I'm back in london. It's dark but nowhere near as cold as last time.
Since my last time here...
SUMMARY - EUROPE
I spent two beautiful weeks in gorgeous and calm Amsterdam visiting Circus Elleboog (Elbow) and staying at a Christian youth hostel (fascinating). Had a lonely Christmas time in Paris, but then my parents came and visited me for two weeks. We are a lot of duck and I managed to stay put for a full three weeks in a single apartment. I visited Le Rire Medecin, an astounding hospital clown program that blew my mind. Spent time mulling over what to do with the rest of my life in a way I never have before. And then I went down to the slightly warmer and so friendly land of cerveza and tapas. Had a full day frolicking around the cave dwellings of Granada with a friend from home. And a week with the unbelievably welcoming PayaSOSpital clowns in Valencia who let me tag along for three days of delightful hospital performing. joing in on their music workshop, and also took me to the beach for paella. Finished the trip up with a visit to some recent friend involved in a politcal community center outside of Barcelona. Hung out with people my age for a change. Met with a wonderful woman from the Spanish clowns without borders (met earlier on with the French CWB in Paris). Lay in the sun in the park on the hill, dozing off and looking at the Mediterranean port. On Saturday I go to Brazil.
I am pretty wiped.
And ready to settle down in one place in Brazil. An apartment, living with a family. Something like that is in the plans. Given my exhaustion, my email is a bit scattered - journal entries, quickly written connection paragraphs. But I hope you enjoy.
CIRCUS ELLEBOOG - Amsterdam
(circus program for 4 year olds, each with one of their parents)
Today at circus Elleboog it was stunning, so beautiful, to watch the parents with their children, kids curled into their parents laps like baby animals snuggling. The human contact. So special to watch. A lifetime in each interaction. A million stories. Not just child rearing, physical attention, care - but a magic. A love. So viscous I could see it. Think between each parent and child. These parents they were good parents.
The one grandfather and his shy princess with butterfly wings. I could have watched the kids face painting their parents for hours.
4 such a perfect age. The age when the kid jumps forward to be a creative partner. The first jump to adulthood maybe. But still so physically close to ther parent that they meld into them. I remember my first memories at 4, as it it was the first time I started really analyzing. I remember learning how to tie my shoe laces. But I picture myself younge rcurled up again my mummy. Both of us in nightgowns and still sleepy in the big red chair in the music room.
In Lesotho, we met a white board member at one of the orphanages that we worked with. His granddaughter was there with him and came up to him and hugged him around the waist. I was so struck by it. Instinctively. Shocked. The image of it. I didn't know why though. I thought it was the demonstration of physical attention in front of so many orphaned or abandoned children. They I thought it was the fact that he was a n older authoritative man who suddenly became accesible emotionally; his granddaughter was free to just throw her arms around his belly. The I thought it was because I hadn't seen really any men in Southern AFrica being physically affectionate with kids.
After coming back to Europe and seeing the Circus Elleboog program (and other families situations too...) I realize that it was the fact that in Southern Africa, there is a different family sturcture, so much more death, and kids brought up differently than what I'm used to. In so many places I visited, there were so few parental figures. I hadn't seen any children expressing that kind of parental adoration at all really. Often because there were no parents there. Seeing a glimpse of the cherished relationship between a parental figure and their special grandchild, the kid of relationship I grew up with, but in that context, hit me like a freight train.
(I also saw the Cirque du Monde/Circus Elleboog final "Best of" performance which was stunning, intense, "kids" almost all of them older than me, were or had been living on the street or squatting, very hip, punk, stylish, doing really powerful and evocation circus peices.)
LE RIRE MEDECIN - Paris
In my journal I have a drawing I did of a 17 year old boy that I saw in the hospital with the Parisian hospital clowns. He was a bone marrow transplant recipient, living in what they call a "flu" (plastic curtains isolation him from germs)
In my drawing he is in his bed, inside the plastic bubble of curtains, isolated. But there are tons of wirds from his chest and arms escaping out into the world on the the other side of the curtains. Wires like breath like song like wings like hair like whispers.
I've always been terrified of hospitals. And so it was amazing to spend two weeks with Le Rire Medecin and find myself so excited to go to the hospital. So excited to go to services where kids are really, really sick. Cancer. Blood diseases, like that. (I went to 2 services like that and 1 more general one) In a single day with the clowns I witnessed so many magical beautiful moments, it was wild. One of Le Rire Medecin's strong beliefs is that there is always more child than diseae. They treat the child. In a world of white walls, beeping machines, wireds, and white uniforms, the human often gets forgotten. The disease takes over. Not so for the clowns.
