India Blog 5 – Final Week in Varanasi

February 29, 2016

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.

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Sara (Me) Doing Clown Warmups with Duniya Kids

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.

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Sewing Poi on Prop-Making Day at Asha Deep

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!

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Asha Deep Jugglers

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!

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The View of The Ghats from Our Boat

 

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.

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Last Show in Varanasi

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


Última Semana en León: Un blog en Español & Inglés

February 26, 2016
Lunes:
   Empezamos nuestra ultima semana en Leon con un show en la escuela de niños descapacitados en Sutiaba.  Seguimos con un tallercito, y era bonita empezar al día así.  Después preparamos para ir al Barrilete, y aprovechar el tiempo corto para practicar el show de los niños para el Miércoles. Y porque nuestros días están bien ocupados, después de un comida rápida de yucca de la calle, fuimos para hacer un show nocturna en el barrio Collolar, donde era una fiesta con mucho ruido, parlantes y luces en la calle, lleno de un publico de mucha gente del barrio – adultos, niños, viejos, familias juntos para disfrutar.
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Sharing skills at the Escuela de Las Descapacitades

Martes:
    Otro día que empezó con un show en una escuela en el sur de Sutiaba, una comunidad muy afuera de Leon. Presentamos afuera la escuela en un espacio chiquito, con mucho polvo!!  Los niños estaban muy emocionados, pequeños, y invadiendo el escenario!  Ellos disfrutaron mucho nuestro show.
            Estabamos invitado a almorzar con Las Chavaladas, como una despedida a los facilitadores de proyecto. Comimos “baho” juntos, un plato nicaragüense de carne con yucca, ensalada, y platano. Jugamos con los chicos después, sacamos una foto, y los niños nos dieron un papel con fotos de nosotros y firma de ellos.  Fue muy bonito.
            Terminamos nuestro día ocupado con otro ensayo en el Barrilete, su ultima practica de su show! Teníamos un ensayo de su presentación en frente de un publico de voluntarios de Noruega.
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Farewell to Las Chavaladas

Miércoles:
     El ultimo día en Leon!  Con mucho que hacer, estábamos empezando organizar nuestras cosas, limpiar la casa, y listar para salir el proximo día.  Aileen compró pitos para los niños del Barrilete; quizás no era buen idea porque los pitos molestaaaan!
                  Llegamos a Barrilete muy emocionados ver el resultado de nuestro trabajo y preparar los artistas: pintar caritas, vestuarios, tatuajes bonitos y un pasacalle a la cancha atras del Barrilete, con musica, juguetes, pitos, y sonrisas.
 “Circo Barrilete” hicieron el show para gente en el barrio y los otros niños.  Llego Emily, el manager del tour de PWB en Nicaragua para ver los resultados, y Cesar y los niños presentaron un acto buenísimo de acrobacia que crearon (apoyado de PWB) durante los meses afuera del tour. Después de su showcito, despedimos muy dulce con los niños y la Maria, la jefa estaba muy contenta con PWB y su trabajo allí.
                  Teníamos la ultima cena juntos antes de la pausa breve de vacaciones. Alex, Juniper y Raheli salieron a Esteli en un coche alquilado para disfrutar las vacaciones cortas que teníamos, y los otros quedaron para organizar la casa, las cosas y prepararnos para el proximo proyecto en San Marcos, Carazo.  Cerramos el día tomando unas toñas bien heladitas.
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Circo Barrilete!

Jueves:
   Despertamos muy temprano para terminar de organizar y prepararnos para nuestro viaje a San Marcos. Jacob empiezo a preparar la camioneta para acomodar nuestros equipajes y materiales de PWB para nuestro siguiente proyecto. Durante nuestro viaje tuvimos la oportunidad de ver cosas muy bonitas, y una de esas cosas fue ver la erupción de un volcán llamado Momotombo. Pocos minutos después miramos una nube grande de polvo.  Yo y Aileen estábamos en la parte trasera de la camioneta y tuvimos que parar para prepararnos contra la polvalera.  Decidimos a atravesar por el polvo en la camioneta, estábamos cubiertos con una toalla y tela para protegernos del polvo y cuando llegamos a san marcos estábamos super sucios! Queríamos bañarnos, y en el lugar donde teníamos que quedar no tenían agua y fue incomodo. Los otros compañeros de grupo fueron a Masaya y Leon para disfrutar de sus vacaciones y nosotros decidimos gastar nuestro tiempo en San Marcos para practicar y hablar un poco con los niños de nuestro proximo proyecto con Los Quinchos, y la organizadora Zelinda.
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Andy, Aileen, Edwing & Cesar on the dusty and sunny drive to San Marcos

Viernes:
    Por fin, un día muy tranquilo!  Levantamos temprano, desayunamos y luego fuimos al centro de San Marcos para disfrutar nuestro dia de vacación, comprando comida en el mercado, descansando en casa, hablando con Zelinda y mirando un grupo de jóvenes bailarines bailando en el parque de San Marcos para un actividad.
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Cesar checking out a camioneta full of chickens in San Marcos

