Team Nicaragua: San Marcus Goodbye Circus Soup

March 31, 2016
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“Somos Quinchos!” – A moment after the children’s final show

Peering over the gleaming, swirling pot of our experience, I reach around to find a long wooden spoon. I stick it in the pot and stir slowly once and then twice. Carefully, so that the colors rise up but not so fast that it blurs the picture. I want to see.

I bring the spoon closer to my face. It smells like the end. Our heads are full of plans, plane tickets, and decisions not yet made. What happens next? We’ve only got things figured out up until September. I guess that’s the kind of team we are. Not a lot of five-year-plans floating around in this crew/stew.

Bits of conversation flicker in the spoon: Jacob has a space show one day after he lands, Juni has to pack up a huge truck and go to a festival, Aileen is staying with Cesar for another month or two, Rachel and Andy are off to Corn Island, Alex back with the wife. And me? Flying into the arms of some presumed lover in Boulder. There is a lot going on in Internet Alley and I can see thousands of Wi-fi waves swirl within the soup.

The last week of San Marcos brings with it a growing affection towards the kids that bubbles up softly in our chests, expands our hearts and extends our arms for another hug. Their stunning faces, soft and brown. “Beautiful golden shining human beings” as Jacob said and I agreed immediately.

This week we were invited for dinner at Zelinda’s house, the woman whose motto is “Nunca mas un niño en la calle” (Never more a child in the street). She left her home in Italy to build an organization in Nicaragua and is now a mother to so many of these children. She welcomes us into her home with a four-course meal and sits down to tell her story. She tells it slowly, in Spanish, with a heavy Italian accent, with well timed hand gestures and dramatic pauses of sadness or giggles. She is obviously a performer too.

Her tales reach far into the past when her grandparents were circus artists as well. She is keen on theatre and circus so when PWB came around four years ago she was thrilled to bring a part of who she is, an artist, a gypsy, and a descendent of circus artists, to her children here.

Through her stories I get to taste a bit more of what Los Quinchos tries to provide for the children: a home, the very basics, a bed, a roof, love. Sort of like the ‘bread and butter’ but on second thoughts butter seems like a privilege in this context.

A home, a home.

While she describes some of the hurdles and the bureaucracy she has to face in order to run the organization, all I can think about are the children’s faces. Jeffery, Joel, Christian, Juan Pablo, they are all such a vivid part of our lives right now.

After knowing these kids for a month it’s now unfathomable to imagine them ever being neglected or mistreated. We don’t know their stories, and my heart shrinks with fear of the facts and details of their past. Beautiful, golden, shining human beings.

How are we going to say goodbye?

I reach into the pot to stir again, this time coming up with their efforts. They have been coming up to meet us everyday at the cultural center, about a 25-minute walk from where they live. Every day they participate, play, get upset, and soak up our attention, while we marvel at their genuine sweetness and strength. After a month here we feel as if we’ve barely scratched the surface, but the final shows are pressing on.

Their dance moves embarrass us. Curving and sliding their bodies exactly like in pop music videos. They are so good. Their 15-year-old flirty energy comes at us, pushing boundaries. Mix that together with their real need for connection and a dose of dazzling glorification of us and what do you get? “A minefield” Jacob concluded.

We remember being teenagers and looking at the young adults around us this way. As far as we were concerned, people in their 20’s or 30’s had it figured out. They were so talented and independent! We were completely enamored.

But for now we have a show to do! Practice time passes and it’s hard to count on the kids to show up. They’ve got a lot going on between schoolwork, other workshops, and flirting with each other. It’s hard for them to focus. Sometimes kids that we know can do a lot of tricks will suddenly throw their hands up in the air and with an insulted face say, “Tengo pena, no, no quiero!”. We push them gently “come on, come on, you can do it!”. They are delicate, they are teenagers and they flip on us as we try to corral them with our broken Spanish “tu puedes…tu puedes…”

Somehow in this last week I see more tears. Maybe the kids just feel more comfortable with us after four weeks together, maybe it’s the pressure before the show, or maybe it’s the end that’s rushing towards us in that all-encompassing yet strangely imperceptible kind of way. Their faces change suddenly to reveal complete sadness. They get insulted or turned off. They laugh wildly with no apparent reason. Who are they? We only touch the surface.

The heat rises in the pot as we approach the day of the performance. In the last two days we stumbled through the show. The first run: chaotic, unfinished, unfocused yet somehow there. As Aileen said, channeling her primary school theatre teacher “a disaster!” The second run was much better, the kids were loving it and it ended with a full group bow that turned into a group hug that resulted in lots of joyful screaming and laughing which in turn transformed swiftly into a short dance party. Yhaaaa! We are ready for the show! I lay the spoon aside, take a breath and dunk my head right into the pot, into the weekend, our last weekend with them, the weekend of their shows.

