Little boy points at Melissa as she makes a funny face

From Cocoon To Butterfly

Melissa writes about the good, the challenging, and the transformative moments of emotional negotiation while on tour in Brazil. 

A Rough Start

We have a strange start today. In the early morning, one of the slats from this awful bunk bed I’m sleeping on decided to tumble down, slamming onto the floor and landing on Ana, our intrepid project leader. She woke up screaming and yelling in Portuguese, while I stared at her dumbly from my bunk, not knowing what to do. Our two other clowns came running through the door, looking around in desperate confusion. When Ana was finally able to talk again, we determined that nobody was dying and went back to our beds after a good laugh. Ana and I are both now sleeping on the floor, having abandoned the treacherous bunk bed. It was the most comical moment I’ve had in ages. We’re all still laughing about it.

However, I was in poor spirits last night, and out of sorts today, feeling very, very emotional without knowing why. The weather cooled and there was a heaviness in the air. Farmers had attacked a retomada last night, in this area, and it was on everyone’s mind. Retomada is the term in Matto Grosso do Sul for the land that indigenous families are living on and reclaiming. The situation is very unstable for them, and there are many attacks and burnings in these disputed areas. Our first show is at an indigenous CRAS [Centro de Referência de Assistência Social] center for social services in Dourados. I’m grumpy and fairly unfunny, even muttering mean things under my breath when the parade leaves without me—not my best show, though still enjoyable.

Today at lunch, I suddenly ran from the table in tears, and took a few minutes to gather myself before going back and letting the clowns know about my emotional state. They’re very supportive of me. Our second show is a 25-minute drive from our home-base, at a school on indigenous lands. The school is called Panambi, which means “butterfly” in Guaraní­, one of the languages spoken by the local indigenous people. We’re swarmed with excited children from the moment we arrive, and they follow us as we unpack our gear. Some of them grab props to help out, while some just follow and chatter away.


I know the show is going to be good. Ana tells me to sit the show out if I need to, but I want to perform. It’s not the first time I’ve smiled through my tears as I don my nose. We parade out together, accordion playing, whistles going, clowns marching, and the energy feels so light and spirited. The kids are grinning and laughing from the beginning, and we amp up the clown energy to get them clapping, screaming, stomping, and giggling.

After the show, the children swarm us with so many hugs that it’s heart-melting and almost overwhelming. Apparently, the kids had been excited for the show all day, jumping up every few minutes to check and see if the clowns had arrived. I feel completely at peace after the show, and the sadness that overwhelmed me earlier has disappeared. I got to experience the transformative power of joy, thanks to the children, my fellow clowns, and the teachers at the school.

The wonderful place the clowns are staying is a cultural center called Casulo, which is “cocoon,” in Portuguese. The show today was in the indigenous land of Panambi, which means “butterfly.” And somehow, my sadness transformed to joy, as a cocoon transforms into butterfly.

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