Laughter covering a trail of tears. Luckily this didn’t seem to be the case in Chiapas, but definitely it was Laughter covering a trail of fear and intimidation. The situation has changed little it seemed to me since my last visit a year ago. Although I didn’t get much of an opportunity to receive a detailed analysis of what is going on in Chiapas, the general word was of little change. The government still doing everything in their power to undermine the Autonomous Indigenous movement still expanding the military presence in the region if my sources are correct. Despite an extremely strong showing by the Zapatista referendum on March 21st, those in power are conceding where they seem forced to but acting as if it were their own initiative. One friend said that this is the pattern and it will remain. They will not lose face and simply reverse their position and implement the San Andres accords of 1996.
This year’s “Dia del Nino y de la Nina” Chiapas tour was expanded by the wonderful presence of Rudi Galindo and David Lichtenstein, both clown performers from North America, Arcata , Ca and Portland, Or. Together with Moshe Cohen, they created a show combining pieces from individual performances with group play and improvisation. The show was well received and full of good laughing moments. David and Rudi continued their collaboration sans Moshe Cohen who left to work in Japan on April 28th.
On a Clowns Without Borders logistical scale, Chiapas continues to provide it’s challenges. Both of my main contacts, Pablo Romo and Alejandra were unavailable, Pablo having been transferred by the Dominican Order to another post in Geneva, and Alejandra on her way to Seva meetings in California. Pablo had made arrangements with ‘Melel’, the commmunications office of the Dominican Order and they proved to be very helpful in realizing our dreams. There were several misunderstandings which had led them to plan only 5 shows for our stay, two of these to be in San Cristobal. ‘Melel’ works a lot with the street children of San Cristobal, many who sell candy, little Zapatista dolls or who shine shoes Or…’Melel’ also works with children who are part of displaced families, some of whom live in settlements around San Cristobal. A quick rearranging of the schedule created a productive tour (11 shows planned/9 performed) and ‘Melel’ provided the transportation, a 1984 Chevy Pickup that took us up into the mountains, Los Altos, several times. The day I left, the pickup not available, a Volkswagen Polo was available.
Transportation remains the biggest obstacle in moving the show arround and we were very fortunate to have the strong backing of ‘Melel”. The short scheduling process did create some problems as far as miscommunications with communities forcing us to play earlier than they expected at San Antonio Brillante, a community about halfway between Oventik and El Bosque. It was heartbreaking to see several groups of communities arriving just as we were finishing our show. The kids were all there as we played at the school and we did have this huge contingent impatiently waiting the show. Still the school teacher who had assured us when he arrived that he had contacted all the communities about the change in time-they thought that it was at 2pm even though we had said 11am….we waited until about 12:30 then started because we didn’t want to be too late for Oventik which was told 2pm. We later found out that they expected us only at 4pm. I was kicking myself for not knowing better and not waiting a little longer before starting the show as we knew that not everyone was there yet.
I did a short seven minute bit for the latecomers which was well received. The high pitched Chiapan howl of laughter sunk straight into my heart.
Several shows had to be cancelled because the communities proved to be two hours walk from the road and this was not planned into the schedule, Xoyep, April 29 and Union Progresso, April 30. We had known about the walk in to Xoyep, (a large community of 2000, 1000 of which are displace from the Acteal area.) and Melel had tried to arrange for community help to carry the props up and down the steep mountain, but they were not there. We had not known about the walk into Union Progresso.
Some type of mishaps are to be expected on this type of expedition. We encountered no lack of military checkpoints, as well as one run-in with the immigration authorities. They however did not create any big problems and we felt generally blessedGenerally we remained vague about our actual destinations, using town names rather than communities, as this might be perceived by some attempt to support the autonomous movement. We did however tell both the military police and immigration that we were clowns going to do shows. The immigration were quite friendly meaning that either they knew that we were coming and the decision to let us pass was already made or that they were genuinly OK with Clowns travelling the interior. The main opinion though was that as Zedillo had declared April to be the month of the child, the immigration was not about to kick out the clowns. We will see what happens this December.
Still it is no fun to have to deal with nearly illiterate Military personnel carrrying machine guns but who have a hard time finding your birthdate on your passport or figuring out from that just how old you are. To get to San Andres, one goes through one checkpoint at the turnoff just before the town. To get to San Antonio El Brillante, one had to go through two more, at one the officer in charge behind sunglasses was nervous sweating and high strung, this did not make us feal at ease and wheen the head schoolteacher thanked us for coming and spoke to us that it was not easy these days to be living there, we could understand. There is a large military post just up the mountain from them.
Speaking of San Antonio El Brillante, one rarely has the opportunity to experience such a beautiful spot, two thrids down the mountain into a beautiful valley with bananas and coffee and corn growing on every available acre. We were stunned by fields on mountain slopes that seemed to have a 60° angle tilt. We played on the basketball court as was often the case and Rudi and David played a fair bit of basketball while we waited for the communities to arrive. We also fooled around quite a lot with various little tricks that each of us had up our sleeves.
About a week before I arrived in San Cristobal, The mayor’s office occupied by the PRD(left leaning party) was overrun by the PRI(ruling party) supported by the Security Police and the Army. The next morning, 3000 people assembled at the edge of the city and marched in to reclaim the office. The official PRI election victory due to elections boycotted by the majority autonomous movement. One can see a ray of light in the fact that no shots were fired. When I arrived at San Cristobal, I was encouraged very strongly by the organization KINAL to go there to do a show as soon as possible. And so I did. When I returned three days later (as promised) with David and Rudi, we performed to what seemed a completely different audience. When we performed a day later to almost no one in Oventik (which is very close to San Andres), it became apparent that there was a well organized rotation of community occupation of the town to maintain the peace.
As mentioned, early plans are now being made to return to Chiapas in early December. Padre Gonazalo and ‘Melel’ have promised to help us and provide transportation if at all possible. Rudi and David reported that the brothers at El Bosque church offered to take a group on a walking tour as many of the communities are so far from the roads.
We concentrated entirely on the Los Altos area this trip not venturing south into the Ocosingo area or to AltaMirano or the Palenque area, all which are supposedly rather ‘hot’ these days.
As always, and we are always happy to hear people ask us to come back, to bring others to Chiapas. The rewards are great indeed, some of the most beautiful people and country on this planet, and the most innocent audiences ready for clowning.
One cannot help but wondering about the constant state of strife in so many parts of this planet but one can only feel good about contributing to peace and harmony. We tried to joke and to magic tricks for the army officers whenever possible but we saved our smiles for the communities.