Namaste from Varanasi, friends and family! PWB has been in India for 7 weeks now (wowza, where has the time gone?). We are wrapping up our Varanasi project, then leaving for Calcutta in just under a week. So much has happened since we’ve been here, and i would like to share some of the highlights of my experience with PWB team India so far.
As mentioned in previous Blog posts, we have been teaching at two schools here in Nagwa. One of them is Duniya Education. PWB has been working with this school for 5 years now. Our friend Raj and his wife Asha run the school, and they are very compassionate and amazing folks who have welcomed and taken great care of us and their students. They feed us lunch everyday after classes and we give big thanks to the cooks and school for this. Having a warm cooked meal, paired with delicious masala chai after teaching 2 hours of circus classes is such a treat. Our Duniya classes are in the morning, from 10:30 am to 1 pm, Tuesday Thursday and Friday, with another class on Wednesday from 1pm to 2pm with older girls.
Warm-ups and games with the younger kids at Duniya are especially fun! During one of our warmups our lovely team member Beatrix decided to lead all of the children in La Macarena. Haha! This really stuck with the kids and since then we practice it during every class.
Asha Deep is ran by a woman named Connie, or Connie M’am, as the kids call her. We go to Asha Deep in the afternoon between 3 and 5:30pm. PWB has been working with them for 8 years so many of the kids know and love PWB very much. They excitedly anticipate our return each year. There are many skilled jugglers, hoopers, poi and staff spinners, and jokers/clowns too! I primarily teach juggling at Asha Deep. Many of my students pass clubs and have a solid foundation of fundamental club and ball tricks. It definitely makes my job more interesting having to navigate the skill level of all of my students and figure out what i think they might like to learn.
We have been working hard putting together choreographed pieces with the Asha Deep kids for an upcoming show the school is putting on! It is their annual “spring fling”. The show has dance segments with traditional Hindi dance, as well as some breakdance bits (the boys are really into breakdancing in India!). The children will be reciting poems, singing songs, enacting short dramas, and finally, performing all of their super amazing circus skills! There are fan, poi, hoop, juggling, staff, AND clown routines that the kids have been working hard on. We can’t wait to see it all come together and performed on Assi Ghat this upcoming Wednesday! It is a big deal to perform on Assi Ghat because it can be a bit challenging to get permission from the city to hold events there. So, hurray! A highlight indeed!
Before getting to these schools to carry on with all of the fun and hard work, we walk through the very exciting neighbourhood of Nagwa. Walking to school here is something especially unique. We walk down the main road outside of our guesthouse and it is littered with rickshaws, tuk-tuk’s, moto’s, cows, buffalo, goats in coats, dogs, and people. There are constant things to dodge on the way- motorcycles flying past and honking, piles of animal droppings, burning trash, and animals sleeping on the road. We walk down the main road for a couple of blocks and eventually turn down a road that leads straight towards the Ganga river. After a couple of turns and blocks of walking we arrive at Duniya. Further down that road we come across the path to Asha Deep (my favorite part of the trek) where we pass the home of a herd of buffalo. this dirt pathway runs along the Ganga river. I tend to stop and look around at the great river and animals around me in complete awe of where i am. This is the most unforgettable walk to school i have ever experienced! I will miss it.
Teaching may just be the number one highlight of coming to India with PWB. This has been my first experience teaching children and it is nothing like I imagined it to be. It never is. During my preparation for this journey I had mild anxiety about teaching and was curious about the process, the children, and how i was going to do it. I asked myself “how am i going to keep the kids engaged?” “How am i going to do this with a language barrier?” “Am I going to really suck at this?” naturally, all of these answers came to me through doing. Body language is universal, and thanks to having to resort to it so frequently, I have tapped into a silly mime/clown Sara that i hadn’t known existed! I communicate using clowny mime-y body language most of the time now, but mostly with the younger children. I have learned that it’s best to just play. The kids are engaged if I am engaged. Play, and work the technical material into the class with ease. In those pressured moments when all of the kids start getting loud and antsy, and I feel frazzled and unsure, I just make a loud noise combined with a strange action- and everyone repeats! Why? I have no idea, but It works, and it’s funny! It gives me a chance to think of my next move while keeping the children wondering what is going to happen next. From there the teaching commences.
Aside from all of the school work we do, the team bonding activities have been special and fun. We like to perform and have busked quite a bit in Varanasi. The Ghats along the Ganges is where we take our renegade fire shows. We live just down the road from the Assi Ghat, a popular mingling location that has a huge gazebo where many shows are held. Every evening at 6pm there is a prayer ceremony on the Ghats and occasionally the PWB group goes and busks on Assi Ghat afterwards. This is a huge highlight for me. We get a chance to do what we love to do on our own time. I believe it strengthens our bond as friends and performers. I really enjoy running around and getting the crowd hyped for each fiery act. Great fun!
For our Varanasi Team development activity our “God mom” Shaheen organized a sunset boat trip on the Ganges. Many of us had been wanting to take a sunrise and/or sunset boat trip, and i am so happy we did it as a team. We were probably the most fun (and possibly the most obnoxious) bunch of clowns to take on one of the boats :O) We brought mini rigs, snacks, smiles, and fire gear- and together had a small ceremony on the opposite side of the Ghats. It was really very special. Afterwards, on our walk to dinner, many people approached us with praise and thanks for our fire spinning. It is a treat to share this art form with the people of Varanasi!
This past weekend we performed the last of our scheduled PWB shows in Varanasi. One was for Duniya and we had a lovely Pre-Show with our students. They came on stage and demonstrated their diablo, juggling, hooping, balancing, and staff skills for the audience, and then- La Macarena! The show was held in front of a Mosque just down the road from our home in Nagwa. The fire segment at the end of this show was especially fun. We finally got to show our students at Duniya what we do, aside from being silly clown teachers, and the fire tends to be quite the spectacle.
The last show location was about 40 minutes away from our home. Someone in the audience recognized Mika (our tour leader) from a show she did in this village last year with PWB. Our show was held on a dirt patch on the side of a road. There was a moment when a motorcycle stopped to watch and we all instinctually flocked to it and began incorporating the man and the bike into our show, haha! We whistled and directed him down the road, confusing the man and bringing roars of laughter from our audience. Genius, golden, clown moments! In my opinion, this was one of our best performances yet. We had the pleasure of bringing along our friend Vijay, who asked to come along and help. He is one of our Asha Deep students and has known PWB for years now. Vijay filmed for us and was a very helpful stage hand. He said he felt very happy to be with us on this day.
I will miss Vijay and all of the students I had the pleasure of getting to know in Varanasi, and I can’t wait to see them all perform this upcoming Wednesday. Cheers to this incredible experience, and see you soon Calcutta!
~ Sara Noelle