Sunday, September 17, 2006

MEXICO #1 (my 2nd favorite)

In Mexico City my life is more complete and full of routine than it has been all year....

It is the first country all year where I was met at the airport -
By the debonair Dr. Romanok (i.e. Andres) decked out in his red nose, top hat, and white Risaterapia lab coat.

My first two weeks here I stayed with Andres and his wife Ana Cecilia in their gorgeous comfy apartment full of books and little knick knacks to play with.
Andres took me around to eat quesadillas in the market and so on.

Andres is the founder of Risaterapia, the hospital clowning association that I came to Mexico to work with. I met one of Andres' best friends (Ensalada) when I was in Brazil and he is the one who persuaded me to come here.
I wanted to see what a big, successful, volunteer hospital clowning organization was like.
And I have been blown away.
Have learned so much. More than anything been inspired by how the organization is structured and run. Andres was a clownd with Ringling Bros. came back to Mexico and started Risaterapia with a group of friends from school. The fact that Risaterapia has grown up out of a core group is very evident; there are now over 300 volunteers but it still feels like a family.
Everyone is welcoming, supportive.

to me the idea of quickly training people with no previous clown, or theater, or music, or dance, or psychology, or teaching experience, to be hospital clowns seemed daunting and almsot impossible.
For this reason I have been very skeptical of volunteer hospital clowning programs. Have had the image of awful insensitive birthday clowns with balloons wandering into hospitals, going way too close to sick children with their grotesque make-up, and making people laugh out of discomfort.
Well Risaterapia's 30-hour long training is incredibly complete and trains their clowns in the very sensitive art of hospital clowning. It is a beautiful intense course that most people describe as life-changing. And wich, I felt really did prepare.
I took the course with Dr. Zito (i.e. Fernando) a beautiful open endearing person, amazing teacher, great clown. It was very similar to a lot of stuff I had already done, but for me it really put together everything I knew so that by the end of the course I felt so much mroe confident in what I knew and so psyched to get working in hospitals.


I have been volunteering in the hospitals with Risaterapia 2-3 visits a week. It has been delightful. After a lot of time learning from mostly observing great hospital clowns at Le Rire Medecin, Payasospital, and Doutores da Alegria (and briefly in S. Africa with the UP and Teodora) to be putting into practice what I had soaked up is great. The work itself is great fun, great challenge.

Among the volunteers, there is of course some tendency to cheesiness, cliche, cutsy wootsy, plastic toys, that kind of thing. Somehow people always seem to be attracted to that stuff, but overall the clowning is really good. For volunteers with only a basic 30 hour training (there is more followup training later on) it strikes me as truly amazing.
I have found a few volunteers who I reall yadore working with.

And I guess I should try and describe what we do.
We work in pairs (occasionally meld into bigger groups or seperate for a bit).
It is had to describe without talking for hourse, or just showing it,
but some examples from my day today -

I was working with a guy clown and a younger girl clown, the guy clown had this umbrella that when you opened it there was a sky with clouds printed on the inside. We went around bringing the sky to each child in a few of the rooms. It was beautiful because we would all get under this umbrella together and it totally changed everything to be three clowns, a kid, and a parents under an umbrella gazing up at a spinning sky.

With one baby who was convulsing a lot and was exhausted but couldn't fall asleep, his grandmother was sitting next ot him with her hand on his chest. I just sang a melody to them and made an imaginary sleep ball to send in the air to them. Just at the wrong moment, two other clowns arrived and we had to negotiate break in the moment, the baby convulsing again, and the clowns leaving again when they realized it wasn't the right moment to join in.

I hypnotized my clown partner so that she walked into walls and people and acted like a chicken.

Chatted iwth imaginary people on the polic guard's intercom wearing his hat.

Lots of just connecting with people, moving silly.

My last visit I was with a clown who doesn't talk and we had a wonderful scene in a room where I was attacked by an imaginary spider that got inside my clothes and gave me crazy tickles.
Then a snake bit my foot, I yelled for someone to please carry me to a hospital, then asked one of the kids what I should do. he said "fall asleep." So I did. Stayed sleeping. My clown partner led all the kids into playing little tricks on me while I was slumbering. They finished with one of them pulling off one of my shoes. All of them reacted that my feet smelled horrible, and everyone left the room!!!!
They stood outside the room, at the door, knocking, when I asked, still asleep "quien es? Who is it" one of the kids said "tu esposo, your husband" I sarted kissing the air in my sleep. One of the fathers was still in the room by himself and everyone standing in the door started shouted directions for me to walk towards the father (still with my eyes mostly shut and kissing the air in front of me) "isquierda! direcho! direcha! adelante!" until finally I ended up in front of him, he ducked, and I started kissing the chair.

Stuff like that...

I like the moving silly most of all. And letting kids direct me in what I should do.

I have written this before, but it is really wonderful going to a hospital of all places making sick kids, and worried parents, and exhausted doctors laugh, or smile, or just feel campanioned. And to give kids who are trapped in hospital beds, the agency to direct an interaction with the clowns. it is all about giving them agency.

Risaterapia is cool because it's not just the work, it is also the space, a gorgeous fun space, the red nose nights party/show once a month, the classes, the community.


I have three other groups in my life here in Mexico City.

I am training Capoeira five days a week with is really intense but great. Capoeira is a fighting dance from Brazil. It is really hard exercise. IT is all about playing and tricking the other people and showing them that you can hurt them without really actually hurting them (too much) and lying and fooling and surprising some more. And the music and the ritual and the community.

I am living in a house with two Mexicans, one French, and one German. I have my own room. And wireless internet. And a kitchen. And a rooftop. It is truly amazing having an apartment after so much time travelling.

And I have been working with a Social Circus organization called Machincuepa. They are part of the Cirque du Monde network. I started out by watching and helping out with their workshops. And now I am teaching clowning workshops. Two workshops for each group.
- the advanced older boys who have been training circus for about 6 years
- the mixed workshop for 15-20 kids mixed 8 yrs and up
- the "women's workshop" for 15-20 girls 8 yrs and up
- the training for the volunteer instructors
I think that teaching has brough me more pleasure than anything else I've been doing, even working in the hospital. The kids are great and what I have been doing with them is so different from the workshops they normally have. I love teaching and it is great to be teaching kids how to have fun (they already know how...). And teaching the older ones more concrete, intense clown theory. They pick it up so quickly (naturally). And to lead a group so that everyone is comfy and being silly and making each other laugh is wild.
After each class I am filled with so much energy myself.

My time here in Mexico has been great because it really is giving me the opportunity to synthesize everything I've learned this year, Now it doesn't feel like this crazy Watson Fellowship year, it just feels like what I do.

Plus eating tacos and sopes and tortas and flautas on the street and luckily I haven't gotten sick yet and riding the microbuses and vw beetle taxis and the metro and the metrobuses and being in the biggest city in the world though it doesn't feel it and everyone here looks at me in the subway out of interest because I am blond and they tell me that my hair looks like a sheep's hair and my clown name in the hospital is Dra. Muco (which comes from moco which means snot, but really just sounds like a weird silly name because I was pronoucing it wrong) and I am speaking Spanish now with hardly any Portuguese mixed in.

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