OMG we are melting! The last three days were spent performing in the blazing sun. Midday in their school, in San Marcos’ town square, and in Jinotepe’s town center. Their lovely painted faces and sparkly somewhat ragged costumes just pop out on the background of the peeling bandstands. Rushes of excitement are shooting up my chest and fill my eyes with water and my throat with shouts of encouragement. They are doing it!

Some kids just take over the stage courageously, working the audience and surprising us with their confidence. With some, the embarrassment kicks in and they do half of what they intended. But hey, we’ve got three shows and there is time to improve! There are technical difficulties with driving the kids to the performance sites and sometimes with the sound system. There is emotional stuff that comes up as some of the kids’ parents turn up to see the show. They are hot, sometimes hungry, always nervous and… They do it!

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Diabolo act in final show.

There were so many moments of victory, so much embarrassment and fear that they experienced through this weekend.  A big heap of energy extended out while the sadness of goodbye trickles into words and looks and questions “Will you come back?”

The moment arrives to gift them the circus kit and say our goodbyes, we are all exhausted, but we need this last moment together.  I slowly lift my head out from the San Marcos pot. Last colors drip down from my face and back into the pot mixing in with goodbye tears.

Hasta pronto. It’s been remarkable.

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Written by Racheli Mendelson

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Team Nica: 7 Little Moments Make a Week

March 28, 2016

This past week in San Marcos, Nicaragua, saw us continuing our work with the children of Los Quinchos. Our goal was to help construct as much of the kids’ show as possible for their upcoming performances the following week. We got a helping hand from Levi and Enrique, our friends from Project Nido which is a local three person circus group (Cesar being the third member) that helps sustain PWB’s work with our partner organizations between tours. Rather than writing a chronological account of our time last week, I thought I’d sum up our experience in 7 separate moments. Hope you enjoy!

Jose and Marcos Rock the Flower Sticks!

During one of our afternoon session with the kids at the Cultural Center, we took time to showcase our acts in progress. We had all of the Los Quinchos crew sit down to be amazed by their fellow circus artists in training. Amid the barita twirlers, the hat posse, the energized acrobatics piece, and a lonesome poi spinner, two boys, by the names of Jose and Marcos, entered the stage with flower sticks under their chins and the rubber hand sticks held like fiddle bows. They walked on to the stage to a maudlin violin tune, all the sorrow and grief in the world contained in their small frames. The music abruptly changed to an upbeat rock song and they bust out an absolutely rad flower stick duo act met with thunderous applause.

Enrique and the Acrobatics Challenge

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Enrique leading a warm-up

Our visiting artist, Enrique, was helping us create an acrobatics routine with a certain brand of acro known as acrobacia de callejon, where the acrobats move smoothly from one position to another in partners and allow their momentum and character to inform the sequence of moves. Talented as these kids are, they are still school kids and the room was soon filled with a cacophony of laughter, chatter, and screams as kids fell on top of each other. Enrique and the rest of us from PWB supervising did our best to facilitate order, but the young acrobats were too excited to hold still. Finally, in desperation, Enrique called for silence and walked over to the closed door. The kids sensed the seriousness of the situation as Enrique told them, in spanish, “If anyone can’t take this work seriously, they can leave. The door is right here!” He opens the door to make a point, and, not two seconds afterwards, Maria, a very kind-hearted girl, innocently oblivious of the tense atmosphere inside, came bolting into the room giggling and squealing with delight. The whole room roared with laughter.

 

Coo-coo for Coconuts

One afternoon, Andy and Jake found themselves somewhat peckish and craving a snack other than rice and beans (savory as that is). In a flash of inspiration, Andy noticed a feast in the eaves of palm trees above in the form of delicious, sunset-gold hued coconuts, ripe for the plucking. The two astute men circled the towering palm trees, mouths watering, gesturing dramatically, and scratching their heads in puzzlement. Sadly their circus powers failed them since it would take more than a simple two-high to reach these juicy wonders. The solution presented itself with a spare rebar pole laying in back of the cultural center. After convincing a friendly construction worker to hammer the end of the 20 foot pole into a crude hook, the two were on their way to a never-ending coconut bonanza. Snaking the hooked end up to the tree tops, hooking a coconut on the curved end, and pulling down sharply supplied them with a love-a-ly bunch of coconuts indeed. Every morning, afternoon, and night thereafter saw the group enjoying the rich chewy flesh of a newly cracked coconut as well as a pot of tangy coconut water. Andy has taken particular (and mildly disturbing) joy in cracking the coconuts by smashing them down violently onto the concrete pathway. The only person in the group who is unimpressed with the coconut bounty is Juniper who is allergic to all things coconut and has been quietly plotting her revenge on us all for stocking the fridge with so many.

