Anna’s Journal: (See Anna’s Blog)
Finally, after a prolonged journey of over 40 hours, I arrive in Jakarta around 10:30 pm on Tuesday, January 12, 2010.
Driving into the city from the airport, Jakarta looks like it could be any American city. A highway sidelined by modern office buildings and shopping plazas. Little by little, however – after a day or two – the extremes that are the city of Jakarta become evident. The extremes of excessive wealth and tremendous poverty, existing side by side and simultaneously. It is a city of contrasts and contradictions.
However, before I get a chance to take in all that is Jakarta – and it is a lot to take in!, an overwhelmingly large sprawling megalopolis – we head out to the neighboring island of Sumatra, where we will clown for victims of the October/November 2009 earthquake.
Padang earthquake area, Sumatra
Thursday, January 14 we fly Garuda Air to Padang on the island of Sumatra (Jakarta is in Java). My partner Dan has arranged with Save The Children to have us come perform and do workshops with the children affected by the earthquake that happened last fall, October/November 2009.
As we drive to the small town of Pariaman and onward to the surrounding villages where we will play with the children, we begin to see the extent of the damage. Every other house is either completely collapsed or has cracks or gaping holes in the walls. Barely any buildings have been repaired or rebuilt thus far. We are informed that the Indonesian government will not allow foreign aid organizations to help rebuild, as the government wants to take care of that itself, but so far nothing has been done. In the meantime, people have no homes and are living in tents or temporary shelters.
Our mission feels somewhat overshadowed by the disastrous earthquake that has just happened in Haiti. Certainly the earthquake did not hit as hard here in Padang. But whether a 1,000 or 100,000 people died matters little to those who lost loved ones or their homes.
We visit an area where a mountain side collapsed and buried a whole village. On the way we drive through a makeshift road dodging gaping holes. It looks like the earth has been turned upside down and inside out. We arrive by a hillside overlooking a valley, which is where the village was swallowed up. As we stand there contemplating the outcome, an older man approaches and begins to talk to us. Luckily, Dan understands Indonesian. He proceeds to tell us what happened to his village. It had been raining for a day and a half when suddenly without warning the earthquake hit, causing an immense landslide. Forty children died in the school and thirty in the mosque. He gives us gruesome details of bodies found, which I do not need to describe here. It seems he feels a great need to share, as one of the only survivors.
Playing with the Padang children
The first place we go to is called Kota Pariaman and is located further up in the mountains about forty minutes away. We drive through narrow roads surrounded by jungle, the vegetation is lush and green. On the way we pass damaged or demolished houses. Eventually I spy children ahead of us veering off in droves to the side. Aha, we must have reached our destination. We arrive to about 200 children seated on the steps of a mosque.
The troupe consists of Dan Roberts, D’dy (and Renny Antoni, photographer) – all of Hidung Merah Circus – and then myself. Dan, D’dy and I will perform together as a clown trio. We came up with a scenario for a show, brainstorming and practicing the day before, that we will improvise on in the moment. The show is about an hour and afterwards we do a workshop for another hour with the kids.
To give you an idea of the show: I barge in on the scene as an American tourist with my big camera and map looking for Bali and the beach, and instead finding myself in the jungle of Sumatra – tigers and elephants and orangutans, oh my! Various silly antics ensue. Dan pokes fun at me being a foreigner, a bule as it’s called (and the joke, of course, is that he is a bule too), and translates for me, incorrectly of course, making it as if I’m saying wacky things, which the kids find hilarious. Normally we wouldn’t use much language, relying solely on physical humor, but since Dan speaks Indonesian, he and Deddy can make funny jokes with the kids! And we can play with the fact that I don’t speak the language. It’s great to have Deddy on board making for a multi-cultural show, with funny foreigners as well as homegrown ‘baduts’ (clowns). As a musician, Deddy brings in a musical element, playing songs on guitar, that we accompany with ukulele and tambourine – or, alternatively, goof off to and mess him up. Deddy plays a couple of popular Indonesian songs and it’s amazing: all the kids know all the lyrics and sing along at the top of their lungs! It’s awesome! We were asked to incorporate some much needed social messages, and that is how I end up pooping on stage. Well, not really, of course. Dan tells me to go use the toilet. You can’t just go anywhere! Afterwards, I’m hungry so I say let’s eat! Well, wait a minute, you have to go wash your hands first. Right, kids? All the children yell, “yeah, wash your hands, wash your hands!” Hygiene and sanitation are actual issues for these populations. We also play with the theme of friendship and working together. After poking fun at each other and making things difficult, we come to the conclusion that things will work much better if we do it together. Let’s be friends! So we juggle together and play music together. And have lots of fun! And the kids do too. The show is a big hit. The kids are so great, they’re so excited and it’s so wonderful to hear their laughter and see their smiling faces.
All photos above taken by Renny Antoni