This is already the 23th day in Varanasi, India, on the PWB project, and it feels like we’re finally settling in. The routine is becoming clearer as we navigate class time, travel time, personal time, team communication time, and PLAY time.
Navigating Varanasi is like this:
On foot there are constantly rickshaw and auto drivers asking if you want a ride, there are fabric shop owners calling you in to come look, hearing echoes of “hello” all around from children and adults, curious to know where you are from, and if they can take a photo with you. Chai stands everywhere, egg roll stands, fruit and veg vendors rolling around their wood carts, motor bikes zipping by, buffalo and cows crossing left and right, dogs scavenging, or fighting with each other, goats, sheep, the occasional pig, and piglets, and poop everywhere! Watch where you step! I’ve noticed that the best way to move is to not make any sudden movements. Be predictable in your walking so faster traffic moves around you. I think the animals know this as well. I haven’t noticed aggressive buffalo yet, they seem very shanti and predictable. On that note of poop… Buffalo dung is the most useful resource for people here. They gather it by the cart full, and then (usually women) spend their days making dung patties, and sticking them pretty much anywhere to dry in the sun. They use these dung cakes, for building fires and cooking with it, also for house construction. Essentially it is like cob building.
Indians are not afraid of poo, this is my conclusion.
The children at both Asha Deep School and Duniya School are very wonderful, and are very different groups. PWB has been teaching at Asha Deep for 7 years now, and they have acquired many circus skills over the years. Its amazing to see their passion for poi, juggling clubs, hula hoop and fire performing particularly. There are some of the older boys who have even taken the initiative to start their own performing troupe, called Happy Talent Group, or HTG for short. They practice many nights down at the ghats on the Ganges river banks. Their skills are rapidly progressing and Avi has even been spending time after class teaching more contact staff skills to these hungry circus performers.
We spend every afternoon with this group of about 60 regular children, Monday through Friday, and the aim for this project is to perform five circus acts as a part of their annual holi festival school program. Yesterday we had a 3 hour run through blocking out the performance with the whole school and all the teachers. These kids sure have talent! They will perform traditional and modern dance pieces, as well as singing in Hindi and English, a drama about the dangers of community gossip, and their circus acts to include group poi, hula hoop, clowning and juggling, with a club passing finale, group staff, and a group song, sung in three parts! Oh yeah….. And the whole program will conclude with a FIRE show!
Duniya school is a bit newer to circus education than Asha Deep, and they are loving it, and really getting the hang of clowning, juggling, diabolos, and acrobatics! We spend Monday, Wednesdays, and Friday mornings, with them, including a big day at the park on Fridays. This group is full of laughter, and it’s contagious often leading into all of us, and the teachers laughing like crazy! So fun!
Some highlights from the Asha deep group involve a “making day” last Saturday, where we brought materials to make juggling balls, from rice, plastic bags, and fabric, sock poi from fabric, and you can put the juggling balls inside. Lili, Chez, Emily, and Mark spearheaded this sewing project among the 50 or so kids who showed up on the Saturday. The kids all mostly knew how to sew already, even the 5 and 6 year olds, and the main challenge for the PWB team, was keeping control of the few scissors!
Avi lead a staff making group and about 15 kids were able to construct their very own practice staffs. Mika and Magnus facilitated making juggling clubs from soda bottles, wooden sticks, and PVC pipe. There is an amazing creative common instructions called “The Green Club Project”, that very clearly explains how to make these nicely weighted inexpensive juggling clubs, by recycling. It seemed to be very empowering to see them understanding how to make their own props. This feels like the old saying of ” if you give a child a fish they eat for a day, if you teach a child how to fish, they eat for generations.” Let’s see juggling for generations!
The life in Varanasi is very full. This city has a rich culture of Puja or ceremony/celebration, particularly weddings and funerals, and last week was the annual Mahashivratri Puja. This marks the anniversary of when the Hindu deities Lord Shiva and Parvati (also known as Shakti) were wed. Notably, there is a myth about when the Gods and Demons were churning the ocean of milk to obtain immortal life, they came across a poison that exploded and threatened to destroy the universe. Lord Shiva then touched the poison with his trident and swallowed it. Only Shakti the female balance to Shiva, could then remove the poison.
So the whole city was roaring with celebration last week, including many high talent musical events, and even a marriage procession for Shiva, of barefoot men, from Mahamrityunjaya Temple, Daranagar to Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Chez and Magnus and Mika witnessed a river of men traversing the ghats alongside the Ganges river. Hours later, they were still coming, 2 million men in all, it was estimated! What a site! What a tradition! A couple of the older boys from Asha Deep were a part of this procession.
PWB team is getting along very well, and we are amazed how we all have really grown to be such a close family. I mean we do Everything together! Integral in our family bonding are our team meetings and sharing circles. While it’s hard to schedule them in our busy days, they are so imperative to the emotional health of the group. We can share any of our feelings or issues we are having, in a safe and confident space, and this seems to be developing strong trust with each other.
Mantra for the day from each member of the team:
Mika: “be who you’re not”
Avi: “Suno, Dekko.”
Emily: “Happy Dance! ”
Mark: “FULL POWER!”
Magnus: “see things from their perspective”
Lilli: ” I am the certainty”
Chez: “sub kuch milega.” (anything is possible)
Teek Hay! On with the Show!
Mika (Singh) ( He’s an Indian Pop singer if you’ve never heard of him) The kids call me Mika Singh, and giggle… or Milka… like the chocolate.