We made it to the mountain ciTea of Darjeeling!

April 24, 2017

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           After saying goodbye to modern Kolkata, the team boards a train heading towards lush and mysterious Darjeeling.  Our train deposits us in Siliguri, where we smuuuush nine clowns plus a full circus’ worth of equipment into one jeep.  And up and up and up the mountainside we go — towards Darjeeling, a trip that takes about four hours.  Four hours pass by quickly, despite our being squished and squashed, because one cannot stop oneself from marvelling, mouth agape, at the magnificent views!!! Darjeeling sits, wild and green, just beside Khangchendzonga, the tallest peak in India and the third highest peak in the world.  Gazing up at Khangchendzonga sends the message home; we have arrived in The Himalayas! Glorious! 

            This isn’t anything like the other places we have visited.  Gone are the endlessly noisy and dusty roads filled with cows, people, bikes, and cars.  Instead the roads are neatly paved and different types of trees line the roadside.  The roads explore the landscape in sleek ribbons that even give my San Franciscan upbringing cause to wonder.  Darjeeling was named after the famous Dorje Ling monastery sacred to both Buddhist and Hindus.  The local streets loop back on themselves to snake through steep land and everyone walks everywhere in spite of the extreme slopes. For the first time in 4 months, I feel …….cold? The feeling is almost unfamiliar at this point, but the group welcomes it like an old friend and we all bundle into our socks, hats and jackets, most of which are being aired out for the first time since our arrival in January. The dogs here have longer thicker fur than any I’ve seen in india so far and it must be to battle the cold, and everyone wears colourful sweaters and thick scarves.   The Tibetan influence can be seen here in the architecture, the temples, the food, and the thousands (not an exaggeration) of Tibetan prayer flags that hang everywhere.  Even more impressive is the way the flags survive the storms! Within the first couple of days we are welcomed to Darjeeling by one of the many famous thunderstorms.  Thunderstorms here take themselves very serious and include (for free);  the electricity in our home coming in and out (mostly out), the water in our tap following suit, the rain drumming on our thin tin roof , the powerful wind blowing our front door open, the deafening thunder (louder Johny’s nighttime sneezes ) and the lightening! Oh, the most wonderful performance of lightening, with the fingers of light reaching every which way, up and down and most amazingly, sideways, lighting up the entire sky and gifting a half second glimmer of the mountain ranges across the valley.  These storms are to become regular and beloved pastimes to us during our stay here.  

         Another amazing thing to share is that we will be having a student called Rinki, whom we worked with during our month in Varanasi, come to teach with us for the last three weeks in Darjeeling.  She is an exemplary student, a leader in her community, and a great fan spinner.  She has shown herself to be responsible and trustworthy, and she will be the first female student to become a junior volunteer for PWB, setting the precedent for many students to come.  We are so excited to collaborate with her, as this deepens the work we can do here with PWB, and is a huge opportunity for her to grow and experience teaching and performing with PWB.  We are honoured to be joined by such a thoughtful and kind student, and I know we will be able to make magic happen with Rinki as a new addition to the team.  I will be going to Varanasi to travel with her here on the train, and we will all resume ( as a team of ten!) teaching and performing together until the end of our tour.  

           As we settled into our new accommodations (2 houses, 5 people each house) we began to prepare for our first week of teaching.  We will be working with two main organisations; Edith Wilkins School for Street Children, and the Salvation Army School for the Deaf and Dumb. We also will work a bit with an organisation called Hayden Hall.  We will work with some of these children at least 5 days a week— this is a real opportunity to relay an array of skills and form deep connections.  This leg of our journey will emulate our time in Varanasi because we have more time to spend with the same group of kids over the course of one month.  This allows for a real relationship to be made between teachers and students.  At the end of the month we will be helping the kids at both organisations put together a show for their community.   The kids here have a true sense of mindfulness, their prop closets are kept in pristine condition and they seem to have a true reverence for the work.  We spent the first week evaluating skills and seeing what the kids had in mind for what they wanted to learn during our time here.  So many enthusiastic students!  Many of them have already established skills in juggling, hoops, spinning plates, and poi.  We hope to introduce fans, rope dart and staff to them as well.  So we have a lot of work to do! I am really looking forward to empowering the children to perform and share their passions with the community here and I cannot wait to see the beautiful art we will make together.

Looking forward with a cup of Darjeeling tea in hand,

Ling Ling 

20/4/2017

PWB INDIA 2017

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New PartnerShips Set Sail

April 17, 2017

The winds of growth blow in our direction this week as our fantastic team of 9 volunteers divide and conquer throughout the sprawling neighborhoods of Kolkata. In addition to working with our long-term partner Hope Foundation, the team spent this week laying a strong foundation with new schools and shelters.

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One of the schools reaches a large group of 4-10 year olds in the red-light district of Kolkata. These young children have mothers who are sex-workers and are provided with free education by a local NGO. On our first day with these boys and girls the children were naturally a bit shy but opened up with laughter and smiles half way into the morning. These young children were enthusiastic about hula-hoop, clowning, toroflux, table-top acrobatics, hula hoop, juggling, poi, oh yeah and did I say hula-hoop?!?! The team developed their knowledge and skill of creating lesson plans that are developmentally appropriate for young children. A helpful offering from Jamie, who taught 2nd grade in the U.S., was to focus on developing more basic motor skills for children ages 6 and under.

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The largest group of kids met PWB in 2016 and were highly recommended to do more workshops with. This group of one-hundred boys come from families living in poverty throughout West Bengal. They are extremely enthusiastic about learning circus and display unwavering levels of high-energy. These kids love to play games and pick up circus skills very quickly. We performed our fantastic circus and fire show for these children in their local community center. The feeling of the show was joyous and the children constantly interacted with us throughout the show. The great finale included our Bollywood dance and all of the children singing and dancing with us on stage.

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We would like to give a tremendous shout-out to Jaes, the man who organized all of these new amazing opportunities with us. The work felt like it was a huge benefit to the children and we hope to see these partnerships expand in the years to come.

As our days came to an end in Kolkata, we performed one more circus and fire show for the children of Hope Foundation. We blocked off the street in front of Hope Cafe, a restaurant run by Hope Foundation that provides job opportunity for many young people in the community. The show brought together many children from various Hope centers and the local neighborhood. Ling met a journalist who wrote a newspaper article on the event, providing visibility for the work of Hope Foundation and PWB.

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The last 19 days were full with 22 workshops and 4 shows held at 8 different centers. Leaving the children here is difficult because of the connections that we formed with them. However, new experiences await in Darjeeling… an amazing city perched in the foothills of the Himalaya. This may be our first breath of fresh air since January.

Your captain and French stow-away
Avi and Benji