Clown Crowd Control on Prime Minister Day

Driving by Oxy Transit Camp we immediately notice a difference. More refugees spill into the busy street than we’ve ever seen at this stop. We pull over to ask one of the volunteers, “Why is it so crowded today?”

“The busses are blocked today because of the Prime Minister,” the volunteer replies. Refugees usually stay at Oxy for just a few hours after arriving on little rubber boats from Turkey. Here they get tickets for a bus to one of the two main camps in the south of the island but not today. The Prime Minister will be visiting the camps to see what the situation is like on the island and naturally having refugees in a refugee camp doesn’t look good, hence the authorities have slowed their arrival. As we drive on we see hoards of people walking along the winding two-lane mountain highway. We stop to talk to a large family. They speak Farsi but somehow we explain to them that the walk to the camp is ten and a half hours according to our phone. We can’t convince them to stay at Oxy and wait for the busses to begin moving again. They are eager to keep moving regardless. They take a picture of the route with their tablet and we all continue on our paths.

On our way to the harbor we notice more differences. Cops direct traffic downtown. A huge black banner that reads “NO BORDERS” in three languages hangs in front of the town hall and near twenty or so young people who are dressed in all black. We lean out the window and yell, “Yeah!,” with our fists in the air and red noses on our faces. They don’t know what to make of this.

The harbor is teeming. Three times as many tents dot the parking lot. A car and a tent sit where we usually perform. Today the ferry workers are on strike for better wages. Refugees have not been allowed to leave the island for days. Many of them don’t even know why. We have to ask a young man to please move his belongings to the side in the only suitable place we find to perform. He smiles and conforms. The show must go on. Our Russia Today film crew finds us at the same time as Al Jezeera International News. I feel somewhat like a foolish rock star as I strap a tiny amp to my belt and begin the parade. Immediately, we build an army of children singing and marching along with us.

The clowns lead a parade before a show.
The clowns lead a parade before a show.

Many of them recognize us from previous shows in the camps and on the beaches. One of our favorite little girls runs up to us, the star audience volunteer dancer from yesterday’s show. She heads the parade with a smile bigger than the ferry that sits in the harbor. I can never help but laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of these parades and the pure surprise joy they cause everyone. When we pass sleeping people we shush and walk on tiptoe until we explode with hilarity just beyond the dreamers.

The show goes by without a hitch although the floor is probably the most disgusting one I’ve had to pratfall on in my life. Our new skit about crossing the sea in a tiny boat also calls for Sabine to continuously spit water on me. I remind myself that these families have been through a lot worse.

When the show calls for a volunteer dancer from the audience Sabine secretly asks me, “Should we just pick the same dancer?” She raises her hand like it’s attached to a humongous helium balloon. I say, “Yeah.” She knows all the moves and executes them perfectly.

After the show Al Jezeera interviews Sabine while Luz teaches kids how to magically remove their fingertips. The cutest tiniest girl approaches with awe and motions for me to pick her up. Her expression remains stoic despite my best efforts but we lock eyes for a long time. Something sad rests inside her. She just wants to be held by a clown for while. When I finally put her down she simply walks away. I’ll never forget that face. Somehow I lose my nose playing with a couple cute little troublemakers, but I don’t try too hard to find it. We have to kindly shoo the kids away from the car in order to leave the parking space.

We arrive in Moria, the razorwired camp for “non-Syrian” people, not knowing if the Prime Minister is still in the middle of his visit. But we aren’t here for him. After a short parade we gather our largest audience yet. Over one thousand people crowd around the stage Molly has roped off for us to sing, clap, and laugh along. During the part of the show where Luz tosses my tiny hat to the ground, a tiny boy in tiger face-paint marches bravely onto the stage to pick it up and sticks out his tongue. This little gesture receives twice the amount of laughter than any of our professional clowns antics do throughout the show. He politely puts the hat back in its exact spot and we roll with it. One intelligent man has climbed to the top of a skinny little leafless tree to watch the show. Sabine points at him and makes monkey gestures. He plays along scratching his armpits to everyone’s delight.

The tiger face-painted boy who steals the show.
The tiger face-painted boy who steals the show.

When the show ends the invisible force field keeping the children at bay immediately evaporates. Every child wants a hug from these clowns that have become their famous friends. Every young man wants a selfie. We know that in a crowd of over one thousand we have to leave as quickly and as boringly as possible to avoid being trampled or leading children down the path away from their parents. But we can’t help but blow a few bubbles and kisses as we say “Bye bye,” a hundred times. I have to doubt the Prime Minister of Greece made as much of an impact here, as we walk back to our dusty rental car, pit stained, sun scorched, and exhausted, but energized in our hearts from the connections we’ve made.

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