Sábado:
    El ultima día de vacaciones Aileen y yo fuimos a la finca de Los Quinchos para pasar nuestro día junto a ellos, jugando futbol, escuchando música, bailando y disfrutando. Después llegamos al centro cultural para saludar el resto del grupo que estaban regresando de sus vacaciones. Luego, fuimos a cenar y hablar de nuestras vacaciones. Fue bonito escuchar que hicieron todo en sus vacaciones.
Domingo:
   Fuimos a San Marcos para comprar un poco de desayuno: frutas, cafe, avena, y pan. Después de comer, nos preparamos para presentar nuestro show en la finca para Los Quinchos.  Antes de empezar el show los niños estaban emocionados de ver a todo el grupo ahi que ellos empezaron a jugar con los juguetes y tuvimos la oportunidad de ver el nivel de los niños. Presentamos en la cancha, en frente de caras sonriendo y debajo el clima rico de San Marcos. Después del show Doña Zelinda estaba muy agradecida con nosotros y dijo que disfruto muchísimo nuestro show. Los niños estaban con mucha inspiración y ellos nos transmitieron muchas ganas a enseñar, jugar y construir una amistad muy linda atreves del circo.
Salud y Circo!
-escrito por Cesar Amaruc
Our Last Week In León:  A Blog in Spanish and English
Monday:
   We started our last week in León with a show in a school for disabled children in Subtiava [a barrio].  It was followed by a small workshop and it was nice to start the day like this.  Afterwards we got ready to go to Barrilete and make the most of the short time we have to prepare for the children’s show on Wednesday.
   Because our days are so busy, after a quick meal of yucca street food, we went to do an evening show in the barrio Collolar where there was a party with lots of noise, chatter, and lights in the street, with a big audience of people from the barrio – adults, children, old people; families having a good time together.
Tuesday:
   Another day that started with a school show, in a community right outside of León, south of Subtiava.  We performed outside the school in a tiny space with loads of dust!  The children were very excited, small, and despite completely crowding the stage,  the audience enjoyed our show a lot.
      We were invited to a farewell lunch with Las Chavaladas by the facilitators of the project.  We ate “baho” together, a Nigaraguan dish of meat with yucca, salad, and plantain.  We played with the children afterwards, took a photo, and they gave us a card with photos of us and signed by them all.  It was a beautiful gift.  We finished our busy day with another rehearsal at Barrilete, their last go before the show!  They did a full rehearsal in front of an audience of smiling Norwegian volunteers.
Wednesday:
  The last day in León!  With lots to do, we started to organise our things, clean the house, and get ready to leave the next day.  Aileen bought whistles for the children at Barrilete; maybe it wasn’t such a good idea because they were really annoying!
   We arrived at Barrilete very excited to see the result of our work and prepare the artists for their show:  face-painting, costumes, temporary flash tattoos, and a parade to the ‘cancha’ (public basketball court/park) behind Barrilete, with music, toys, whistles, and smiles.
  “Circo Barrilete” presented their show for the other people & children of the neighbourhood.  Emily (the manager of the PWB Nicaragua tour) arrived to see the results.  Cesar and some of the older children did a brilliant acro act that they created (supported by PWB) during the months since last year’s tour.  After the show we had a very sweet farewell with the children.  Maria, the boss of Barrilete, was very pleased with PWB and their work there.
   We had our last dinner together before our brief vacation.  Alex, Juniper, and Racheli left for Estelí in a rental car to enjoy the short break, and the others stayed to organise the house and prepare for our next project in San Marcos, Carazo.  We ended the day with a good cold Toña.
Thursday:
   We woke very early to finish preparations for our journey to San Marcos.  Jacob began preparing the truck for our equipment and the journey.  During the trip we had an opportunity to see some beautiful sites.  This included the eruption of a volcano called Momotombo.  Just a few minutes later we saw a huge cloud of dust.  Alien and I were in the open back of the truck and we had to stop to prepare ourselves for the dust storm.  We decided to go through it in the back of the truck and covered ourselves with a towel and some fabric for protection.  When we arrived in San Marcos we were super dirty!  We wanted to wash but in the place where we were staying there was no water and it was pretty uncomfortable.  The others of the group went to Masaya and León to enjoy their holidays and Aileen and I decided to stay in San Marcos to practice and talk with the children and organiser, Zelinda, of our next project, Los Quinchos.
Friday:
   At last, a very relaxed day!  We awoke early, had breakfast at a favourite spot in the small town of San Marcos, relaxed at our new “home”, talked to Zelinda and enjoyed a day off.  Later we went into the centre of town to buy food at the market and watch a group of local young dancers performing choreogrpahy as part of an activity in the town square.
Saturday:
  The last day of our vacation, Aileen and I went to the farm of Los Quinchos to hang out with them, playing football, listening to music, dancing, and having a good time!  Afterwards we got back to the cultural centre of the organisation to greet the rest of the group as they arrived from their holidays.  That night we went for dinner and talked about our trips.  It was nice to hear what everyone got up to.
Sunday:
   We went to San Marcos to buy the typical PWB necessities for breakfast:  fruit, coffee, oats, sugar and bread.  After eating we prepared to do our show at the farm for Los Quinchos.  Before we began the show the children were very excited to see the whole group there, and they started to play with the toys, which gave us the opportunity to witness the level the children have from previous years of circus practice.  We performed the show on the cancha in front of smiling faces and in the lush climate of San Marcos.  After the show, Doña Zelinda was very grateful and expressed how much she enjoyed it.  The children were very inspired and they gave us lots of enthusiasm to teach, play, and build a beautiful friendship with them through circus.
Health & circus!
– Written by Cesar Amaruc.  Translated by Jacob.

Kenya Team Week Off (ON)

February 25, 2016

Hi everyone!

After completing a project with Koinonia Community we had a week off before starting work with Nakuru Hope.

Each team member has written a few words about their experience in the week off. Let’s see what they got up to!

Abi

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“Busman’s holiday” – A vacation or form of recreation that involves doing the same thing that one does at work.

I am famous for my busman’s holidays, so when we had a week off from training circus skills I head straight to Sarakasi to train circus skills with the acrobats and practice aerial rope. My week consisted of high-temperature yoga at the Africa Yoga Project, planning my next social circus project, and hanging out with the acrobats. Also being able to spend time with the wonderful Hege and Caroline from Norway who are volunteering as part of an exchange program with Sarakasi. My treat was a stunning acrobatics and dance fusion show at the Safari Park Hotel with an amazing meal of nyama choma (roasted meats), including crocodile, camel, and goat. YUM!

Doing the acrobatic classes at Sarakasi is a real treat, being way out of my comfort zone but in good hands. These highly skilled people share their encouragement and support so willingly. Spending time in the Sarakasi Dome is my paradise: a hive of activity, dancers, drumming, rehearsals, stretching, jamming, and drilling; achievements and blunders are all part of learning. Resting my tired muscles, taking walks around the wonderous markets, sipping the incredible Kenyan coffee, trundling around the city parks, and meeting the very friendly monkeys.

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The best day was watching the Sarakasi acrobats perform at a mall opening, seeing them share their bundles of energy with the audience was fantastic.

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Joe

 

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I also spent my week at Sarakasi; training alongside the local acrobats. I’m used to training in dedicated spaces with sprung floors in the UK and watching these guys busting out stuff I can, as yet, only dream of doing on cold, hard concrete is a humbling experience. I was fortunate enough to be invited out to the suburbs to train on some waste ground next to the train tracks. Being surrounded by a crowd of kids fascinated to see a white guy training alongside the locals is an experience I’ll not quickly forget. I’ve made some good friends in Nairobi and even been headhunted as a base for an acrobatic troupe! I’ll definitely be coming back here. I spent my final night in Nairobi on the rooftop of the beautiful old cinema building that houses Sarakasi, looking up at the full moon in a clear sky, a picture-perfect way to end a truly fulfilling week.

