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Nepal 2004

Itinerary:

  • Oct 25-26 Arrive Kathmandu
  • Oct 27 Travel to Damak, Jhapa
  • Oct 28 Beldangi 1 Camp (UNHCR) 3000
  • Sanschari Camp 3000
  • Oct 29 Beldangi 2 Camp 4000
  • Beldangi Extension Camp 4000
  • Oct 30 Khundabari Camp 3000
  • Timai Camp 2000
  • Oct 31 Tarabari Local School (Friends of Nepal) 1200
  • Nov 1 Goldhap Camp 5000
  • Nov 2 Damak Local School 400
  • Nov 2 Travel to Kathmandu
  • Nov 3 Day Off.
  • Nov 4 Maiti Nepal 300
  • Sharad & Siphal 300
  • Belmadir 200
  • Nov 5 Children’s Hospital 3 wards
  • Nov 6 Tibetan Reception Center 200
  • Desastrosus Cirkus Travel to Barcelona
  • Nov 9 Moshe travels to San Francisco

The expedition, a return to Nepal by Desastrosus Cirkus and Moshe Cohen was funded by Spanish acrobat Elsa Moreno, who died last year of a blood disease and was a friend to all those participating in the expedition.

The main destination of this expedition were the Bhutanese Refugee Camps located on the South Eastern Edge of Nepal where approximately 110 000 of 150 000 Bhutanese refugees in Nepal live. Returning to a number of NGO’s in Kathmandu was also on the agenda, as well as a trip to the Children’s hospital and the Tibetan Reception Center.
The Show
The show was a intermingling and mix of numbers by Desastrosus Cirkus, Moshe and Arnau. Desastrosus brought their unicycle, hat and club juggling routines to the table, Moshe his sponge ball magic and cigar box routines, Arnau performed several poetry scat songs, playing the timple ( kind of a 5 string ukulele ) as well as considerable presentation as the director/master of ceremonies. Xavier of Desastrosus circus as drummer/percussionist provided rhythmic back-up throughout the show.
As presenter, Arnau found some funny words, sounds and themes to play with, such as the word ‘fotengro’ which means grasshopper. Arnau would sing a few lines of gibberish, and then the word fotengro, a few more lines of gibberish and again punctuate with fotengro. This word play was very funny to the audience.
During the course of the expedition, Moshe and Arnau developed a butoh clown piece about a lover without a love (Moshe) who comes out with a very big (5 ft) orange sunflower. Arnau would sing the story in Nepali as Moshe butohclowned the lover looking for a love, dancing with his flower, eventually then the wind came up (Arnau’s narration) and blew his flower (and him) in the direction of love-Arnau asking the audience to blow at this point.
During our Damak stay, the Bhutanese acrobats, Binod and Kamal, played towards the end of the show-they had ’learned’ their skills by watching old English movies. We were very happy to have them participate in the show, for us, they were the stars of the show.
( more about them further down in the report-in ‘activities’)
There was a fair amount of circus cross pollination as Moshe joined Desastrosus for their hat-line passing routine of the Desastrosus, did a ball passing line with them and walked through their club passing routine having changed into shorts and big red clown shoes.*** Several chase scenes developed as transitions. Moshe would surprise Joan of Desastrosus offering him his tall unicycle just after he finished his small unicycle routine where he would ride a child volunteer around on top of his shoulders. Joan would then chase Moshe around a bit before he escaped to the backstage. The hat juggling line routine ended with Alvaro collecting all the hats in a big stack on his head. The other performers, realizing where the hats had gone, would all chase Alvaro around the playing area. The audience loved these scenes.
As the show developed over the first few days, the finale evolved into a funny little line dance to Arnau’s music. Desastrosus and Moshe, all wearing white conical hats (traditional Albanian Kosovar hats) would do little jumps, with freeze stops orchestrated by Arnau, finishing with a simple acrobatic pyramid.
***When the audience saw the shoes, there was usually an eruption of talking in the audience as they discussed the shoes-never seen before in those parts. The shoes were worn by Carl Carllsonwho did magic tricks as
“ The Nutty Professor “ on the original Bozo tv show for many years.-a gift to Moshe by Magic Steve.
The Situation
Overall the situation in Nepal is far more unstable than it was during our last visit seven years ago. The Maoist insurgency has picked up considerable momentum following the assassination of the king and his family several years ago. There is no concrete information about the state of the insurgency however there are reports everyday in the newspapers about attacks, killings, abductions, both by the Nepalese military and the Maoist insurgency. The only thing they seem to agree on is to leave the tourists alone, however shopkeepers in Kathmandu say that business is way down. One well placed contact suggested that the only area in Nepal that is outside the Maoist control is the Kathmandu valley. Other reports suggest that they mainly control the rural north and west of the country. The demands of the Maoist are for a constitutional assembly and a ‘republic’. One person suggested that their aims place them someplace between Buddhism and communism. What seemed clear was their desire to abolish the monarchy.
Nepal remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
The Bhutanese refugees have now been in the camps for close to fourteen years. Victims of ethnic cleansing in the early 1990’s following the king’s declaration of ‘one nation-one people’ and forced to sign papers giving up their Bhutanese citizenship as they left that country, these people remain stuck in refugee camps. For better background information please explore:

