A Beautiful Opportuni-Tea

April 20, 2016

The Performers Without Borders’ India Team is on their FOURTH MONTH touring and have headed NORTH to Darjeeling!

The team includes Mika (the tour leader, USA), Shaheen and Shouniez (South Africa), Bea (Spain), Mango (England), Sara (USA), and myself Spades (USA).

Kolkata was a bustling city that left us both inspired and exhausted, so it was a nice recharge having two weeks off directly after. Mango and Bea went back to Varanasi with our new resident photographer Shreya Goswami from Kolkata, India. Shaheen and Shouniez planned a trip to Nepal to renew their visa and I tagged along for the adventure. Mika and Sara headed to Darjeeling ahead of the rest of the crew to settle in for some shanti relaxation. We all accomplished our goals and reunited in the beautiful Himalayan city of Darjeeling on April 5th, 2016. As an added bonus we were joined by Manish, one of PWB’s long-term students turned teachers from Asha Deep School in Varanasi. This is his third PWB tour of Darjeeling and he has been a phenomenal contribution! Darjeeling is the last stop on our India Tour and the final PWB project for 2016. We were all very excited to get straight to working with the kids, but first we needed to sort out a few logistics.

Manish Arrival

Photo by Shreya Goswami

Our main partner organization in Darjeeling is Edith Wilkins Street Children Foundation (EWSCF) and their volunteer organizer Namrata has helped us immensely. The foundation has a volunteer house with two very nice rooms and a great kitchen, but it wasn’t large enough for the entire team so Mika worked diligently with Namrata to source out a second home close by. Luckily they were able to find a beautiful large house for rent just down the street, but it hadn’t been lived in for over a year and was in need of some serious TLC. Once the team had assembled we all drew names out of a hat to see who was living in which house, then went to work turning the spaces into our homes. Mika, Mango, Shaheen, and Shouniez were picked to live in the EWSCF house and Sara, Bea, Manish, Shreya, and myself were chosen to live together in the large and drafty new house. It wasn’t long before our house was named “The Castle” because of its beautiful rounded front door, drafty corridors, and walls made of grey cement blocks. That quickly turned to “The Cloud Castle” due to the constant overcast skies and then to “The Clown Cloud Castle” for obvious reasons.

We immediately went to work with the EWSCF kids and quickly realized how different this project would be from our other locations in India. The children were extremely excited with smiles from ear to ear, but they lacked the usual chaotic energy we had become accustom to. Life in the Himalayans is much more shanti than that of the major cities and it is very apparent in everyone’s demeanor. This was a very pleasant surprise for us because we were able to direct our workshops much more efficiently and have more time to connect with each student without every other child around screaming for attention. Because Darjeeling has been the last stop on the India Tour for several years, Edith Wilkins has accumulated a very large collection of circus props. This was also wonderful news because for the first time we had ample equipment to teach with, instead of requiring the normal patience from the children as they waited their turn.

EWSCF sign

Photo by Shreya Goswami



Photo by Spades

The EWSCF facility consists of two large buildings overlooking the steep hills of Darjeeling with a playground in between.  It is a beautiful view and a pleasure to teach and perform at.  The kids range in age from 5 to 19 and are incredibly attentive and talented.  The staff is incredibly loving and very grateful for our presence, so we have found ourselves going to hang out with them even on our days off in our free time.  All of the children come from troubled backgrounds, but you would never guess with how positive they all are!


Photo by Spades

Mika Spades hat pants

Photo by Shreya Goswami




Photo by Spades

Time has flown by while living amongst the clouds. Darjeeling is a beautiful city with a rich cultural influence from Nepal. The small businesses, guesthouses, markets, and restaurants are seated on steep hillsides that roll into the distance. The views are spectacular, although they are always shrouded in clouds. It makes the entire area feel mystical and the landscape seems to be ever changing. It gets very cold at night, but most days the temperature is comfortable and very similar to my hometown of Portland, Oregon. Stray dogs roam the streets like all of India, but the dogs here are almost all healthy with thick furry coats and the cutest faces.