Katie & Lilly

Life in Iriari Kegonge Village, Embu district
written by Katie

Village life suited Lillian and I down to a tee! Gorgeous farms, wide landscapes, an abundance of birds and butterflies all on the doorstep of the most incredible homes made from all locally sourced materials. Our friend Njeru made us so welcome, we were part of the family from the start and had a fantastic first evening meeting his amazing Mama Alice and Papa Bogo, brother Peter, sister True and nieces Lyn and Liza. That night True was hosting a parliamentary meeting with local village leaders gathered to discuss community values and politics as True is running for election.

The food was plentiful with goat stew, pumpkin soup and a selection of delicious Kenyan dishes offered throughout the week! Later in our visit we even had the privilege of killing and eating our first ever chicken well, rooster, which really made me feel even more part of the village.

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Mornings were calm and relaxing with opportunities for anything our hearts required! Yoga, drawing, taking in the vast view from the roof, walking in the hills, farming! In the afternoons we played with the wonderful village children who taught us the joys of playing, happiness, openness and how to have fun in a massive field with a pond and cows surrounded by a forest! DJ Chapati (Lillian) and DJ Ugali (me) were a great hit along with our guest team member DJ Nakumatt (Peter), a Nairobi based photographer who acted as teacher, translator and photographer.

We three musketeers were always followed home with our kit bag in a wheelbarrow, stripy hats on our heads, the full moon lighting our way and fifty happy children dancing, singing and congregating next to us! As the week went on we saw leaders begin to emerge in a really organic way and the children’s confidence grew in ways we couldn’t imagine. I feel blessed, fulfilled and honoured to have been welcomed into their village so wholeheartedly.

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We also treated ourselves to an overnight stay in Meru National park on the edge of the vast Mount Kenya. WOW, what an experience that was! As we went on an evening game drive when the heat of the day was finally relaxing we spotted a lone elephant seperated from his heard almost immediately. We also saw families of baboons, the most gorgeous bright blue birds, water buffalos, hippos, giraffes and antelopes. The beauty of this park was the endless changes in scenery from wide open plains, to dense bush, to sights of vast mountain ranges and enormous baobab trees! The next morning’s early game drive led us to more giraffes and buffalos with the added privilege of a zebra herd and close encounters with elephants! Such diversity and magnificence was incredible to see.

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Lillian and I were given Embu names during the week. For Lillian it was Jaber, meaning beautiful one and for me Gakenia meaning the happy one. We will take forward our new names, experiences and open hearts to the final leg of the tour in this beautiful country.

 

 

Coco

Having a week off meant I could take a bus for a few hours and arrive at Mt. Kilimanjaro, the thought of which, I have to say, interested me quite a bit.

I went into Tanzania and headed for Arusha; got there, found a friendly taxi driver and asked him to take me to a backpacker’s hotel downtown. On the way I asked Moody, for this was his name, if he knew of any group starting the Kilimanjaro trek the following morning. Moody said yes, that we could meet his brother at the hotel and he’d be able to organise it.

Upon arrival at the hotel, I was taken to the director’s office where a young gentleman came in, sat down and started explaining the details of the journey that was starting the next day. After some negotiation we agreed on terms and I signed the permit for the climb.

The next day I met the chief guide for the expedition, we drove to pick up the other mzungu (google it) and were on our way.

It was a scenic trek, that takes you from jungle to moorland, through alpine desert, barren rock and eventually walking alongside a glacier. You make the summit on the morning of the 4th day right around sunrise: the only time of day when you get a good view.
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And it was good! This was the sunrise over the clouds below Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa at 6.20am, 20.02.16.

 

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Happy and looking forward to more oxygen I slowly started the descent and made my way down the mountain into Arusha, back to a hotel, then a bus, then another hotel, then finally a Matatu (bus, sort of, google it) with Joe and Abi!  Together, we headed towards Nakuru and the last project of our tour.

 

As you can tell, we all like to rest in our spare time! Very relaxing holidays!

 

 


India Blog 4 – Meet the Kids!

February 24, 2016

Those of you who have been following our previous blogs will already know, or have some idea, how crazy Varanasi is! Living and working here is a daily adventure, and we are becoming used to being prepared for the unexpected. As I sat down to write this blog, a loud thump announced the arrival of a large male monkey just a few feet away from me on the roof of our guest house. Thankfully he didn’t seem too interested in me, and after a few minutes he wandered off onto our neighbor’s roof, presumably in search of food.

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Our daily frolics with the local wildlife aside, you have probably got the message: Varanasi is busy, smelly, dusty, hot, and teeming with people coming to make their pilgrimage to the sacred Ganga river or the myriad temples and mosques situated here. For this blog, I wanted to get an idea of what it is like to actually call this place your home, so I thought I’d let a few of the kids from Asha Deep Ashram, one of PWB’s longest standing partner organizations, tell you about their lives in Varanasi, and what circus means to them.

Manish

 Manish

My name is Manish, I am ten years old. I am in class 4. I live in Balaji Colony in Varanasi with my family. My father drives an autorickshaw and my mother sews clothes. I have been learning poi for 3 years from PWB. I like that PWB come and teach me poi. I think that I will always spin poi in my life.

Rinki

Rinki 

My name is Rinki Kumari and I come from a village in Bihar. I live in Samne Ghat in Varanasi in a hostel. My family are still in Bihar, but I came this year to Varanasi for my education. I am 15 years old and this is the first time I have been taught circus by PWB. I really like it. My favorite toys are the fans, and also the hula hoop. Fan dance has a beautiful energy, it is like a magic dance.

Chandan

 Chandan

My name is Chandan and I come from Nagwa. My family has always lived in Varanasi. I like circus because it is funny and nice looking and good. I really enjoy it. I am 13 years old and I have been learning circus from PWB for 3 years. My favorite toy to play with is the contact ball. I like diabolo as well. I like PWB because it means the children at my school are talented. I will play circus all my life!

Priya and Sunita

Priya

Priya ^    —-   Sunita v

Sunita

P> My name is Priya and I am from Nagwa. My family has always lived here.

S> My name is Sunita and I live in Assi. My family moved to Varanasi from Calcutta.

P> Circus is about feeling good and happy and we give happiness to each other. We are both 14.

P> I have done circus for 3 years. I have two favorite toys, the fans and the hula hoop.

S> I have done for 4 years. My favorite is the hula hoop.

P> PWB are always very good, they have many talents.

S> And excellent personalities.

P> When I leave school I hope to be able to carry on playing with the fans.

Samir

Samir

My name is Samir and I am in class 6. I come from Varanasi and I live with my family in Nagwa. My family makes and repair bicycles. To me, circus means juggling and performing and being happy. I have been learning circus for 5 years, I am now 13, so since I was 8 years old. My favorite props are juggling clubs. Juggling gives me a feeling inside of being very happy and not scared and always feeling good. It is a good thing to do with my friends. When I think of PWB I think that my friends will come and teach me new tricks. They are my friends, not my teachers. I think that I will juggle all of my life, and when I get to the other side I will teach the small ones how to juggle as well.

