Silhouetted against the sun

Balkan Tour Diary: Part 1

CWB – USA board member David Lichtenstein is on tour with Clown Me In founder, and longtime CWB partner, Sabine Choucair, and Dustin J. Allen. The three are traveling along the Balkan Route, walked by migrants from North Africa and the Middle East who seek refuge in the European Union. David’s tour diary gives a day-by-day sense of what it’s like to interact with migrants risking everything for safety and security in the EU. 

March 3, 2019

Today we’re in Bosnia, in a town on the Croatian border. It’s filled with migrants from Algeria to Afghanistan—many of whom have already crossed at least three national boundaries, with a few more to go before they achieve their goal of reaching the European Union. Nearly all the migrants are men in their twenties or thirties, whiling away the day until they make another nighttime attempt at crossing the border into Croatia.

We talk with a pair of tall Berber men who have been on the road for four months, and an Algerian man who spent eight years working in Greece before trying to get to Central or Western Europe. He has already tried 10 times, once making it as far as Slovenia before getting shipped back. A Syrian man has been on the road for a year and a half, with his wife and small child. His body is filled with shrapnel and he needs surgery. His medical needs were refused in Greece, so he’s trying to get to Germany.

The very first show the three of us do together is a huge hit with all the young men and the three children at the camp. It’s a rowdy and engaged audience, who especially love the “border crossing” part of the performance. Makes sense, since it’s the life they’re living.

March 4, 2019

The kids at this camp are wild! After the performance, they show us how they sneak through the forest when they’re playing “the game,” the word migrant people use to describe crossing borders in the EU. They tell us how they tried to hide from the police, but then were rounded up at gunpoint and taken to a van. The van didn’t have enough air, and some of the kids vomited as they were driven back to camp. Apparently this happened the night before our show! No wonder they’re so wild!

March 5, 2019

We perform for about 500 men, and a handful of women and children, outside a giant, depressing shelter. Most of the men were pulled out of forest camps and deposited here a little further from the border. It’s not a happy atmosphere, but we have a great show. A shy, young Iranian man joins us on guitar. The audience loves when we pull volunteers into the performance!

March 7, 2019

I slept with my clown nose around my neck last night. Today we have a show at another large, difficult camp outside Sarajevo. Hundreds of young men and a dozen children attend our show, laughing the whole time. We wind down a little early, after a near-fight among a few of the younger men in our audience. The show is nearly 90 minutes long when we do the whole thing, so it’s just as well.

Afterward, we wait for the bus and play with Roma children for about an hour. Right now, we’re traveling with a group of Belgian high school students who are learning about the migrant crisis. As we cross the border into Serbia, in a bus with 30 people, we start taking bets: Whose passport will cause the biggest problem? Afghan? Moroccan? Lebanese? Or, American?

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