Saturday, September 02, 2006


So I've been in South Africa about 3 weeks now:

First I was in Durban for a week and a half visiting the African Dream Circus.
I went to their youth training programs (9folks about my age), did all of their acrobatics and games with them and then I taught them some clown games and exercises. Everyone wasso welcoming and accepting.

They all speak Zulu so talking was actually quite difficult. I assumed that everyone in South Africa speaks english but a lot of people really don't have very much english, so I'm trying to learn a bit of Zulu.

Selina is actually a zulu name - it means the sky before a storm.

I also went to the outreach program that the African Dream Circus does in townships. Driving down the highway on the way there (with Dumisani, the guy who is in charge of the African Dream Circus) and for the first time, seeing the township shacks - made from sheet metal, small and tightly packed, covering the hills along the road, looking like organized garbage sculpture - I was so struck by my gut feeling - the instinct to recoil and not go there.
like, you know that something is horrible and so you just don't want to have to see it. you have the curiosity to see it, but the fear of what it will be like to know it.
But then I relaxed and went for it. And after spending two afternoons there - where extreme poverty is the norm and yet people are smiling and the kids are playing the same as any kids I've ever played with, and knowing that so many people all over the world live like that, it felt normal to me.
(and going back to the hostel afterwards felt strange and so different)
I had never seen such poverty for so many people before - and it was a relief to see it. comforting to embrace something I'm afraid of.

The circus program is part of a bigger organization called Sinani ("we are with you" in Zulu) which does lots of different programs for people who are survivors of violence (political violence, domestic abuse, drug abuse, etc)

Driving in the car with Dumisani through the township to go buy some fruit for the kids in the outreach program he told me that now it's the law in South Africa that you have to wear a seatbelt but that there was a time when you didn't dare wear a seatbelt because there were so many driveby hi-jackings and if you reached to undo your seatbelt to get out of a the car, they thought you were reaching for your gun and would shoot you in the head.

When Dumisani asked me how I liked Durban, I told him that I really did like it but that I could never live there - there's no place for me in that city. I could never live in a nice house with huge fences and armed reponse security systems, but then I couldn't live in a poor black neighborhood or townships - and I never saw anything between those two residential worlds while I was there.

I asked him if it was safe for him to go for a walk at night where he lives (a bit nicer of a township area - houses with cement walls but still very close to each other and dirt roads). He said yes. I said that it wouldn't be safe for me though. He agreed and said "even if the two of us were walking together it wouldn't be safe for you, in face it would be dangerous for me."

Almost everyone I saw in Durban was black. and I got used to it pretty quickly. and assumed that most of South Africa is like this. The only white people I spoke with in Durban were at the hostel. The white people I saw in shopping centers seemed a bit cold and withdrawn, whereas all the black people I ran into and asked for directions of whatever were really friendly and helpful and smiled at me on the street and all.
and I actually never felt really unsafe.

okay. so.

then I went along the coast for a little vacation on my way to Cape Town,
I went to this hostel in a little village in the Transkei on the Indian Ocean (40 min on a bumpy dirt road from the main road) no electricity and no running water. At the hostel we drank filtered rain water and showered in ocean water.
everyone lives in beautiful rondavels made out of wood poles and mud and cow shit. we were on the edge of steep hills with huge surf down below and a little beauch nearby.
all the animals in the Transkei graze without fences - there are goats and pigs and cows standing in the road all the time.

The cows would walk down to the beach during the day. It was really odd to see cows hanging out, laying down on this beautiful empty beach.

I met Yvonne, a german woman, at the hostel. I told her about what I'm doring and it turned out that she does clowning too and just finished a hospital clown program in germany.
We started joking about making a clown show together for the village kids. both of us wanting to do it. but also keeping it jokey so that we could back down - that feeling of being afraid to go for it was so similar to the feeling of being afraid of the townships.
but we went down to the beach just to do some improv. play. and see how we worked together, we got so into it right away. we were a great match, it was so easy and we were so into it for about 45 min. we realized just hom much, when a wave washed up onto us and soaked our bums.

we made a show for the school kids in the village. when we went to tell Kelly, the school teacher (an english woman who came to the village on vacation and stayed for the past 16 months as the head teacher for the 3-7 year olds with Beauty, the Khosa assistant teacher.) we found sitty with her a wacky guy from San Francisco who was visiting because he had a donation of a few hundred really nice plush stuffed hand puppets to give to schools. Yvonne and I started playing with them, me with a hippo, her a snail.

and so we ended up doing a puppet show the next morning at the school and the clown show the day after at the beach.

both went really well. - the puppet we did some educational stuff and some joking stuff with hip-hip-hip-hip-hip-hip--o--! and zola the snail. and then turned it into getting the kids to try on a puppet one by one and learn how to use em and treat them gently.

for the clown show we did a bunch of different things that evolved into a bit of a ceremony with everyone holding hands in a circle and doing movement and song that the kids already knew as a friendship thing. the audience was half black kids from the town and half white visitors from the hostel - on this stunning beach with forested hills and crashing waves in the background.
afterwards we all kept playing and went swimming.

It was all really beautiful but it's also been overwhelming - to experience so much so quickly.

now I'm in Cape Town which is a completely different world. there are white people and black people and colored people and clean big buildings and newly paved roads and so much money and infrastructure and everything. I wasn't prepared for that after the other sides of south africa. it's like being back in a european city. it's amazing how this country has so many so different worlds in it. (th landscape has varied so much too)
I visited the zip zap circus yesterday which has lots of really really nice equipment and is run really efficiently with kids from all walkds of life in cape town learning circus skills and putting on shows. it's run by a white south african and a fench woman. they're very professional and have won lots of awards.

last night I had dinner with Nicki a young woman who recently started the UPliftment project - which is hospital clowning. I'm going to visit that tonight and tomorrow. Nicki is bubbling with energy and claps her hands a lot and the project sounds really successful. and it is very nice for me to meet a strong woman running a project like this.

I'm also busy trying to track down a vehicle for the clowns without borders trip which is really shaping together. We have the itineray for the whole first half all planned out - will be doing both shows and workshops in schools and orphanages mostly in Kwa-Zulu-Natal and also going to Lesotho and Swaziland.

Oh - and since I've been in South Africa, I've also gone to play Roulette on amy first trip to a Casino and gone to a Horse Race (I only bet on one of the races though...) and ate Crocodile and Kudu steak and had a monkey start to go through my bag.
The night sky here is totally different from at home - it's amazing.

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