The clowns I visited were brillian skilled artists. The ideal. They entered each room on the breath. Improvising every interaction. So sensitive to the people around them. And really playing. With the kids so involved. Too much to write a paragraph about.
My favorite "scene" was a boy who the nurses told us was so depressed he wouldn't come out from under the covers. The clowns went in, delicately talking about the stuff in the room, wondering where the boy was - - After a few minutes he was standing up on his bed being a ghost, a monster, roaring, lurching for the clowns, terrifying them, and having so much fun. It was delightful. After that he spent the rest of the day walking around the floor, hangin out with the nurses.
I saw so much. Played in the hospital with two of the clowns one afternoon. Which was a blast. Time going by so quickly. So different to be doing than observing. The clowns so good to me; calling me Madame Poux (Mrs. Lice), ach it was so much fun.
PAYASOSPITAL - Valencia
The PayaSOSpital in Valencia were amazing as well. To me, they truly felt like the Spanish version of Le Rire Medecin. More laidback. Less intellectually intense with the kids. So much music. The cultural difference was really strong for me. In the hospitals as well. The kids didn't seem as sick. As desperate. Neither did the parents. More family members hanging in the hospital. So many kids being carried in their parents arms. The laughter lighter in a way. That's what it seemed like to me. But of coures my Spanish isn't al lthat good so I was also probably missing a lot.
The PayaSOSpital are a smaller program than Le Rire Medecin - les hospitals and less clowns. But the services that they cover in the hospital are bigger so they move quickly, seeing lots of kids but spending less time with each of them.
My favorite time with them was the hour that they spent at the Down's Syndrome Clinic my first day there. (A day hospital where kids with down's syndrome can see all different specialists at once) One clowns was trying to dictate a phone number at top speed to the other with all of the distractions and impediments and qualities to make it into a brilliant problem to solve. Everyone in the waiting room area was involved. A teenage boy trying to help with getting the number. An older girl bossing everyone around. And all of us laughing our hearts out for the hour.
I often thought of Southern Africa while I was in the hospitals here.
My experiences there still really vivid.
I saw two hospital clown programs in South Africa. I clowned three times with the UPliftment Project in Cape Town - a project that is very young and full of energy. I was not really theatrical clowning. It felt more like just playing with the kids and being silly. But it was clearly invaluable to the kids and hospital staff. I also visited the Theadora Foundation program in Johannesburg for just one day. Their program relies more on skills - magic, juggling, but of course also improvisation.
The most striking difference between the hospitals in South Africa and in Europe was that in S. Africa it was always a big room with lots of kids. Not so many nurses. Somestime the nurse actually left when the clowns came because it gave her a break. Hardly any family members. At the hospital for kids with mental handicaps, not a single parent to be seen.
In Paris most of t he kids had their own room. In Valencia, it seemed like it was 2-3 kids to a room.
The diseases, also were different.
But the biggest difference between the Clown programs was how professional the PArisians and Valencianos were - how respected they were - how inormed they were. (They do a transmision wit hthe nurses or doctors at the beginning of each day so that they know all the basic info about the children that they'll see.) Peopke in the hospital understood that clowning was their work, that it was valuable work, and saw them as professional people outside of their clown characters. They were truly a part of the service that they inhabited. A contact. For the kids with long term illnesses, they were an important part of their lives. For the nurses as well. Everybody knew what days the clowns came. New patients got postcards with photos of the clowns on them. In Valencia there were information posters on each floor. I mean, it was really serious work.
I am curious to see Hospital Clowning in the STates when I finanly get back.
For many reasons I am very happy that I decided to come to Europe: to see European Clowning in a European context, to visit programs with substantial funding that have been running for a long time, to visit the french and spanish Clowns Without Borders, to learn about different organizational structures, different ways of doing projects iwth similar goals, and to go somewhere where I can speak the language, is a home, see friends.
I finished this email on the airplane. Suspended over the Atlantic. Had a 9 hour layover at JFK. My parents met me for dinner in the airport. Two of my very best friends took the suway out for late night beers. IT was the best layover of my life. And now, finally arrived in Brazil, with a delicious layer of humid sweat on my skin, I'm sending off this email. I will wait to write about Brazil til the next one.