I hit it to Rio for a week and a half, arrived in time for a great block party hosted by an arts organization. I stayed with a friend in Santa Tereza, the most beautiful part of Rio that feels like a small town in the middle of the big city. I visited the Rio branck of Doutores da Alegria (in a hospital where the thought of having surgery there really scared me, it was a really poor hospital that needed clowns if ever there was one.) I also visted the Enfermeras Della Risa (a university hospital clowning organization), Pequeno Tigre, and Final Feliz, two impressive social circus programs.
Final Feliz is an amazing program in the middle of a favella, started by one guy in his house, with his wife helping out. They do tons of different kinds of workshops and classes all week long for about 75 kids in the local community. They are in the north of Rio, where the steep streets look like erosion ravines and definietly aren't suitable for cars to drive up. There is lots of garbage in the streets. But the community where they are located is safe, and the project is beautiful. I only went for a day, but they stole my heart they were so welcoming and the kids were such a family. I wanted to stay forever.
In fact Rio is just a wonderful passionate city with all of its danger and violence and drugs and flash and money on the beach with the bright flood lights of Ipanema that look so much like in the photos that its uncanny.
The layout of the city is rich people in the lowlands and poor people in the highlands but all very close to each other.
and mountains and beach and cold water springs
just minutes outside the city in the forest on the mountains
and gorgeous colonial buildings with the paint chipping off of them.
It is amazing the people I remember most vividly traveling, this one girl I met at PEqueno Tigre who was so gutsy with curly lightish hair not unlike mine. I big puffed up belly with a scar on it. Younger than most of the other kids but leading the other girls. A funny walk and a gorgeous smile.
Back in Sao Paulo, I lived some more at Tati's house...fell for a Brazilian musician who looks like a gypsy and teaches music at a public school project. He (Olinda) took me to his work one day and I got to help out leading stunning chidren in animal theater exercises. Everyone at the school absolutely in love with Olinda, yelling his name and kissing and hugging him. So comfortably physical in the Brasilian way. Well the neighborhood where the school is, is something like the biggest periphery/favella in the world. But this new schoool project is amazing- beautiful facilities for the whole community. Swimming pool. and the kids have half their school day devoted to arts or sports (like most places I've been, the school day is only half as long as in the States...)
The Doutores da Alegria are like "The" hospital clowning group in Brazil. They have professional clowns and lots of publicity and are very well known. while I was with them I went to their weekly training course for their new clowns (there are about 10 of them this year, almost doubling the size of the organization...), observed them in the hospitals, but because of timing and organization, didn't actually play in the hospital until my last week. Well when it came around to it, I had a wonderful time playing in the hospital with them, finally my Portuguese was very good, I felt much more confident about my clowning, my self, all of that, it was a smash. They are such a great bunch of people those Doutores da Alegria.
Then, so soon that it felt unreal that I was leaving Brazil (I didn't want to leave but my visa had run out...) I got on a plane to Guatemala.
(Brazilians are so poetic, and they love "Saudade" which is like missing, only it is a noun and also means more like a longing.
SAMBA DO TOCADOR,
CADA SAUDADE UM AMOR.
SAMBA DO CANTADOR,
CADA SAUDADE UM AMOR.
The musician/player's samba
Every missing/longing is a love
The singer's samba,
Every missing/longing is a love.
For me, the traveller's samba: every missing/longing is a love. It was really hard to leave Brazil.)
Well on my way to Guatemala, I met Brendan, my best friend from high school. Stayed in Panahachel, a town on the edge of Lake Atitlan, in the beautiful house of my dear family friends Alex, Carlos, + Regina. Their garden is the garden of paradise. We were on vacation. We slept a lot. Cooked a lot. We were indeed living in paradise but in fear of getting sick from bacteria or pesticides.
Brendan got sick.
Then Brendan got better.
Then I got sick.
We had lunch one day with a group of clowns that do performances in the area about HIV/AIDS.
Then we hit it to Antigua/Guatemala City. Along with the bacteria and pesticides we had been warned countless times to not ever go into Guatemala City. But I wanted to visit Caja Ludica, an organization that my friend Yanna has been raving about for two years...(she worked with them organizing poetry events).
Caja Ludica is worth raving about. They are a wonderful organization that does all kinds of outreach work. The most excity thing that they do is to have parades twice a week (or more) where they all dress up in crazy costumes, some of them on stilts, others doing circus stuff, and they just go to different places or events of communities and lead the children in a kind of a party/ceremony about celebrating and being playful. It is big and flashy and beautiful. I went on one with them and was overwhelmed.
They also teach breathing workshops, and hip hop and grafitti and poetry and circus and more...
While I was there I taught two clown workshops and helped two Caja Ludica members make a clown routine with their circus skills. It was my first time this year teaching a group of people so close to my own age and I had a blast. It was very cool to realize that I had so much to share...also to be able to share it with Brendan.
Halfway through our short visit with Caja Ludica, Brendan and I decided to skip the hour commute from Antigua, the tourist town outside Guatemala City and go and stay with Iria the Spanish volunteer with Caja Ludica in Guatemala City proper. We strapped our packs to the top of the chicken bus (a revamped blue bird school bus) climbed onto the bus with out other bags and worried ourselves blue as the bus made hairpin turns at top speed and everyone on the bus laughed at us the two crazy gringos.
Well, as my mommy and daddy know, I have been very careful during all of my travels, watching my own back and not getting into any trouble. I will say though, that though Guatemala City may not be the complete hellhole that people make it out to be. It certainly felt like the most dangerous place I've been to. One night we walked home from a bar at night with Iria, the streets were completely deserted except for the military police men standing in groups on street corners with huge gigantic guns. And these are the same guys that killed so many people during the war... I did not feel very safe around those policemen. Especially when Iria started telling us about how if we were Guatemalteco, is we had tatoos and peircings (like some of the guys in Gaja Ludica), the police could just shoot us and justify it by saying we were in a gang. (but that as foreigners these police guys were our friends of course...)
But in Guate you pretty much do have to join a gang for protection. And it is so easy and cheap to buy a gun with fake papers, and so many people are so poor that it is totally common to get mugged at gunpoint for less than a dollar. It is actually worth mugging someone at gunpoint for less than a dollar, or killing someone, and so on. Life is cheap there in Guatemala. I really felt that in my bones. And well, it didn't feel good, expecially when just as we were arriving home, Iria told us that she had gotten mugged with a gun to her head right outside her building.
Well, one not so safe night in 365 is really not so bad....and it was safe for us in the end, in fact the bus rides and raw vegetables were probably, in actualiy, a lot more dangerous than the walk home. But Guatemala is a scary place. Learning more about the country made me even more impressed by Caja Ludica's amazing work.
It was wonderful to be with Brendan - speak in English - be with someone from home, and just hang out the two of us. I was sad to leave him.
However I had to move on to Mexico city to get here in time for a training course with Risaterapia. I got picked up at the airport by my amazing hosts! and was welcomed into their beautiufl apartment!! and started up with their amazing organization - Risaterapia!!!! Woo hooo!!!
But enough for now, will write about Mexico very soon indeed.