Darj walk

Photo by Shreya Goswami

The trees are tall, green, and filled with rainbow prayer flags. The buildings are very old with culture emanating from them. The markets are winding narrow pathways connected by steep stairs with the most amazing shawls, scarfs, socks, leggings, jackets, and Nepali handcrafts. The street food is delicious and there is a huge variety of vegetarian and meat options. The entire town funnels into a huge main area called Chowrasta Square that hosts lots of shops, tourists, and a beautiful stage with marble steps that is perfect to people-watch or busking.  In short, I’ve fallen deeply in love with the area.

Darjeeling City

Photo by Shreya Goswami

We have also had several outreach workshops and performances in Darjeeling and the surrounding towns amongst the tea farms.  One of our favorite shows of the entire tour was for school kids who come to a large gymnasium in Darjeeling called Hayden Hall to do their homework after school.  Most of the students are children of porters who transport unbelievably heavy things up and down the hills using straps on their head.  They use the gym to do their homework because their homes are too crowded or lack electricity and proper lighting.  They were also one of our rowdiest audiences to date.


Photo by Spades

Hayden Hall Spades Hat

Photo by Shreya Goswami

Hayden Hall Kids 2

Photo by Shreya Goswami

As I mentioned above, Shreya Goswami has joined us from Kolkata to photograph our lives on tour. She is a fiery Bengali woman who has already made her mark in the world of professional photography with her photos of classic cars for “Auto India” magazine. Luckily for us she has a passion for street photography and was so impressed with our shows in Kolkata that she wanted to follow us on tour. Her photographs are stunning and have been a beautiful gift to us all.


Photo by Spades – Shreya photographing the city

Manish is a 20-year-old Varanasi local. He has trained with PWB for the last seven years on their Varanasi projects and spearheaded flow-jams and workshops in the 11 months we aren’t there. For the last three years he has joined the PWB team on tour as a performer, translator, and instructor. His quiet personality and constant smile is a blessing to have around and his astute observations and contributions are extremely helpful. We have been sharing a room and I couldn’t ask for a better housemate. We love juggling up and down market streets while looking for local foods and enjoying the beautiful architecture of the city. It is almost frustrating how quickly he picks up tricks from us… It took him less than a day to learn fishtails with my contact sword and in the last 6 hours he has started playing with hat tricks. To my amazement he has not only managed to catch every trick I know, but he has also innovated several rolls, tosses, and spins I’ve never thought of. Manish has taught me immensely about India and I am extremely grateful for his presence as a team member and part of our family.


Photo by Shreya Goswami

It has been EXACTLY 100 DAYS since we first met and I can truly call every single person on this team a member of my family for life. We have laughed, we have cried, and have danced the Macarena. We only have 11 official days left in our tour and I can’t imagine life without these goofy characters… but I know this is FAR from over.


Photo by Shreya Goswami

Spades Hat small

Photo by Shreya Goswami


Team Nicaragua: Kittens, Collaborations, and Goodbyes

April 8, 2016

It’s our last week.  Our 13th week.

We have had a great week in Granada, once again staying at La Escuela de Comedia y Mimo and doing workshops with local children in the morning and collaborating with La Escuela’s artists for shows in the afternoons.  And, in between, preparing ourselves for the Big Wide World that lies beyond PWB Nica ‘16!

Each morning, Rafa and Lester (of La Escuela) go to local barrios and bring back around 18 children for workshops with the PWB team and anyone else at the school who wants to join in and help out.  The usual fun and games ensue.  Silly and serious warm-ups, excitable games tinged with meaningful objectives to do with coordination, team work, getting to know each other, sharing, support, language …  The list goes on.  And, of course, we spend a healthy chunk of time playing with the different props.  Three months in and we are still discovering new ways of learning and engaging.  The project might be finishing but there is no end to the magic of sharing and playing.  

The time in Granada, over the 4 years that PWB has been coming here, has proven to be a productive space for working with other artists, as a way of contributing to this creative community in Nicaragua, and also of offering the PWB volunteers a chance to play, create, and share with other adult artists.  The people we get to hang out with here, at the moment, include La Escuela crew of Nicaraguan artists, a Swiss born but world travelled clown from Clowns Without Borders, and a trio of Canadian volunteers from Quebec based NGO, L’amie.  