-The UNHCR site, specifically the The Exodus of Ethnic Nepalis from Southern Bhutan report at http://www.unhcr.ch/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/publ/opendoc.htm?tbl=RSDCOI&id=3ae6a6c08&page=publ
-the AHURA Bhutan website
or visit
http://www.bhootan.org/hrreports/ahrc.htm. for a narrative about the expulsion from their country of these peoples.

Tensions have gotten worse since we last visited seven years ago as there is still no clear solution in sight. To make matters worse, the UNHCR, who run the camps, have declared their intention to stop administering the camps at the end of 2005.
There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity in the past months both by the US and the EU who have sent diplomats to India, Bhutan and Nepal to try initiate new efforts to resolve the refugee situation. As direct talks between Nepal and Bhutan have lead to no workable solutions, there is a small degree of hope that involving the international community will lead to some solution for the refugees. There were meetings at the UN in Geneva last month that involved T. N. Rizai, the main figurehead for the refugees as well as Ratan Gazmere who represents the refugee organization AHURA Bhutan. They are now actively trying to set up an international conference to address the refugee situation.
Although legally the Bhutanese refugees do not have the right to work in Nepal, or to travel away from the camps for more than one week, we were told that an increasing percentage have informally left the camps to find work in other parts of Nepal. Still the great majority remain in the camps.


Our Activities
The group rendezvous was Kathmandu, at the traveler hotel the Milllennium hotel, an adequate bare bones hotel in the Thamel district of Kathmandu. A nighttime walk to Durbar square brought us all under the same sliver of moonlight, and the presence of multitudes of shrines and temples reminded us of the ancient magic of Nepal. Early the next morning we were in route to the airport to fly to Biratnagar where the UNHCR were to meet us for a two hour drive to Damak. Seven years ago we rented a bus, and took an 18 hour drive to Damak however because of the Maoist insurgency, it was highly recommended that we fly. Our headquarters became the Shashi guest house, a short block from the UNHCR compound. Damak is a town of 100 000 people, with main streets of silty dirt, lots of bicycles and rickshaws, a few motorcycles and virtually no private cars. We thoroughly enjoyed the lack of motor sounds and the quiet of early mornings and evenings.
Five of our show days in Jhapa/Morang districts were coordinated by the UNHCR where we performed in all seven camps and a local school in Damak. The sixth day was coordinated by a local NGO ‘Help Nepal’ in the neighboring town of Ularbari, with a show in the village of Tarabari. The UNHCR did a great job of ferrying us around in a Toyota mini-van, with a pick-up hauling our show material always right behind us. We traveled in convoys. We were surprised by the number of army checkpoints on the road, where we zigzagged around barricades and were usually waived through the checkpoints by the unified command of local police and army personnel. The Maoists were active in the region, and activity has stepped up in the past year. Maoists were also reported to be in the camps, or passing through the camps. Following an incident last year, local police no longer were stationed in the camps, but only went in when called upon.
The shows were well received although the audiences were a little less big than last time. We were told that this was because of the two week Daishin holiday. We were also told that this was the only gathering that the refugees would come to voluntarily, and for other gatherings, they had to be promised payment (in food rations) or they would not show up. We also noted a definite increased aggressiveness amongst younger folks, increased tensions. Our shows were very well received although they did not laugh or smile quite as easily as last time we visited. Who could blame them? Of course kids will be kids, thankfully, and they greeted us with smiles and never ending curiosity. We could be viewed as tourists in their camps, but actually it was us who were being toured by them.