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Coco-loco

Unicycling in an Alleyway

One of the most popular props the kids at Los Quinchos have sunk their teeth into has been unicycle. Nearly every practice session is full of kids of all ages racing to get their favorite unicycle and head down to the small pathway just outside of the cultural center. Some of the kids have been unicycling fluidly for a few years now and are quite impressive. Others are still practicing the perfect fall and will hold onto you with a death grip anytime you lend a helping hand. And others have only recently transcended this beginner’s phase of unicycling and are elated to test how much farther they can ride their unicycle each day. With all of these level mixes, we thought it would be a great idea to put together a unicycle routine for the show next week. The idea was well received with the kids, and the act came together beautifully after all was said and done, but a snap shot of our first rehearsal would have had 4 small kids holding on to a metal gate for dear life, 5 older kids rolling on their merry ways in 5 different directions, 3 girls engaged in a furious tug of war over one unlucky unicycle, and 2 PWB volunteers in the middle of it all yelling in haphazard Spanish for everyone to take it from the top. After consistent work, and no limit of patience, the kids put together a comedic and impressive routine containing character, arm and arm crossing, partner circling, and a huge line of unicyclists at the end.

Scientific Name: Juggerlous Interruptus

Friday gave us a small break from creating many circus acts as possible and gave us the opportunity to do a little more of our own performances. The plan was to perform twice that day at the school just across the street where several of Los Quinchos study when they aren’t completely absorbed in their circus work. There was only one problem though. Jake woke up that morning with a splitting head ache, horrible coughing fits, and enough mucus to decimate a forest of tissue paper. Taking health concerns quite seriously, Jake was put on bed rest for the remainder of the day. No problem for PWB! We just resorted to show plan C (plan B was devised when Rachel and Racheli were down a few months ago, with all the different combinations of people falling sick or injured, we’re up to plan H-5 now). The only thing we had to warm-up before the performance was the juggling act that features a good bit of Jake’s unholy talent. We headed out to alleyway ready for a focused and serious juggling revision. Juni was about to launch into a passing sequence with Cesar when Andy yelled “Stop! Stop juggling now!” Our whole juggling rehearsal ground to screaming halt while each of us gawked shamelessly at the largest, most intricately coloured insect we have ever seen make it’s way across the alley. Clubs were quickly forgotten, cameras were fetched from our rooms, and foot traffic was closed to the public as we marvelled at this strange new creature. 20 minutes later, we patched up what we needed to with a juggling bit and were off for two incredible performances. Jake recovered the next day, but took it easy during the weekend to be on the safe side.

Monkey Bridge of Doom!

Saturday was our day off and gave us the chance to recharge our batteries a bit and take in some of the Nicaraguan splendour. Many of the group revisited Laguna de Apollo, the fresh water lake inside the crater of an ancient volcano that we visited back in January. Andy, Rachel, and I did the same but we thought to make the 2 or 3 km hike from the mirador in Catarina down into the crater. Rachel’s foot had just healed and she wanted to test it on a relatively easy downhill hike. We found a handy, though crudely drawn map at the trail head. We saw the trail would lead us around the crater along side of the linea ferrea, through trees infested with monkeys, until we came to a rope bridge. The sides of the crater were quite steep and we imagined some rickety, Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom style bridge suspended precariously over a dizzying chasm. We crossed our fingers and started down the uncertain path. We were joined by a small street dog who adopted us as his stand-in family and guided us down through the cliffside trail. We did certainly see enough monkeys to do the map credit. Every bend of the trail brought us to another huge tree full of small furry faces staring down at us. Finally we saw the end of the bridge up ahead. Rachel stepped up first eyeing the thin, stretchy ropes that held up the wooden floor of the bridge skeptically, then looked down the entire five feet to the dirt path the bridge was hung over. As far as we could discern, the bridge served no purpose whatsoever, and was only placed there to give occasional hiker a concrete landmark on the trail. Our dog companion watch each of us cross the bridge (I mean, why not?) and then just walked underneath to the other side, obviously confused about human logic.

Farm Fire Party!