Vijay

Vijay

My name is Vijay Viswas. I come from Nagwa. My family has lived here for a long time. I began to learn circus from PWB 5 years ago when I started at this school. I am now 13. My favorite toy is poi because it is what I am best at. I also like staff, clubs and many other things, unicycle, iso hoops. In my life when I get sad I do circus and I get happy and make everyone happy because they like to watch. I think PWB should come all of the year to teach us. If they will come then we can learn many other types of things. I hope that when I leave school I can continue to do circus.

So there you have it folks, an all-too-brief insight into the thoughts and feelings of a few of the amazing kids who we are privileged to work and play with every day. These kids live and breathe circus, and we see how much it means to them every afternoon when we arrive at school. It truly is a joyful experience to be here and watch how quickly and eagerly they absorb everything we have to teach them, and to share in their delight and sense of accomplishment.

From Varanasi, with love,

Mango


Team Nica: In the Capital of The Revolution

February 20, 2016

If you want something done, ask a busy person.

A lot can happen in a week.  By the time we get to Friday, Monday seems like a very long time ago and yet it flew by.  In this way, time seems pretty elastic.  Here are some of the ways in which we stretched out our last week:

  • 9 shows to ~2390 people
  • 7 workshop sessions to ~250 children
  • Witnessed the birth of one horse
  • Lifted one possibly dying horse into one definitely dying truck
  • Alerted ~7 bin-men to one burning rubbish truck driving along one very dry road
  • Raised 1,268 Cordobas for one partner organisation with one show
  • Ate ~14 meals of rice and beans, ~56 tortillas, and not enough ice-cream

The list could continue with things like number of 20 litre drinking water containers carried from city centre to house, number of items of clothes hand-washed, meals cooked, floors swept, or workshop kit counted, but it would get tedious.  For now, I think you have a pretty good idea of what we’re getting up to day-to-day.

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Andy and Rachel playing the trust game in our show at a school for children with disabilities.  We did a workshop afterwards, too!

During this project in León, we have really experienced the benefits of a relationship that has developed between PWB and one of its partner organisations, Asociación Niñas y Niños del Fortín.  And it is most definitely a mutually beneficial relationship.  Living next door to the director of the organisation, Amalia, and her family, in the safe and tranquil gated family garden containing 3 houses, 2 mango trees, 2 lemon trees, and one annoyingly playful dog, has given PWB’s Nicaragua tour a rather luxurious feel.  But as well as the luxuries, it has also meant a strong connection and easy communication (rare in Nicaragua!) between the team and the partner organisation.  Friendly, smiling Amalia, has organised shows and workshops for us all around León and when either of us needs to talk about such things we can simply wander down the veranda and call through open doors.

This little ‘compound’ is also the park-up for the organisation’s general purpose Hilux pick-up truck which, along with the public camionetas (little trucks) has become a regular and hugely appreciated form of transport for us.  Definitely one of the luxuries of this tour over the others I have done.  Until the middle of last week, we were driven around by neighbour (son of Amalia) and all-round good guy, Edwing, but in an act of heroic circus equipment recovery he had an encounter with a rock and broke his big toe, resulting in the burden of a huge knee-high cast and crutches that are way too small.  It’s very sad as he has really felt like part of the team with his enthusiasm and inclusion in many of our activities!  After a trial run to the beach the previous weekend, I have been entrusted with the keys to the truck for a few journeys.  For those that know me, you’ll have a good idea of my level of boyish excitement at this!

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Living the Hilux life!  Loaded with toys and smiles …

Asociación Niñas y Niños del Fortín was founded by Amalia in 1995 as part of a collaboration between small organisations working with children in response to the basurero (rubbish dump) crisis in the 80’s.  Following the revolution and during the contra war, poor campasino (from the countryside) families headed to the cities on a survival mission. To cut a long story short, many of them ended up living on the huge rubbish dumps outside the cities, salvaging anything they could to survive.  This included thousands of children living in harsh conditions.  León’s dump was situated next to the old Fortín del Acosasco, a fortress built in the late 1800’s high up on a hillside overlooking León (it was repurposed during the Somoza dictatorship as a prison where anyone opposing the dictatorship was held and tortured, in the 1960/70’s).  This is where Amalia’s association gets its name.  In 1997 they secured some land to build a school-style building where they could provide activities, food, and help with education to children from the dump.  It was also used to house 500 refugees in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 (before the association secured funding to build 52 houses for them outside of León).  This is one of the locations where PWB has been working during its projects here.  In 2001, in a push to become a more formally recognised organisation, the association officially became an NGO.

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El Fortín del Acosasco with León and volcanoes in background.

It was at this time (1st April 2001 to be exact) that Amalia created Las Chavaladas, an offshoot of Niños del Fortín operating under the same association.  Until then, there had been a project called ‘Niños de la Calle’ (children of the street) and when this organisation moved out of León Amalia recognised the need for something else and took on the children that were left behind to start the project Las Chavaladas.  The name comes from a term used to affectionately refer to young people in an informal way.  Amalia felt this was more appropriate than referring to them as street children or similar, when the aim of the project is to be a safe place where the children want to be!  Let this be a small example of the positive attitude and relationship that Asociación Niñas y Niños del Fortín has with the children.

A question that is asked a lot is how do these organisations ‘find’ the children they work with?  Las Chavaladas has a system and it goes something like this:

  • Knowing how many children they can work with, depending on budget and number of trained staff available.
  • Meeting children in the markets/streets/etc. and assessing/investigating their situation by talking to them and anyone they can find who has connections with them (maybe other children).
  • Finding out about any connections with family members and establishing contact with them.
  • The children are invited to take part in activities in the centre starting with just an hour or two at a time and progressing on from there as they develop a connection and trust with each other.
  • If the child is in a ‘crisis’ situation, seeking permission from family to provide emergency accommodation.

This process is carried out by professionals who work with the organisation and they often spend months pursuing cases while having to deal with very difficult situations involving anything from drugs (on part of the child or family members) to violence to sexual abuse.  Once they have established a child’s involvement in the centre, the challenge is not over.  Because of lack of governmental permission/support, the association is unable to house children permanently which means the children are mostly returning to the streets or their less than satisfactory home lives overnight so each day that a child returns to the centre is an achievement in itself.  And this means the centre needs constant activities running to keep the children interested, as well as provisions such as food that the children would otherwise be spending their time sourcing in the streets.

