There are not many moments in your life where you can say “I have been changed forever.” Knowing, because of that one simple moment, the path of life will neverbe the same. Our show at A New Day Cambodia was one of those moments.
We woke up early for our show at A New Day Cambodia, planning for a long trip to the outskirts of Phenom Penh. Our Tuk-Tuk ride was definitely not a disappointment in that regard. Winding through the hundreds of dirt roads that made the city into a spider’s web of direction. Our Tuk-Tuk driver, Mali, had to make at least 4 U-turns because he realized that we were going the wrong direction. Eventually, after the longest Tuk-Tuk ride I have experienced, we made it to the school.
We walked in through a high gate and had to sign a security roster to record that we had come in the school and to make sure we were going to leave. The school had just recently opened a new set of facilities with a brand new playground filled with sand, a new dormitory for the girls, and some brand spanking new classrooms for the kids. For the second time in my life I caused a ruckus without doing anything other than walking through a doorway. Pointed fingers and shimmering eyes shone from across the play yard as we disrupted the boys class. Quickly, we were rushed into the closest building. We ran right next to the girls class and up the stairs, which was not left without an immediate respite to stare at the Clowns. At the top of the stairs we met some of the faculty and administration of the center and were quickly offered a tour of the premises. Mostly to rush us to the other building where there was no possibilities of disrupting the students.
Our tour guide showed us one of the dormitories. A small room no bigger than a bathroom in a fancy restaurant. There were 3 bunk-beds and a wall covered in shelves from the shoulders down. We were told that usually there are 12 to 18 children staying in a room like this. These kids were lucky, there were only 10 in that room. After our brief tour of the new building we were asked if we wanted to see the other facility, a short walk down the street. Our exodus of the girls school came to us with relative ease, still receiving inquisitive glances from the classrooms. We walked down the street receiving bubbly hello’s from every child we would come across. Some poking their heads out of windows or through doors to get a look. One was so brash that he decided that it would be a good idea to come up to me, head-but me, and run away full with laughter.
The tour of the Boys school was long and relaxed. Taking time to make sure we were shown every classroom, the kitchen, and even the upper terrace. On the terrace you could see far outside of Phenom Penh with a perfect view of the garbage dump. The place in which the majority of the parents worked to make their living. In our conversations with our tour guide we learned that the school actually paid the families of the students $10.00 a month to keep them in school because that’s how much they would be making if they worked on the street. We were also told that the school had a problem with loosing students once they became teenagers. They said “once they reach 13, 14, or 15 the girls can work in the factories and they can bring in $40.00 to $60.00 a month. And families see that as a better way for their children to be spending their time.” Often this was because a family member had a severe drinking problem and could use the extra money to sustain the habit.
We were lead back to the girls school because the classes had finished and we could start warming up our show. The only problem was that no matter where we went a group of children was waiting there watching every move we made. The kids were supposed to eat their lunch before the show. However, to them, the show had already started. It was very hard to warm up without getting a constant cacophony of questions. One of the girls brought her English textbook, that had a section on Doctor Clowns. She stared up at me and asked, “are you doctor clown? You have big rubber nose.” I told her, “no I’m not a doctor clown, but I am a clown.”
Our warm up was hindered but successful. We ended with spacing our partner acrobatics routine and by then every kid in the school had surrounded us, even though we were doing nothing but walking around and talking. We started our pre-show as some of the bigger boys grabbed benches to set in the sand as impromptu seats.
The show was a great success! The kids were engaging with us the entire time. Soaking in all of the new things they were experiencing. Asking questions when we would talk to them and pointing out their friends when I came to select my audience volunteers. The kids sat in awe as they watched our show, laughing when they though something was funny and going completely silent, wrapped in awe, when we performed our tricks. In fact we had to remind them that it was ok to applaud. Once they new that, the sounds of clapping hands never settled. We finished our show smiling, sweaty, and hot as a chili pepper. Looking out into the audience I saw nothing but the purest form of joy. Smiles that stretched across the faces of every kid as they applauded, hooped, and hollered for our show. The applause didn’t last very long. Every single kid jumped out of their seat and rushed to the stage. Smiling, bowing, and revealing the most sincere thank you’s to my ear.
We spent a good half an hour playing with the kids. Teaching them how to balance a club, lifting some kids into the air, because they didn’t believe that I was that strong. Showing them what beat boxing was for the first time in their lives, giving them a chance to wrap their mouths around the strange sounds coming out of Tyler’s mouth. But most importantly, giving them someone that they could really look up to. Someone who was kind, could make them laugh, and do amazing things. Before we left, a young girl came up to me, wide eyed and grinning. She said she had a question for me, “when are you coming back?” I had to pause for a moment. I knew that I wasn’t coming back. So I stared back into her dark eyes, smiled and said, “I’m not coming back.” The little girl lost her smile her eyes lost the newly lit fire from the dream she was seeing in her head. I couldn’t bear it and I told her, “but I will be performing in Phenom Penh in December and you can see me then.” The little girls world lit up again with fire brighter than the sun, happy to know that she would be able to see the clowns again. I was not so happy. I knew her family would never be able to afford to see the show. I gave the director of A New Day Cambodia one of the fliers for the Tini Tinou festival telling her that she should see if she can get discounted tickets for the school so they could see more circus. That being the end of our time we started packing up to go.
As we were leaving the director asked us if the children could write to us. Both Tyler and I gave an emphatic yes and started loading up the Tuk-Tuk. in the process of getting ready to drive off, a group of students came out of the school wishing us their final farewells. One of them was the little girl I met before, who asked me such a perplexing question. We said our goodbyes and got in the Tuk Tuk and started driving away. The little girl started chasing after us waving smiling and half crying, yelling, “goodbye, goodbye.” She ran as far as she could before she was ushered back into the school. I turned my head looked at Tyler and said “well, another job well done.” Tyler looked at me and said, “yep, I’m never going to be the same after that. That was a life-changing experience.” I knew full well that Tyler had hit the nail on the head. The last few hours of my life are something I will never forget. Especially that little girl wishing for only one more chance to see the clowns. One more chance to laugh with reckless abandon. One more time to see something completely different and brand new. One more time to see hope, love, and happiness in the form of a man wearing a red nose.