Journal. Guatemala. 1996. Clowns without Borders/Payasos Sin Fronteras

by | Nov 10, 2011 | Clowns Without Borders

Guatemala City, Guatemala

I would be hard pressed to describe Guatemala City fully. Pockets of wealth amongst expanses of grey. I am flying in from San Francisco to join up with a group of Catalan performers who have already been there several days. When I arrive they are allready busy performing on the Carribean coastal side of this cental American country. They’re adventure there involves hiking hours through the jungle to arrive at several communities. There are five of the they. Jauma (Tortell Poltrona, founder of Payasos sense Fronteras) and his wife Montse, Anna and Miguel of Cirque Confetti and Ramon from Trupo de Nassos. Jauma has brought parts of his show with him including the fourteen chairs that he stacks in a wide semi circle and balances, his flea gun routine and his bomb routine where he gets a volunteer to stand on a chair while he lights the fuse then runs through the audience screaming to take cover. The fuse fizzles, he sends the volunteer back then casually throws the bomb backstage which is immediately followed by a large explosion.
Anna and Miguel have quite a repertoire of juggling and circus skills highlighted by a high unicylce, ladder and stilts routine in which Anna brings Miguel a ladder to stand on to get on his unicycle. First she holds the ladder but then lets go to go pick up the unicycle and he finds himself stuck on the ladder and does a free standing balance. The routine ends with Miguel on the unicycle and Anna on tall stilts passing fire torches. Ramon at the end of the show and during preshow parades would get inside his 12 foot tall clown puppet and play with the audience to great delight. The show we create is a circus presented by our contact/guide Rudi, a Guatemalan clown who is very involved in bringing theater to the remote communities of Guatemala with his partner Tatoo.
For the first week we are joined by two Canadians-Neil Rempel and Johnny Rainbow. Neil is a street-performer who performs as a Tom Waitsian character and has brought down several routines : a fire juggling and fire blowing number and one where he becomes Elvis Presley on stilts. Johnny Rainbow is a fast talking railroad-man who also organizes a small children’s theater festival in Kenora, Ontario. He is native American, has a strong humanitarian concern and is responsible for getting the money together to bring Neil and himself down to Guatemala.
It makes for a large contingent to move around and we are lucky to have the logistical and transportation support from quite a few humanitarian organizations(NGO’s-Non Governmental Organizations) including Enfants Refugies du Monde, Medicins sans Frontieres (French and Swiss contingents), Vetenarians without Borders, Educateurs sans Frontieres and ADR quart-monde . We are staying in several of their houses and there seems to be an armada of Toyota and Land-Rover pick up six passenger vehicles to ferry us around. It takes at least two vehicles, preferably three as not only are there quite a lot of us but we are trucking around quite a lot of performance materials, a curtain backdrop and a rented sound system.

2/23 About Day 2
Morning in my bed in the little room of the Enfants refugiés du Monde house, in calle 5a, Zona 3, of Guatemala City. Cement stucco walls, tiled floor, faded yellow paint. There are street noises and a view of some black rooftops behind which two huge domes of green tree dominate my skyline. Later today, the rest of the gang will return from the Carribean side of Guatemala, where they have already been in action for a number of days.

Yesterday I traveled to the country, to kilometer 29 of the El Salvador road where I performed in “Anini’, a small orphanage. Some of the kids, 3-5 years old, greeted me saying “Papa”, with hopeful question marks in their innocent eyes. There is a large aquarium at one end of the room and earlier when I peered in I spotted a little sign planted along the bottom gravel, amongst the goldfish that said “Quieramos Padrinos”(we want foster parents).Yow.
I did a show in the main room after having been led on a tour of the facility, which included a few crosses and a chapel. Most kids sat in a wide semicircular row of benches, while the disabled, and very challenged ones who the middle floor. Soon the kids and I are navigating a boat on a sea of laughter. Lots of silliness, lots of fun.

In the evening, I tagged along the EFM staff to visit Cruz, an Indian from Nebaj, recently arrived via helicopter emergency to the hospital. He had been in the hospital 10 days up there already with two chest stab wounds and they had yet to determine if the lung was punctured. In Nebaj, he had not been fed for ten days, nor had the wound been sewn up. Now there was infection…It seems his story did not garner much community support, a womanizer he was in disharmony with some elements of the community as he was living with someone else’s separated wife.
His hospital room is quite basic and clean though you have to pay if you want the TV turned on; the man in the next bed has his leg broken by a hit and run truck. I offered up a few magic tricks. he tells me not to make him laugh because it will hurt his ribs…When I ask if then I should skip the magic, he says “no no, si si” and he smiles through the pain and gets swept away for a fun moment.

Day 3 2/23
Spend a bit of time morning in bed writing about Day 2

The van is stuck in the main market area, we’re inching past third world orderly chaos. Diesel fumes permeate as unloading trucks exasperate and wild colored 1950s’ school buses vie for pole position on their way to the next bus stop. We are headed to the “fero-caril”, where we are to perform. I am not sure what that means but I will find out. Bright Guatemalan colors sparkle among street sellers, vegetable piles on cloths layed down on the street. I spot a discerning indigenous woman inspecting produce, long black hair in braids, with a baby strapped to her back in typical fashion. The driver, Jean-Marie, from ADR quart-monde (fourth world), points out ahead the main-market, a sea of wavy tin roofs. Melons in baskets next to piles of black tires and women carrying plastic buckets full on their heads.

Miguel and Anna, from Circ Confetti, and I are busy figuring out how I can back them up on harmonica and ukulele, as they won’t be able to use their tapes…which is certified as we arrive to the fero-caril. I gaze past shadowed groups of individuals into the bright gleam of railroad ties. There in the thick littered dusty ground, the concept of sound system falls through dirty children’s hands playing with sticks and any loose objects should drift their way. The chance of there being an electric plug is extremely remote.

The tracks cut right through a congregation of mechanics and tire repair centers. As you walk along the tracks past the commerce, a mass of corrugated iron slowly transforms into doorways, habitats small shacks, a few people sitting in the sheltered shadows. Small groups of children emerge from doorways, dusty faces on dark indigenous skin. The loose dirt, hot dark fine sand, along the tracks is pure silt. When I trip (on purpose to the kids’ delight,) I watch the little cloud of dust erupt. I’m stunned, the kids laugh.
We change in one woman’s house, It is neat and organized. As we walk in, I am surprised by several potted plants. No excess here as my eyes walk past a formica card table with several covered platters of food. Another surprise, an electric blender with a hint of fruit smoothie on the bottom, red…
The walls are flattened cardboard boxes framed by recycled two by fours. A single electrical wire wrapped along a beam linked to a bare bulb, which the woman lights when she leaves, closing the door to let us change. There are strategic holes in the cardboard where differing items live, a pen, a disposable razor….An assortment of pots, dishes and glasses live in a red crate on the hard earth clean swept floor. I am surprised as I follow electronic voices around the corner of the makeshift wall to the half separated bedroom where above the lumpy single bed a portable TV set is flashing fuzzy black and white soap opera images. On the same shelf lives an equally outdated radio cassette player. I remark later to Jean-Marie how together their little house seemed, he agrees remarking that this is a dynamic family, the father gets work, the mother is very community involved, the kids go to school.

The show is good fun, and afterwards the kids dance with the Ramon’s giant puppet and scream with delight as they chase my bubbles.
Later at the van, after we pack up, we wait while Miguel gets the flat tire on his giraffe unicycle repaired. Two kids hanging around the van get Jean-Marie to give them books to read, which they devour, completely absorbed during the waiting time remaining. Jean-Marie brings a traveling library to this community on a weekly basis.

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