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To get the full story of the association I carried out a bit of an ‘interview’ with Amalia.  It was mostly to get the facts right and develop a fuller view of the bigger picture but I thought I’d finish by asking what PWB’s project meant to her and her organisation.  Here are some points that she made:

  • Es muy importante.
  • Conecta los niños con sus abilidades – It connects the children with their abilities.
  • It helps the organisation’s employees learn other fun techniques to engage with the children.
  • Ludopedagogia (teaching with games/fun techniques) is their chosen way to engage with the children so PWB’s work is perfect here.

This blog post hasn’t exactly been a rundown of what we got up to last week, and it’s also definitely important to remind you that Amalia’s association is not PWB’s only partner here but Niños del Fortín and Las Chavaladas have most certainly fixed their place in our hearts.  It would of course be a much longer blog if I tried to cover the story of everyone we work with here so I hope that by going into some more detail about just one organisation, it gives you an idea of the overall situation here, the difficult lives that many children face, the type of work our partner organisations do in general, and why PWB has found a place here for a social performance arts project.

Whenever I meet people who are running organisations like this, I find myself wondering what their story is.  Amalia is the kind of person who, when asked about herself, answers with stories about the association and the families it helps.  Yesterday she invited me to go on one last drive in the Hilux to visit El Fortín del Acosasco, the rubbish dump, and some communities in these areas where some of the poorest people in Nicaragua live (the people who we have been working with at the children’s centres).  While driving along dirt roads, walking over vast dumps, and peering into old torture chambers, I picked up snippets of information about Amalia’s story.  At one point, while talking about the sorry state of places like The Museum of The Revolution in central León (the ‘Capital of The Revolution’) and the dramatically poignant but deserted and wrecked El Fortín, Amalia let slip about her involvement in the revolutionary war in the 70’s.  She played it down with a modest smile and made out like it didn’t mean much, which maybe it didn’t alongside the abandoned tomb-like fortress looming over León with its torture-chambers, but everything is relative and relatively speaking, being a 16 year old girl-soldier firing weapons and being held at gunpoint means quite a lot.  Amalia, with her calm and caring demeanour and absolute dedication to helping people and investing in a positive future for this country, is an inspirational woman.  If we can continue to do things to help people like her carry out their work, then we are, undoubtedly, doing a good thing.

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Amalia showing me around El Fortín del Acosasco

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Juggling with the children who collect ‘valuable’ rubbish on the dump.  The smog in the background is smoke from burning rubbish.

Thanks for reading.  Love to you all.

Jacob x


India Blog 3 – Working with LIGHT

February 15, 2016

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We have been working with children and performing in Varanasi for two weeks now but it feels like much longer. I literally had to ask myself “has it really only been two weeks?” as I wrote the last sentence. This city is ancient, yet filled with creation and bustling community everywhere. It is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and considered to be the spiritual capital of India. There is a fire on the Ghats (docks by the Ganges River) that has been continually burning for over 3,500 years. Varanasi is also known by the name “Banaras” directly translating to “City of Light”. You can feel the energy flowing through the crumbling buildings, swirling around the marble temples, and passing by every street cart and cow mimicking the flow of the Ganges River.

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We have all become familiar with the city and its quirks. Constant pressure from the street vendors and rickshaw drivers while watching our step to avoid “mystery liquids” and cow pies keep us alert, but it is the children we are working with that have provided our energy.

When we are with the kids we are on top of the world (even if stomach issues keep at least one of us up most nights). The children fill us with light and the name Banaras takes on an entirely different and more significant meaning. We are all striving to be the light and radiate back at the children and I feel we are succeeding magnificently!

 

The kids at Asha Deep (one of the longest running PWB partners) are extremely talented and eager sponges ready to be filled with our knowledge. They jump with excitement yelling “Dada (male teacher) watch! Look at me! Look at me!” constantly. Many of the kids already know the basics of all the props and have started specializing in their favorites. I have been primarily working with the staff spinners and jugglers and we are making amazing progress. Several boys can do very difficult contact rolls with their staffs including Angel Rolls, Conveyor Belt variations, Steves, and even Jesus Rolls. The jugglers are passing clubs proficiently and working on doubles, doctor attacks, and collecting with style.

Several of the students from Asha Deep are even comfortable spinning fire and go out to the Ghats with us occasionally to spin publically. We are starting to teach them basic business ethics for street performing as well as fire safety for shows, crowd management, choreography, and stage presence. The attention they receive street performing is helping boost their self-confidence and we are always working with them to maintain a smile while still getting absorbed in their “flow state”. The crowds that have been gathering number in the hundreds and the cheers fill the night sky: Truly an amazing thing to witness.

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The students at Duniya Education are slightly younger, but also very eager to learn. We spend more time doing group activities with them and playing games, but we are also delving into more advanced moves with props. This week we are going to start narrowing down the skills we teach so they can get more directed attention. They love to do traditional and modern Bollywood dances, so we hope to combine their existing knowledge with prop movement to create some very unique fusions.

 

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The Ghats have become my sanctuary. I go to them for inspiration, solitude, reflection, and action. They are comprised of gorgeous ancient architecture and giant cement steps to the river allowing space for chai vendors and beggars as well as private nooks and corners to sit quietly. When I’m there I feel the pulse of Banaras. I feel the light emanating from the community and culture. I feel the peace of the river and the determination of the city meeting together.

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We are truly light-workers working in the city of light.

Written by Spades


Mundane Colors from the Circus Bubble

February 14, 2016
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So

How does one extract/express the essence of a group?
Eight young adults from five different countries
Living, breathing, swarming in each others’ space in a bubble-like manner
For the sake of spreading circus arts, colorful imagery, moments of kindness
In a country far far away from their own.
What are we doing here?
We are eating 
Cook for each other all the time
Sometimes eat out
This week there was a birthday
and we got to have cake
THREE nights in a row.
We are teaching
The children run to us for hugs most everywhere we go
It’s touching
It’s not what we are here for
We are here to teach circus arts.
This week a conversation continued in the group about what the focus of PWB Nicaragua should be-
Should we be brining a bit of play, joy, and circus to many kids OR
Focus on a few kids that are truly interested in circus arts and bring them to the next level…
We would love to do both
We are getting to know each other and everything-that-comes-with-that
You know
She is like that
He is like this
I really like him
That thing that she is doing is super annoying
I am scared
I love him
God that sucks
Planning planning planning
What are we gonna teach?
Who’s gonna do it?
She is feeling sick? Ok, I will do it instead
Opening games
Warm ups
How do we structure an activity so the kids stay engaged?
How do we get them to listen?
I can’t speak Spanish!
I can ONLY speak Spanish!
What are you saying to me??
I LOVE figuring out how to teach…
We are loving each other
Without knowing each others’ history or how many brothers and sisters we have, cause honestly there is so much to take care of right here it doesn’t leave much room for heart to heart conversations.
Yet we do, love each other
Through making sure we leave enough food for the person that is still in bed, or checking-in with each other, if someone is sick; being super sweet, through taking the piss out of each other, through letting go (forgiving?) if someone made a mistake.
 