Sunday was our weekly circus jam session at the farm (la finca) where the boys of Los Quinchos live. Located about a kilometer and a half down a dirt path into the countryside, la finca has cows, chickens, lambs, dogs, mandarin and coconut trees (steady, Andy!), a garden, futbol field, and a large outdoor courtyard ideal for unicycling, juggling, and all things circus. The challenge with this is transporting our metric ton of circus toys (unicycles, staffs, clubs, balls, diabolos, flower sticks, spinning plates, and this week a box of fire equipment) out to the farm. Thankfully we were able to hijack a bicycle rickshaw, a hybrid cross between a bicycle and a giant’s shopping cart. Racheli and Jake took turns driving and riding this contraption worthy of greek mythology down the hilly, rocky path with barely functioning brakes, loaded to the brim with circus equipment, and turning many a head in the rural Nicaraguan community.

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First-class transport to work

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Circus party at the farm!

Our sessions at the farm are truly a magical sight to behold. An orange-gold late afternoon glow lights up the air as children laugh and joke with each other, throwing diabolos and flower sticks into the air and weaving through the chaos on unicycles. Juniper and Jake organized club juggling patterns with some of the older kids, Aileen gave pointers on staff, and Racheli offered gentle words of encouragement to the new children who are visiting from Managua. Andy busied himself coaching unicycle and playing air guitar to his own playlist while Rachel acted as hoop mistress. I, for my part, oversaw acro and tumbling tricks over the grass which eventually turned into a big game of climb-on-Alex. This week I had a spry girl standing on my shoulders while hula-hooping. As the afternoon winds on, Cesar organized a game of futbol out on the field while we start getting equipment ready for a fire show. There are no outdoor lights around the farm so the fire performance blazed spectacularly around the concrete courtyard. Rachel had a first when she hula-hooped a fire hoop and glow hoop all at once. The kids were enthralled and we even got one of the older boys, Kevin, who had fire training from tours past, come up and spin some staff for everyone. We were able to cram all of our equipment (including the bicycle-rickshaw) onto a pickup truck for the ride back in the dark. It was a fitting end to our penultimate week at Los Quinchos and left us ready for what was to come.


You say Kolkata, I say Calcutta

March 23, 2016

The PUUBEE aliens from the outer space circus discover the games in Calcutta!

DSC_3356Etta ki? (What is it?)

Smell the fool (flower)

Garam Aloo (hot potato)

Frogger in the traffic

Look at me! Don’t look at me!

Hula hoops everywhere

Slow motion walking

staring contest from taxis

joker kahaan hay? (where is the joker?)

YES, NO game

Namoskar from Calcutta, India! This is the land of Kali ma. Kali is the goddess of destruction and rebirth, representing cycles of time and our infinite potential. She is known to have a garland of severed heads around her neck representing removing the ego, and she stares at you with fierce eyes and her long tongue waves out of her mouth. There are numerous Kali temples on every corner of this big city and she has been watching the PWB team as we pass by on our way to teach workshops and perform shows all over the city!

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So what is it like here in this developing huge Indian city? The PWB team has a comfy home located in the Tollygunge neighborhood, close to the main Kalighat temple. Because it is approaching summer, the heat is getting pretty intense in this tropical metropolis. The humidity is pretty thick by 8:30am and its tricky to navigate around in the midday heat. The centres where we teach workshops are accessible by metro or bus or taxi or tukk tukk, or walking. Commuting takes up a lot of time so we really have to plan for it. Team mum, Magnus is very familiar with how Calcutta works and he helps us get taxis and plan our route to our work with the children.

The children we teach are mostly associated with the Hope Foundation, an Irish NGO that PWB has partnered with for several years now. We have offered many circus classes to children at the Nabedeeshas, police center drop in classrooms for street children. Of course they love it! Many children get the hang of plate spinning and diabolo very quickly, they enjoy juggling and balancing as well…. and most of all, Joker Dance with Hot Potato (or garam aloo).

Our schedule has been packed with shows the last week.


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First, we returned to the Be Kind Boys home that is run by the Hope Foundation and it was a beautiful show into the sunset and then a fire show! Sara and I started working out a doubles fire juggling routine and we tried it out that night, finishing with some solid fire club passing!

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Second we revisited the Chetla Slum community for a spectacular street show that was very well attended. In grand circus parade we gathered the community to come and watch the show. Its very probable that not many people had any idea this was going to be happening that day. Shouniez suggested, “Just imagine what it would be like to all of a sudden see a circus coming right to your home, and set up an incredible spectacle with even a fire show, and then just disappear, and everything goes back to normal!” We are proper space aliens indeed! Abducting the public with laughter! HA HA!!!

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I love thinking that the magic of this happening in the world, on Earth, is alive and well!

