Saturday, September 09, 2006


I just came back from a two and a half hour walk to a 200m high waterfall. This after 2 stunning morning shows (still working with Clowns Without Borders). I'm in Lesotho which is unlike anywhere I've every been before. So rural. So gorgeous. The people here living a simpler life and seeming content in a way that I hadn't yet encountered in Southern Africa. Lesotho is mountainous highlands, chilly, lush, green, spiraling aloe plants and sometimes wild calla lilies. It's main resource water. It's a country right in the middle of South Africa but has stayed independent because of it's mountainous natural borders.
People here wear beautiful printed wool blankets with patterns of big spades and flowers and even airplanes draped around their shoulders. Or just plain grey also (much less expensive). There are so many horses and donkeys and cows and sheep. and so many stunningly handsome men riding on horseback with thei blankets draped around them, gumboots, a knit hat, and often earings.

Our second show this morning was so lovely. We stayed at the school for a while afterwards and danced with the kids. and then they did traditional dances for us. 10-12 yr old girls in their underwear with skirts made out of little bottle caps and shredded plastic bags mato rbounce and ring when they dance. (mostly they stand pretty still, tilting their pelvis rhythmically to the beat of the songs and making the skirts fly up) The girls seemed so confident. All against the most stunning backdrop of slopping hills.

These shows are our first where when we blew bubbles the kids shyed away from them like they hadn't seen people blow bubbles before. But they adored our show. and laught so much. Appreciated it in a different kind of way than our South African audiences though I can't really describe the differences. On our walk today people asked for sweets (and just twice for money) but also in a different kind of way - almost like they were teasing us - just trying their luck. Even when we came across the village chief on his horse and exchanged hellos, he asked us for sweets as an after thought with a little smile.

The race relations are understandably very different without the same history of apartheid as in South Africa. Here we are clearly foreigners. In South Africa people often mistake us for white South Africans.

Before these last 2 days in Lesotho we spent a week in the townships of Johannesburg. totally different scene than here. The kids such city kids. much tougher. we had 2 unexpected audiences of 1300 kids which got rather out of hand. At the first one the teachers used sticks and belts to beat the kids back from swarming us. At the second show we tried pausing the show when there started to be too much pushing but that turned out to be a disaster. It was hard for us, trying to figure out how to control crowds that size, dealing with the cultural differences of seeing the teachers just beating the kids to keep them back (but not being our place to criticize it), and of course facing the duality of the situation - the kids having such a good time and wanting to see the show so badly that they started pushing and pushing eachother, pushing till they were actually hurting each other.

I had a skriking realization driving through a poor area of Soweto (South West Townships) in Jo-burg and suddenly realizing how safe I felt there in our truck, dressed like clowns, and listening to Kwaito music. and remembering before I came to jo-burg people warning me about the crime, not being able to walk around or go anywhere and the fear. and suddenly the contrast of feeling totally comfortable working in one of the dissadvantaged areas of one of the hightest crime rate cities in the world (it is of course very different working as a clown than visiting as a tourist)

I did have a hard time emotionally doing this work in the townships of Johannesburg and then at night staying at Jamie's grandfather's house in one of the wealthiest suburbs. The difference between the two worlds everyday was so immensely huge it was unreal and we didn't have the kind of contact with the community that we're working in that we usually do when we're staying there and so much of our work is just our being there.

We have a new clown, Perry Daniel, a physical comedian from NYC who replace Tim in our team. We've changed a lot of the ways we work as a team and changed the show a lot. It has been a really neat experience (now # women and 1 man, our show centers around the theme of trying to clean - brooms, feather duster, dustapn) We also got a double cab pickup donated by McCarthy Toyota, without which it would be close to impossible to get around Lesotho.

We had many amazing shows this half of the trip. too many to describe. we performed for 8,000 kids in our first 10 days. one show in a soccer stadium. lots for very young kids. one primary school where we did a Q and A afterwards and the kids asked us such strickingly eloquent questions about our work. one in a really poor squatter camp all the way outside of the city where the adults all came to the daycare center to watch the show and had more fun than the kids.

But it has been amazing to get out of the city and have a more laid-back pace in LEsotho. Walking through the village and running into the kids from the schools where we performed. Seeing them imitaiting our show. One kid sitting with us for an hour watching the waterfall and teaching us some seSotho.
I want more of the village life. Makes me miss farming desparately and especially the feeling being off in the farm world cut off from all that is city life and communication and all that. It is especially amazing being in a place where the boys who show us around town don't know how to put their seatbelts on. and so many people are just hanging. herding their animals. sitting together . it feels so much deeper and makes me want to run off into the hills.
But I also can't help feeling that the dissadvantaged kids living on the edge of towns and cities are the ones who need our work most. The kids living in the hills of Lesotho, where people are subsistence farming and living in a more equalitarian society. yes they are poor. and the HIV/AIDS statistics are incredibly high. but I've seen so many more old men and women. people looking healthier. walking long distances over the hills everyday. everyone greeting us. and smiles so quick to light faces. it may be more thrilling and delightful for us to perform for them but they don't seem to need it as much as the kids where we were last week.

(after a show, they really wanted to be in the photo)

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