Juggling and trombone with PWB, CWB, El Nido, and La Escuela!

The Nicaraguan lot specialize in prop-based circus as well as acrobatics and theatre. Working with them has included the creation of huge group acro and juggling pieces – mega fun!  Our new Clowns Without Borders friend, Jan, is a physical comedy king and master of loop pedal madness.  Presenting shows with Jan and his suitcase full of noise, attentive to every move, has been a pleasure for all involved.  The Canadians on board are on a 6 month project at the school and each bring different skills, including set design, project management, and communications.  However, last night they were painting our faces like skeletons for a show, after spending days making costumes!  

Working with other international volunteers has been a great experience.  It’s really nice to see other people ‘like us’ who are giving time to creative development in this way.  It’s also kind of relieving to share what can sometimes be frustrations but also thoughts on, and techniques for, dealing with the often very different way of ‘doing things’ here in Nicaragua, in comparison to, for example, Canada, Switzerland, or the UK.  And I’m not referring to how, in Nicaragua, they seem to keep vehicles going forever, or pick up snakes or poisonous frogs in their bare hands, or manoeuvre boats through rapids, or buses/trucks through gaps seemingly smaller than the vehicle, or even self-build houses out of plastic bottles!  Or, on top of all of that and more, remain happy, positive, and relaxed, often in the face of adversity.  Nope, not talking about any of that.  Only, simply, the almost complete lack of compatibility with our expectations of organisation, rehearsals, and general show/workshop prep.  Finding a balance between accepting these as unchangeable differences in the way things are done, and actively trying to be the voice of motivation/productivity, has been an ongoing lesson on this tour (and the others I have done) and a challenge that everyone rose to and handled with understanding and sensitivity from both sides.


Collaboration-station acro-madness!

The show that we ‘assembled’ with our Nicaraguan and Swiss friends, to perform in schools, was a collage of our acts, their acts, and quickly created collaborations.  With 14 performers all having their moment, and sharing many, the show was easily 45 minutes or longer, and with children sitting in the sun and dirt, we sometimes had to cut sections out to reach the end!  It was a lovely end to the performance side of the project, to be back in schools in our last week and sharing the stage with friends we have made over the last 3 months.

Other performance opportunities we had during the week included an evening of entertainment in a restaurant with the guys from La Escuela, and some fire shows on Granada’s busy Calzada.  These were considered outside of the project and optional for the team, being evening affairs for tourists, but nonetheless were a good experience for those involved to play more with our friends before saying goodbye.

As always, far more happens in a week than this virtual page has room for but as I always try to include as much as possible, I’ll quickly write about a couple of things I’ve chosen not to write about:  

Rescuing kittens from the street should probably be left to Vets Without Borders but it’s hard to walk by without doing anything, so naturally we took them ‘home’ and La Escuela have kindly offered to look after them.  Also, I’m not sure who you call when a wild bee nest needs dealing with, but here, when they are dangerous African Killer Bees, you apparently call the fire brigade who will put on their suits, deploy ladders and hoses, and remove said bees in a way I didn’t stick around to see!  


If you get stung, you go to hospital.

Another element to our last week that I will not write at length about but feels impossible not to include in this blog, was the absence of our friend and tour coordinator, Aileen, who, after quietly and bravely coping, for the duration of the project, with the ‘any-day-now’ possibility of her father’s passing, travelled back to the US for his funeral and to spend time with her family.  She returned to say goodbye and finish her role as tour coordinator.  Well done, Aileen, you with your courage, commitment, and calm, are at least partly responsible for another beautiful and successful PWB Nicaragua tour.  Thank you.

Our final Saturday together involved a group adventure to La Laguna de Apoyo, near Granada, where PWB teams have fallen in love, found themselves, lost themselves, and got ridiculously sunburnt since PWB Nica began.  We passed the day doing water-acro, beach games, and getting thoroughly and joyfully exhausted together for the last time. On Sunday the time came for goodbyes.  We shared our appreciation for each other, we did inappropriate touching, we cried a little, we told each other ‘I love you’ and we said Hasta La Proxima.  

Thank you, PWB.



Jacob x