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Our third show this week was for a new partner organization called Peaceworks and the Seagull Foundation. We arrived at a girls home just as the clouds were rolling in, and started our show and it got darker and darker. Then at the end of the hula hoop act… BAM! lightning and pouring rain! What!? We scrambled to get everything picked up and went inside to an indoor space. The show must go on, and we finished sweating buckets, and even concluded with the finale of Shaheen and Shouniez in a two high, and a 5 person club passing star pattern around them (with 8 foot ceilings)!!! It’s possible! They were very sweet girls and we had a big Macarena dance party at the end led by Bea.

 

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Early the next morning was a special occasion, most of the team attended a general mime class at the Jogesh Dutta Mime Academy in Kalighat. Words, literally, cannot describe this experience, and I am honoured to have studied even just a little with the Famous Mime Guru Jogesh. He has spent a lifetime performing and teaching mime and associating with other famous mimes like Marcel Marceau. One may not realise how physical mime is, and after 4 hours of intense exercise, strength training, yoga, pranayama, deep breathing, face stretches, and repetitive picking up and moving an invisible glass, we were exhausted and sore the next day! Serious miming. Im very certain that this will become more and more a part of our personal performing styles, and that we can enhance our teaching techniques with language barriers using some proper miming.

Our fourth show last week, was a local show in our neighbourhood at the Atlanta Club. We were so happy to have a free show for our neighbours who have seen us transform day by day as we go in our house as humans and come out again all painted up as circus space aliens. This was a night show under the lights, and there was a very impressive audience. Some boys from the Asirbad Boys Home nearby also attended and were so happy to see us perform for them. After the fire show we were gifted a BUCKET of Bengali Sweets. Imagine little white sponges soaking in sugar water… apparently this is a well loved Bengali tradition.

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Our fifth show was for a new outreach organization called Cossipore Institution for Boys. Over 120 boys who live and attend school in the same big building, they hardly get out for any activities, so having a day of workshops and another day of a show for them was a real treat. They were extremely well behaved and eager to share with each other actually. The whole PWB group is very hopeful that we can teach these boys again in the future.

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Cossipore Boys

One amazing gift that came our way was some beautiful professional photographs and videos by our friends Pablo and Shreya. They captured some really amazing moments in the last week. Thank you so much! We are so grateful for your gift of beautiful images!

AND….. now PWB India volunteers have a week off, where we will go our separate ways to find personal adventures, rest and recuperation, new Indian Visas, some natural beauty in the mountains, a short revisit to Varanasi… and then we will reunite in one week in…

DARJEELING!

Here we come…. Intergalactic Planetary… Planetary Intergalactic!

With Love from India,

Mika Lulu

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San Marcos week 2: A Rhyme for YOU!

March 20, 2016

 

Second week in San Marcos and the mornings are a go!

Boys are baking bread; girls have projects to sew
Despite their busy day, Los Quinchos always come around
In time to work their circus skills and find their inner clown
And so we focus on their theatre skills in preparation for their show….
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Los Gemelos (the twins) playing with mirroring

Contact staves, hats, and flower stix constantly flying through the air
In open box sessions with loads of props that the children have to share
But it’s the first of March – only a month left for this tour!
Only a slice of time exists to leave them with more than they knew before
And empower these future adults to create art and movement that is solely their’s.
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Props a’ flying

Los Quinchos love their dance battles – for a moment, all distractions disappear
And in class they build sequences guided by music they’re encouraged to feel
It’s not all picture worthy smiles and focus; adolescence comes with the requisite drama
And we’re reminded at times that these wonderful kids come from an unfathomable amount of trauma
So we encourage the practice and hope these lessons of circus unlock the doors to help them deal.
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The Quinchos dancing up a storm!

 

THE WORK DOESN’T STOP THERE!
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Riding that last wind to perform for the Casa Filtro kids

 

Our volunteer team of eight

Rise early to Thursday rain,
And though one has flu-pain,
another’s foot sprained
and a third has a case of the runs,
We hop a truck for Managua, load up on agua
And perform our show to some schools for fun.
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Jacob wowing the crowd at Santa Rosa School in Managua

Given fruit salad, chicharron tacos & sweat from the heat of the city
We entertain at one school’s “Dia Internacional Sindrome Down*” to celebrate diversity
Friday morning our crew took a Children’s Hospital visit (I had to miss it-that flu pain refused to let me off the hook)
And the vibe couldn’t have varied more than what the afternoon had in store – squealing kids requesting signatures in their notebooks!
The last venture of the day brought us to the Casa Filtro’s* lay – an impromptu show performed by a crew rather tired, hot, & dirty.
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Día Internacional Sindrome Down celebrations with the PWB Circus

Some of us part ways for our short break – my body aches still refusing to vanish
And I couldn’t decipher if I was worse or slightly better, bedridden watching “The Karate Kid” in Spanish
On Sunday we reunite forces to continue the courses of our epic Session o’ Circus
Onward and upward with practice: Hoop! Unicycle and Acting! Liberated with a sense of purpose.
Ready to take on these little phenomenons & turn their hardship into their advantage.
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Alex flooded with autograph requests post-show!

