sometimes the drivers are crazy as they rush and lurch down the streets. It’s always an adventure – packed full of locals – I often find myself hanging on for dear life with our circus equiptment!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Performing w/ Bags & Tilly Twist

A highlight from León are the museums Bags and I visited. One, a Contemporary Art Museum called Foundatión Ortiz Gurdián showcasing Central American artists. I really enjoyed the interactive pieces. We made a spyrograph drawing from an installation of perfectly balanced objects. We also went to a museum of Nicaraguan Legends and Myths. We had a one-on-one tour in Spanish and a translator who told us all about these myths we have encountered here but didn’t understand yet. It was fascinating and I am intrigued to learn more about them. Lots of stories come from Spanish colonization and interaction with the native people. Some highlight issues in the culture – a woman who turns into a pig to follow her cheating husband around and catch him in the act, a dwarf that steals children from the rivers if their parents leave them there alone, a Day of the Dead carriage of skeletal horses and people representing how the Spanish settlers would cart around dead bodies of the indigenous people.

We have had some memorable shows since we’ve been here in León as well. We performed at a bus terminal in a half built concrete box with columns in the center, sharp pointy pieces of metal jutting out of the top, trees overhanging and a corner that had definitely been used as a bathroom once or twice. When we showed up I was skeptical to say the least. Picturing myself doing group acrobatics, standing on Bags’ shoulders in a twohigh, juggling and dancing in that space seemed impossible. It was the most challenging space I have ever performed in. But we figured it out. Adapted our show, bent back the pieces of sharp metal and absolutely rocked it. There was one kid in the audience who had clearly been sniffing glue. This is a common problem in Nicaragua. The glue makes them high and takes away their hunger, making it easier to survive starvation. It was quite sad to see. Lots of organizations that we’re working with here, like Las Chavaladas, take in children with glue addictions and help them get back to a healthy, happy life. We work with these organizations to teach kids like this circus skills – giving them confidence, fun playtime, a hobby to be passionate about, a way to connect with others, maybe a calling in life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bags & I Juggling

Another memorable show was a street show set up by Las Chavaladas. It was literally in the middle of the street, blocked off by trucks parked in the road. A massive sound system was set up and hundreds of people in the audience. We collaborated with a group of Salsa Stilt Walkers, called the Zanqueros who we met at the festival in Granada. Since we met them, we have been participating in skill exchanges. They teach us salsa and we have taught them circus skills and belly dancing. It is an amazing link to have made since they want to set up a permanent social circus program here in León. They are such a nice group of people. It really helps our Spanish and makes me feel like I’m a true resident of this country, being friends with the locals! For this show, the Zanqueros did their salsa stilting act at the end of our regular show and then we all rocked out a fire set. It was amazing how our tiredness before the show was turned around by an exhilarating performance into excitement and energy.

One last show of note was held in the large central square in the middle of León last weekend. It was a collaboration between us, the Zanqueros and El Nido de Las Artes (a group of circus performers from another town here in Nicaragua, Estelí). All three of us did a two hour show which included juggling, dancing, clowning/comedy, diablo, poi, hoop, contact juggling, clubs, rope walking, group acrobatics, salsa stilt walking and of course a fire jam at the end….all of the things!!! An amazing conglomeration of our combined talents and oh what an experience!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Group Acro Pyramid!

I am so grateful that I have decided to do this project and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for me during the next 2 months. I want to thank everyone who has donated to help me do such important work. I also want to let everyone know that I am still fundraising the rest of the money needed to do this project. You can read about my fundraising campaign here. Thank you!