One great surprise were a group of self taught Bhutanese acrobats who came up to us after our first show at Beldangi 1, asking if they could perform with us the next day when we played their camp, Beldangi 2. Two of them performed with us, Binod and Kamal, doing quite an array of acrobatic moves and flips. They asked us if they could perform with us in the rest of the camps and we were quite happy to bring them along. We inquired whether they were teaching children in the camps, and they told us that they needed mats in order to do this. Hopefully by now, mats (with our $200 donation) have been made using yoga matt like foam and cotton so that they might start teaching children through the children’s forum. We also donated a bag of clown noses to be used in the children’s forums-they have an active program using theater to play out problems they are facing.

Our return to the big city of Kathmandu was a bit of a culture shock though we adapted quite easily. Our shows there were in NGOs that work with children. Maiti Nepal works with returned prostitutes and sex slaves, Nepalese women who come back from India with AIDS, or pregnant. The organization also works to prevent abductions of young women bringing those at risk to stay at Maiti Nepal. When we visited Maiti in 1997 it was housed in a small run down facility, but now it is an expansive group of buildings, with a school for the kids, a health clinic, dormitories and other facilities as well as a well tended garden courtyard, and a basketball court outside the school, where we performed for 200 kids and 90 mothers and women.

We performed at the Queen’s orphanage, Balmadir, and a grouping of children’s’ refuges, Sharad & Siphal, where the local school gleefully attended as well. Our visit to the children’s hospital was well received. We played a small show in the Oncology/Cardiology ward where the head doctor believed in the healing power of music, and was happy to receive a clown nose. A liter of bubble solution purchased in Germany was left behind with him. We also visited two other wards in the hospital, splitting into small groups and doing a bit of clown doctoring for very receptive patients. The conditions of the hospital were that of a very poor country, not even sheets on the beds.
Our last show was at the Tibetan Reception Center, where Tibetan refugees that treck over the Himalayas into Nepal land. They are allowed to stay in the country two weeks before moving on to India, or places further on. We were very warmly received by the refugees, and we may well have been their first ‘Western’ experience. We were greeted with spontaneous laughter as we drove into the courtyard of the compound and with much explosive laughter during the show. The refugees stay in that facility during their Nepalese stay.

That last show was in the morning, and that afternoon, the Spanish were off to the airport. I had to wait two days more for my plane which only flew twice a week. During that time, I was lucky to come upon a foam store in a market street of Kathmandu that sold foam which could be converted into acrobatic mats. Then searching for a way to buy the foam ( took a week to order it), I happened upon Dipika-one of the UNHCR staff from Damak who works in the camps-I heard my name being called as I walked into a music store in Thamel. I was able to charge her with the foam matt mission, and supply her with $200 of Clowns Without Borders money. Hopefully that will result in some budding acrobats.

It is our intention to send several acrobats to Damak, if possible this winter, to work with Binod, Kamal and their group, to further their training, and to help set up a program for the kids.

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