We are teaching more
Everyone gets to teach hula hoop!
The kids love it- red, green, blue, orange and gold splashes of color and the more the better.
Dance, theatre games, wildness, loudness, laughter and fake tears fill the cement-paved court yards.
A million kids flocking towards/begging for Diabolo and Alex delivers again and again.
Sweaty, determined kids, one hand against the wall the other leaning on Andy’s shoulder: Unicycle.
We are performing
We are visited by our family members
We are getting lifts on pick-up trucks and camionetas
We are sweating oh so much
We know it’s for a short while but the moment right now is entirely full
We are a swarming moving bubble
Intent on doing what we love
And grateful we get a chance to do it
Here
Floating
Touching down on the streets of Leon
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Check out this lovely moment that happened right after one of our shows:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7BPFNFueps&feature=youtu.be

PWB Kenya 2016 – A Newbie’s Perspective by Joe Dickinson

February 12, 2016

Mambo, jina langu Joe! (Hi, my name’s Joe!) I am currently on tour with the fabulous human beings of the Performers Without Borders tour in Kenya. Right now we have been in Nairobi for just under a month and have worked with two different projects while we’ve been here. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by veterans of previous tours; all four other members of our team have taken part in PWB projects in the past, which makes me the newbie! The whole tour so far has been an amazing experience and I’d like to share my angle on it, particularly with those of you who may be considering applying for and undertaking your very first tour.

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Me, just before heading to the airport!

So, what did I expect? Despite trying to keep my expectations to a minimum, I was full of ideas of what life on tour might be like, how living with the team would be and the kind of work we would be doing with the children at the various projects along the way. It will not surprise you to learn that I’ve been off the mark once or twice and I’d like to share the small amount of tour wisdom that I have accumulated up to now.

I shall begin, as one should, at the beginning. I applied for this tour back in the summer of 2015, having been pointed in this direction by my performing partner. After a simple application process and a very friendly Skype interview I was informed that I’d been accepted as a member of the team. I was elated and nervous and began, slowly, to prepare for the trip.

After a few Skype conversations with the team over the following months things slowly came together. Flights booked, vaccinations up to date, fund-raising done [see video here!]. Before I knew it the new year had rolled around and I was on a plane to Mombasa, the main port city of the Kenyan coast. The others on the team had booked their flights into Nairobi (on the other side of the country) so I had a couple of days at the accommodation in Diani, where we had our bootcamp, to myself before the others arrived.

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The view from our accommodation in Diani.

I should mention that this tour is my first time outside of Europe and a big step out of my comfort zone. Having those two days without the team around me to overcome the worst of the culture shock and settle in were very helpful for me but it was, nevertheless, a joy to see the others when they arrived. They’d actually made it to the accommodation the night before but the watchman at the site had put them in another block!

Surrounded by the team and thrown headfirst into the task of teambuilding and making a show, our two weeks at bootcamp flew by. Having the weird and wonderful characters of the team around me during this period of adjustment was such a pleasure and, despite getting sunstroke (remember to hydrate!) and the emotional upheaval of missing home, we really bonded as a group and put together the first version of our show, known as ‘Sleepy Fly’.

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The team before our first show, Lillian is behind the camera for this one!

The team here in Kenya are a fantastic bunch, we have a great mix of skills and personalities. In no particular order we have:

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Coco – Juggler, clown and theatre nerd. He’s been involved with social circus projects like The Serious Road Trip [website] and was part of the PWB India 2014 team. My roommate, training and club-passing buddy throughout the tour so far, off to climb Kilimanjaro in his week off. Nutter, nice guy.

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Katie – Former student of Circomedia in Bristol, dancer, clown and undercover juggler. Katie has worked at summer camps teaching circus for the last few years and went to Sierra Leone as part of a PWB team. She has loads of energy for the kids and silliness amongst the team. Diamond.

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Lillian – Graduate of Naropa University in Colorado. A well-travelled and caring soul, bringing a wealth of knowledge of theatrical teaching and practice to the team as well as being an idea factory in the show-making process. Loves to clown and paint with the kids. A free spirit.

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Abi – Performer with Chaplin’s Circus in the UK. Abi is our tour coordinator and came here to run a project by herself last year (respect!). With a lot to organise and keep track of I am consistently amazed at the amount of energy she has left for the kids. Powerhouse.

Having these guys around me has been amazing, united by the common desire to make this project work we have really formed as a team and our differences have made us diverse and flexible. After a month of sharing a flat and the pressures of living and working in Nairobi together, we are strong. PWB attracts some wonderful people and it’s a real pleasure to be travelling and working with some of them!

The day-to-day operation of the tour is all go. We teach and/or perform 6 days a week on the projects and manage to find time to refine the show, train our individual skills and keep up with the necessities in between! Boot camp on the coast was intensely hot throughout, a very pleasant change from the British winter. Diani beach is one of the most beautiful in the world and working on the show whilst sipping from a fresh coconut was a rare pleasure!

After our time there (and a nine hour bus ride on rough roads) we came to Nairobi to begin our work in earnest. Nairobi is Kenya’s capital, home to country’s biggest slum (Kibera), awkwardly juxtaposed with the huge villas of the nation’s wealthy and powerful. A city of real contrast and unbelievable volumes of traffic.

During our two-week period of working with acrobats of The Sarakasi Trust [website] in their training and outreach projects we spent a whole lot of time on the matatus (privately owned buses, brightly decorated, playing loud music) averaging four hours a day getting in and out of town. I got used to this pretty quickly, sharing the weirdness of the experience with others certainly helps! Living and working with the same group of people every day in a new and chaotic environment has certainly not been without its challenges but it’s a credit to focus and drive of the team that all the little sticking points are quickly resolved or accommodated for the greater good of the project. It’s a great dynamic to work with.

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A view over Kibera.

Of course, all of this is about working with the kids! Over the last two weeks we have been working with our partner, The Koinonia Project [website], at one of their children’s homes called the Kivuli Centre. This is an open community centre with a pharmacy and library that also houses 35-40 rescued boys, who were formerly street kids or the children of single parents who couldn’t cope.