 Día Internacional Sindrome Down: International Down Syndrome Awareness Day
Casa Filtro:  The Filter House, where the kids are placed after being rescued from the streets, and where they are fed, cleaned, rehabbed/receive treatment for months before heading to the Los Quinchos farm.
-Aileen

Beeeeeg city lights – Calcutta

March 18, 2016

Our project in Varanasi ended on such a high. Our circus babies (students) put on a spectacular show and we were extremely proud circus parents. The team had worked very hard. We were all energetically charged!!!

Basking in the afterglow, we packed with mixed feelings, ready to take on Calcutta. Our taxi arrived 45 minutes early! FORTY FIVE MINUTES EARLY IN INDIA!!! This should’ve been the first sign from the universe that we were in for some comedic adventures and challenges. We arrived at the train station effortlessly, despite the crazy traffic. We found our platform, carried all our gear and waited. Our train arrived exactly on time. EXACTLY ON TIME!!! The train stopped, and the door to our carriage stopped directly in front of us! WOW!!! Could it be more perfect? We all boarded the train to find our seats right next to the doors and completely empty where we could put down all our bags to prepare for the journey. Smooth as silk. The train pulled away (on time again), heading for Calcutta. After checking with a local, we discovered to our surprise, we were on the wrong train. It was all too perfect. After a completely smooth departure from Varanasi, we awoke, from this all too perfect dream, where everything runs on time and everything runs effortlessly. It was a beautiful dream and a wonderful moment where the team looked at each other and laughed, not the slightest bit of panic, fear or any emotion. “Oh well! We’re in the s@!*. We needed to get out, and we would. I couldn’t think of anyone else that I’d rather be in the s@*! with”

Mika Ji, like the true leader she is, lead and we all flocked. We got off at the next stop. Mika and Mango went to find out if we could still get on our original train. We could and it was on its way, but it was running late. AAAAAAH! This was more like it 🙂
We double checked, tripled checked, we kept looking at the LED signs for our train number and listening to every crackled announcement carefully to make sure we were on the correct platform to board the correct train. Five minutes before our train arrived, they changed the platform number and we had to run, with all our bags and gear, up and down stairs to make our train. We made it onto our train (again) and of course, we had some seating complications, but we quickly sorted in out and headed for Calcutta, now running 3 hours late.

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Calcutta, we’re coming for you!!!

Arriving in Calcutta, we were picked up by the Hope Foundation, our main Partner that we would be working with. On route to our accommodation, I was amazed how big and “city like” Calcutta was. After living in Varanasi for a month, Calcutta was the polar opposite: Bright lights, billboards, highways, big buildings, and “fancy” apartment blocks. No cows stopping the traffic, in fact, no cows at all. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but my brain and senses was still processing our new environment.
We arrived at our apartment. It was amazing and spacious! We had a fridge, a communal lounge and the most awesome rooftop where we could train and hangout.

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After 2 days rest, we began our work with the Hope Foundation at their numerous boys and girls homes and Nabadisha centers. Nabadisha means “new direction”. Our first stop was at the Tollygunge Nabadisha, a centre that was setup by the Hope Foundation and the Tollygunge police. Street children or children in need of care can be checked in and looked after. They provide care and activities from morning to evening. The purpose of this centre is also to build and foster better relationships between the police and the street children, instead of seeing the police as “the enemy”. Our other outreach work has been at various girls and boys homes, including Kasba and Asar Alo Girls Homes, Asirbad and Be Kind Boys homes and the Chetla slum community . At the boys and girls homes, children have been rescued from the street, sex trade syndicates, drugs and abusive/violent domestic life. My first week in Calcutta I was feeling torn between my own thoughts and emotions. “Can we do more? How can we make more of a difference?” There is so much outreach work to be done here. The city is so big and vast, which also made me feel like I was spending more time just travelling to our outreach centers, but that is the nature of this “City Beast”. However, Calcutta did have her own unique charm.

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Clowns in Calcutta

My feelings were quickly put at rest when we started working with the children. One of my many realizations on this trip, is that we are doing amazing work! Whether it be four hours or one. When we’re with the children, we as teachers learn so much. It forces us to be completely present and live in the moment. We’re not thinking about anything else. We are 100% committed to the present and the service of the children. We are forced to be our best selves, role models and catalysts for change. This is truly a priceless gift to receive.