The boys sleep in two dorms, depending on their age and are fed and looked after by a house ‘mama’ as well as receiving lessons in drumming and acrobatics from local trainers. The boys come from a tough place and connecting with them and keeping them engaged was pretty tricky to begin with. They were prone to fight and squabble and this takes a lot of energy out of the teachers.

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Working with the boys at the Kivuli Centre.

We have very quickly got them onside and we’ve been priveleged to see some startling progress from them. Skills with the props are coming on fast; the boys are hungry to learn and pretty adept at it! They’ve been engaging really well with the theatre and clown workshops run by the team as well and their cheeky, slapstick sense of humour is really starting to emerge.

Seeing the progress of kids in this way has been a very fulfilling experience and it’s heartening after a few weeks of one-off visits to possible new locations and partners. All this is part of laying the groundwork for future tours in the country but it’s hard to leave a group of smiling faces knowing you may not see them again.

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A one-off visit to a children’s project in Kibera.

So, would I recommend going on tour with PWB? The short answer is “Heck, yes!”  if you have a skill or two to share and the time to do it.  I had considered applying for tours in previous years and always managed to make excuses about my commitments at home in the UK or my ability to contribute to a project like this.

I couldn’t have been more wrong; with the support of the team I’ve found that I have a lot to share and a lot to learn from the teachers and children I’m working alongside. Performing arts have a real power to open people up and make space for community and fun, even in deprived places. Perhaps, especially in deprived places. The work is emotionally demanding but you might just find yourself surrounded by the perfect people  both to make a real change in the world with, and to help you grow, yourself!


India Blog 2 – Banaras is Bananas!

February 9, 2016

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Bells, morning ragas, tabla drumming, honk honk, ding- a- ling, motors revving, cows MOOOOing, dogs barking, pungent aromas of spices, incense, poop, wood fires, plastic fires, vegetable sellers, chai sellers, temples around every corner, Boat Madam!? Rickshaw Madam?! Hello! Hello! Where you from?!

On the banks of the Ganges River, The Holy City of Varanasi (or Banaras) has been hustling and bustling for 3,000 years! This ancient city is a destination for many Hindu pilgrims, Shiva Devotees, as well as tourists, holy men, yogis, tradesmen, world class musicians, and of course, Performers Without Borders.

After a 40 hour train ride from the last project in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, PWB arrived in the morning in Varanasi on February 1st. We soon settled into our little guest house, that is conveniently located in Nagwa, the neighbourhood where we will be teaching at two schools. We will teach 5 days a week Monday through Friday from 3-5 pm at Asha Deep, and 4 days a week in the mornings at Duniya Education. As well as scheduling outreach workshops and shows with other local schools.

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This will be the 9th tour of PWB in Varanasi, India, and also celebrating 9 years of teaching students at Asha Deep Vidya Ashram. This is one of the longest PWB projects running, and you can sure see it in the skill levels of the kids. Many of the young boys love to juggle balls and clubs, and we are very excited to work with them to develop some more club passing skills. They are also very talented at contact staff and poi, and the girls are very passionate about learning more fan techniques and more hula hooping from this year’s PWB super dooper hula hoopers.

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We spent the last week evaluating skills and now the teachers have a good idea of where to go from here. Starting today we are focusing on fundamentals, establishing an objective to do a teacher training with some of the older kids this year, and beginning to develop acts. Our training with Asha Deep culminates in a choreographed Spring Extravaganza show that will be a public event at Assi Ghat, a popular public space, for all their community to see. So we have much work to do with these kids!

Our first week teaching at Duniya Education was full of fun! Sara taught ball juggling, while Shouniez taught a lot of Acrobatics and tumbling, and Spades taught staff spinning. The children at Duniya really look forward to every year when PWB comes.

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After one week, we are getting used to being in this city.  
Several of us battled with stomach illness or fever this week, 
but are now on the mend. This is unfortunately one of the 
realities of adapting to Varanasi, some sicknesses. When this 
happens the rest of the team can help to cover classes and we adjust our schedule if we need to. But it usually works out alright, and this is a great benefit of being a 
team.

Personally this is my third time in Varanasi, and to me the city seems exactly the same as every time, and only I feel different. The old saying of revisiting a place to find that you’ve changed inside, feels appropriate. The city feels more familiar to me, and I feel comfortable with all the little challenges…. or at least more accepting. It’s such a joy returning to the smiling faces of the children I remember from last year, and to see how they’ve grown!

Hindi phrase of the week:

Jeevan me dharia zurrurri hay.
Life is about being patient.

Me tumko dek raha hay.
I am looking at you.

I LOVE YOU BANARAS!

Mika ji

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Circus Shenanigans, Crazy Camonietas and Columns of Mosquitoes. Nicaragua Blog 3 25/01/16 to 29/01/16.

February 8, 2016

So it BEGINS…after settling into our new flat in lovely Leon once again, a spacious house with a nice garden and friendly family neighbour, Amalia, the head of Las Chavaladas, who also happens to organise our trips and provide us with contacts. We spend our first full day buying supplies in the morning and sorting equipment. We have a show at El Barrilete in the afternoon, which is where we will be spending a lot of our time building on what the previous 3 tours have done here at this youth club centre which provides before, during, and after school care freely for the community.

Unfortunately one of our intrepid team, Jake, is out sick with a cold (if you can believe it in the tropics!), so at lunch we revisit the whole show and come up with a plan C having already previously used up our plan B for our 1st show, when Rachel and Rachel were out sick. Feeling underprepared but confident in all of our abilities we get taken with Edwing, our neighbour, on a crazy camioneta ride to the Centre. For the majority of the team this is our first experience of what it might be like to be strapped to the roof of a rally car! Dressed in our costumes and carrying various kit, we squeeze into the truck, bumping and beeping at break-neck speed. Quick! It’s a Circus Emergency!

On arrival we are greeted by a large group of children, some very young and all extremely excited. As a team we have a quick check-in to talk through the show minus one performer, with things getting rearranged on the spot. Having previously been on PWB tours this is something I’m well versed in and although it seems rushed I know that we have a collection of fantastic performance skills and whatever we do now will be 100% entertainment.

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The centre resembles an old petrol station with concrete floors and a shady car port area, ideal for a show. However due to the height of the car port we choose to perform on the dirt in the sun! Of course, all part of a tour! Alex’s circus instincts kick in and he plays a few games with the children, as do myself and Rachel, before we hit the dirt for our show. The show is chaotic and full of mistakes but, with all things considered, pretty good! We have fun and the children definitely have fun, roaring with laughter especially at the clown skit. Immediately afterwards a speech is given by one of the older boys welcoming us back and how they are looking forward to us exploring circus and performance with them.

Maggie, Kate and Chris are also there to show support. They are the main reason Performers Without Borders travelled to Nicaragua, Maggie being the mother of PWB veteran Rob. They have spent many years here in Nica providing assistance on many social projects and developing contacts throughout the country whilst fundraising back home in Europe.

We have a quick open box session which is hard to close as the enthusiasm for circus hasn’t waned since last year, but we manage and head back to the flat for French Onion Soup and wine from our head chef of the night Juniper! Tres fantastic!

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Day 2 and we are ready for more, full throttle…(and thats just the Camionetas) PWB POWER. We perform a show early at 9:00 with Aldea, an orphanage of sorts. The children have very young mothers which is very common in this country and cannot cope looking after them. The place is well funded and full of very young children, toddlers mainly. We have an excellent shady area with a high enough celling to perform in and the children begin arriving in line formations which is very cute especially when they attempt to sit down.

The show is once again Jake-less but we agree to take our time with this performance to play with the children before hand, and they are well and truly rapt in our antics. They scream in excitement when I pretend to crash my unicycle and jump over Rachel, and again when we bring a member of staff up on stage, provide her with a crash helmet and proceed to throw things around her head to their delight.

A fun show and we head back to the flat (can I say home now? Home is where your juggling toys are right?) happy and excited for more. Quick team lunch and we are back to Barrilete and the rally driving Camioneta ride. The conductor has an amazing whistle which I’m pretty jealous of, perfected since boyhood, I imagine. On arrival we find welcoming smiles, high fives followed by fist bumps, and hugs!

Cesar leads a new game to us all involving flying animals, which is tricky for me to follow with my Spanish. Racheli leads musical statues (a global classic) and gives us a chance to bust out the moves! Circus relay races and dancing penguins and flamingos are all in a days work for the PWB crew. When the toys appear there is a real thirst for practice. Acrobatics, Wand, Hoop, Staff and Diabolo! Everyone on the team is working hard with the sun beating down. We are dusty and sweaty but all the children are happy to share their skills at the end of the season.

Today was Australia Day and so Rachel and I cook veggie burgers with pineapple, beetroot and an egg and a side of chips, singing “Waltzing Matilda”. Great food after a hectic day.

Day 3 is an early start for 4 of the team who head to Las Chavaladas which is a rescue centre for boys on the street, providing meals, accommodation, education, and of course safety. Arriving as the boys finish their morning chores, brushing their teeth with brand new toothbrushes each with a name tag, Myself, Aileen, Cesar, and Rachel use the basketball court to hold workshops for 17 eager faces.

We play some quick games before splitting into 2 for group juggling, then staff spinning (Baston) and ball juggling (Pelotas) with some unicycling in there for good measure. Open box follows and I’m really impressed with the skill level already shown by the boys. I was wearing my Nike shoes and a young boy was (I think) trying to tell me his friend’s nickname was Nike due to a scar across his forehead. These boys have lead tough lives and it is a real joy to spend time with them just having fun.

It had been a fantastic first session and we are all eager to return. We head back home in the pick up (Ute if you’re an Aussie) for a quick lunch and back to Barrilete. We have learned from our last 2 sessions and decide it best to split the group by age and have a separate session for the munchkins indoors. Smaller groups for the prop session allow for more focus and the whole thing runs much smoother than previously and we allow the munchkins back for open box.

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We head back on a Camioneta with Juniper hanging off the back giggling like a school girl. We are kindly taken out for dinner by Maggie, Chris, and Kate to a vegetarian restaurant with amazing food, great conversation, and a chance to relax after a long day.

At our new home we are slowly being inundated with mosquitoes who seem to love the circus props as much as we do. Rachel and Juniper practice their backhand, smash, and serve with an electrified tennis racket bug zapper with a high death toll.

The garden is a bird paradise with humming birds, various doves, long tailed magpies and flocks of guardabarranco, the national bird which roosts around the trees at night.  We have the morning off to enjoy the space on day 4, train, and clean our clothes and the house, before heading to Barrilete in the afternoon.

We have ‘Grandpa Joe’ driving this Camioneta ride and I believe I could run just as fast. Edwin explains that they have to run on a schedule and a lot of the time they drive slow on purpose to become late so they can floor it like Michael Schumacher to make up the time.

Theatre games are on the curriculum today and we once again spilt the group by age with Juniper in command of her beloved “tiny tots.” Plates are spun despite the wind and lack of Spanish on my behalf, rings are thrown, clowns are made, and laughs are had. It’s a fantastic session and we are slowly learning the names and characters in the group. Jake returned for this session and it was great to see a full team…PWB POWER.

It’s Friday and the last day before we have the weekend off, it is getting difficult to keep up with all our activities, not only workshops, but also preparing lunch, dinner, cleaning clothes and the house, writing the curriculum, and the ever long battle with mosquitoes.

In the morning we all travel with Edwin to Niños del Fortín, a school and youth centre providing education and food for children whose families used to work on the rubbish tips and are now employed at the recycling centre…which sounds better and more hygienic, however they are all now on minimum wage and cannot make as much money from when they would have scoured the tip for hidden treasures. 40 or more children are here and it is also school holidays so we may have more children later – our largest group so far.

The school is pretty basic, dirt playground and rusty swings. We clear a shady area of tables and benches which need a lick of paint or replacing.  There is a big age range in this group and some of the boys are a bit “too cool for skool” and don’t participate in the group games. We still take the time to play the games as we think it is important for the children to get to know us, have fun, and relax in our company.

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Splitting them into groups just about works and I am teaching juggling. The older boys are my first group and I was impressed with their attention and perseverance with the skills and my terrible Spanish. This is a challenge for the group to consider with regards to age specific games and attempting to please all. I have a fantastic time teaching juggling and make a lot of breakthroughs, with the help of Edwing as my translator when needed.

At the end of the session we have a lovely show-and-tell period followed by lunch provided by the centre. This reminds me of my previous tours in India, sitting down to lunch with the children is a great way to connect.

In the afternoon 5 of us head to Las Chavaladas and the boys are once again excited and keen to meet 4 new members of PWB. Fun is had by all including myself teaching hula hoop for the first time! During open box we put on the tunes, rig up the slack line and have fun “Nos DIVERTIMOS!!” a really nice way to finish a very busy week and our first introduction to the work and centres here in Leon, sharing hundreds of smiles and creating a space to create, explore and learn.

The weekend is free and we are keen to explore and relax. Thanks very much for reading and supporting us. I hope you will stay tuned to hear more of our Nica adventure!

Andy. x