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Finding the balance in life…

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All the children we have taught have been incredible. They have the biggest smiles. They absolutely love the clowning games. They are all such natural clowns. The girls and boys homes set up by the Hope Foundation are beautiful. Its clean, colourful and filled with so much love.
I had a particularly heart warming moment that will live with me for a long time. At the Kasba Girls home, the girls are FULL POWER and high energy! We’ve always left there buzzing off their beautiful energy. I was teaching acro and tumbling. We were doing log rolls. There was a girl with a prosthetic leg who waited in line for her turn and when we she got to the mat, she ran away. Some of the kids in the line said: “Uncle, she cant, she has a problem”. I asked them “What problem?”, brushing off what they had said about her. I called her and told her to come back and try. With the biggest smile on her face, she laid down on the mat and I helped her roll. Seconds later, she took off her prosthetic leg and was tumbling with the rest of the class.

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Kasba Girls Home

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Asirbad Boys Home

Whether it be performing or teaching, we are breaking down barriers and borders, allowing both the children and us to forget about their circumstances. We get to live in the moment, play, and the children get to be “just children”. Witnessing those genuine, larger than life smiles, makes me realise how amazing it is to be part of the positive impact myself, circus and performance art and the PWB team has made…bringing so much love, joy and light where darkness once resided. I am reminded to honour ourselves; the work we do and know that what we are doing is making a difference and we are enough.

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Love is our force, circus is our medium, change is our mission.

BOOM!

Shaheen


Last Moments in the Light of Varanasi

March 13, 2016

Varanasi has a certain energy that is difficult to describe…

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It feels otherworldly like a city built on another planet, in another time, under a different atmosphere. The enormity of the Ghat steps goes unnoticed when framing the monolithic buildings overlooking the Ganges River. The narrow passageways of “The Maze” (a densely populated area by Main Ghat) welcome you with cool shade from the hot afternoon, but are winding enough to completely disorient you. You find yourself cutoff by cows every day and barking dogs at night, but the city feels very safe and welcoming. Most of the city is beige; either from the color of stone and cement covered in dust, the dust on the ground, the dust in the air, or the dust on the people. The air smells of dust and smoke from burning plastic as well as freshly baked goods, complex incense, and brewing chai; in other words completely rancid and absolutely exquisite all at the same time. The sounds of honking horns, rickshaw bells, puja drums, barking dogs, and amplified prayers in Hindi follow you to all but the most remote corners of the city. It is a place of magic. It is a place of wonder. It is a place of bafflement.

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Our group of absurdly fantastic volunteers consists of the perfect combination to support, protect, and encourage us all to be as explorative and outgoing as possible. We mingle with the locals, clown for the backpackers, play games with the street children, chat with the NGOs, and try absolutely ALL the food. I find it hard to imagine what this city must be like to people who just come for tourism because we have such a vastly different connection with it. Our group dynamic is absolutely crucial in allowing us to experience Varanasi in the way we have while making so many deep connections with the people of the city. For this I am eternally grateful.

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We had our last show in Varanasi on March 2nd. To be clear, it wasn’t us as PWB volunteers performing, but our pupils from Asha Deep who were taking the stage. It was their Spring Extravaganza Showcase featuring acts from all the classes with our circus acts mixed in. Honestly I can’t think of any recent shows where I’ve been so anxious! Between us we invested hundreds of hours working with these kids and they really had some super duper skills to share!

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The stage was set right in the middle of the main plaza on Assi Ghat. Our guesthouse was located a few blocks away and by this point in our trip Assi Ghat had securely positioned itself as my favorite spot in all of Varanasi. Asha Deep had been negotiating the possibility of hosting their show on Assi Ghat for months and it was a huge honor to be given the permission. Hundreds of red plastic chairs were lined in rows facing the raised stage before noon and word started to spread that something special was happening that evening.

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Around 3:00pm the kids had started to gather with many on their way and the PWB crew was in full preparation mode. Face paints and colorful fabric was flying everywhere. Bags of props were being lined up and sorted. Sound technicians were checking wires and testing microphones.

Mango and I led a small group of students in an improvised circus pre-show (well, Mango did most of the supervising while I positioned several cameras mounted on the stage). We were running slightly behind schedule, but that was ok because the crowd was continually growing by this point. We got the signal that the show was ready to start, ended our pre-show, and gathered back stage. With the pull of a lever and a swing of red curtain the show began.

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The show lasted several hours and was filled with songs, dances, skits, jokes, and of course circus skills. There were 19 acts in total and we were leading seven of them including clowning, fan spinning, hooping, poi spinning, juggling, staff spinning and a fire finale. We bought sheets of bulk fabric that we cut into bandanas and other accessories to give the acts a group look, then we watched as our baby birds took their first steps out of the nest to fly.

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It was beautiful.

The acts were superb! Our intention was to provide technical training for these kids while still keeping them engaged in a sense of play and fostering their curiosity for personal expression. Our show demonstrated that and more. We were very inclusive and designed the acts with a variety of skill levels incorporated. We also had several finale fire acts that were meticulously choreographed and displayed skills at a professional level. It all went down without a single mishap… well maybe one mishap.

About halfway through the show a giant bull trotted up towards the stage along the left side of the crowd and by the time it was within 30 feet it decided to clear a path for a better view. Suddenly screams came from the crowd as people dashed out of the way. Plastic chairs were scattered haphazardly as the bull charged through the audience, into the side staging area, around one of the speakers, into the back dressing room, then back out again and off into the night.

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Not “The Bull” – Just for SIZE reference

Luckily no one was injured and the stage was left intact. Not even one sound cable was unplugged which was very impressive considering the tangle of cords the bull ran over. This all happened during the changing of two acts and was over within 25 seconds, so most of the crowd didn’t even notice. The PWB team looked at the show organizers, then at each other, and it was quickly and silently decided that the show must go on!

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The closing act of the Asha Deep show included fire hoops and contact staffs. The crowd cheered wildly as the boys formed their acrobatic pyramids while spinning fire. The staffs lit the kid’s faces with a beautiful glow and I will always remember the excitement emanating from their eyes in front of all those people.

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Our last two days in the City of Light consisted of saying goodbye to numerous friends and counting all the props at the schools while incorporating what we were donating. I woke up early on March 4th, the day we were to board our train for Kolkata, and I wondered around the Ghats and surrounding areas by myself. I watched the sun rise over Assi Ghat to the sound of hundreds of people participating in laughter yoga. I tried to absorb everything around me: the smells, the sounds, the colors, and all my sensations. Varanasi holds a very special place in my heart and although I was sad to leave, I know I will return soon.

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~Spades


Beyond Today

March 10, 2016

 

A fictional poem based on true facts from the lives of some in the Kaptembwa neighbourhood and Gabriel Learning Centre and Orphanage, Nakuru, Kenya. 

 

 

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Baby

Blow a kiss

To the smallest child

A ray of Hope

Pass her to adopting hands

Like a flame lights a candle

Never diminishes

 

Girl 

Brilliant, open hearted, mrembo (beautiful)

7

Unprepared

She enters school, bewildered

Bullied for her long legs and big feet

Her flip flops, one bit broken, repaired, broken, repaired

Mother, Father and classmate beat her on the back of the head

With a leather shoe

 

Teenager

Clever, direct, survivor

11

Abandons one school

 

Moves into another school, then out the house, to the street, to a new school

To be worth something to herself

To respect her own skin

Sometimes at the top of the class

Sometimes at the heel

 

Young Mother

Proper, regal, mud hut

20

Sings Hope into the braids of her three daughter’s hair

Sleeping baby on her lap

Young to divorce

Shines in the refuse

 

Older Mother

Searching, strong, stressed

26

Ask the Mother of seven, “Can you see beyond today?”

Abusive boyfriends pass like seeds in the wind

Lucky with 350 Shillings a week ($3.50), no chakulla (food)

Mother’s Hopes for 1 kg of flour on her table, water, electricity

Must offer her eldest to older men on the streets

50 shillings per shot

 

Baba (Grandmother) 

White black hair, light heavy face, open hearted bosom

Old for her years

During the peak of her wealth she is abundant in family, tradition and time

Once she wove late night stories into the mornings of her long short days

During gatherings of company, she treated people more important than food or wealth

Once her classic firm slow handshakes

Wore wrinkles into her fingers as rivers wear into the rocks
Watched the introduction of HIV, English colonialism and steel

Asphalt, telephone and street child,

Saw the birth of a Christian God

Still relies on her neighbours and family for

Health

Now must trade big Bobs, big money, for clear water
And she still believes in you

Has time for you

Smiles for you

Child

Survivor

And she always will

 

The Earth as Mother

Patient, wise, empty

The eldest child

1,000 black birds cross the East African sky

As she drinks cups of late night milky mountain mists

She still lives in the volcanic rocks of Menangai crater

She still flows out from her own hills

Bleeds into her own ocean

 

The womb of the sky rises to meet her

Upside down

This blue burnt bonanza of uncontrolled mystery is rewritten

 

A Traveller 

Giving, optimistic, bewildered

29

“How are you?” sing the children as she walks the slum’s dirt roads

Smiles

Teaching youth, she wears her mothers used trainers

Contemplating the ladder

Of the Ivory tower

 

Lillian Myers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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