CWB – USA is on tour along the Balkan Route, traveled by migrants fleeing violence and persecution in the Middle East and North Africa. Sabine Choucair, longtime CWB collaborator and founder of Clown Me In, writes about lessons best learned from kids.
There are only men around on our third day of performance in the Balkans. It’s sunny outside, but very quiet. The police want to look at all of our clown gear: a rubber chicken, noisy pigs, hoops, juggling balls, lassos—everything. They greet us with formal and serious police faces. We enter a big building where we plan to perform, and a few smiles and laughs erupt at the site of three clowns. But darkness, damp and the smell of rotten souls covers the place. We clowns are the only colorful thing in this darkness.
I walk in and feel the heaviness of the space, despite the smiles around us. We gather a group of 500 men in no time at all, along with a handful of kids and women. We perform for an hour and a half, our longest show so far. Each time we’re about to end, a feeling inside tells us to keep going.
The men here were caught in forests and sent to this place against their will. It was only fair for us to share more and offer a bit of joy. Two Syrians tell me, after the show, that they were actually kidnapped in Kosovo and have been in this place for the past nine months. One guy in a wheelchair has rotten feet (I can’t shake that from my mind), and there are images of misery on all sides. But we’re here too. Hassan, an Iranian guitar player, joins us and plays some songs. The audience participation during our show makes a big, positive difference. On the way out, a girl is happy to see me. She says, “Hey, I know you. We met in Greece last year.” Maybe we’ll next meet in the dream land, and hopefully she’ll still recognize me.
We leave with heavy hearts, but also with a bit of joy. We’re able to share laughs and the small hope that spring is arriving and maybe, just maybe, some of these guys will eventually make it to the dream land, away from war and oppression. I’m thankful to be with David Lichtenstein, who is unstoppable, and Dustin J. Allen, who keeps performing despite an injury sustained during a fall.
It’s our last day in Bosnia, specifically in Sarajevo, where people prepare to go to the borders. Many of them don’t know they’ll be stopped mid-way by the police, and left on the side of the road. At least Sanella Lepirica, an awesome woman, and her father are trying to find a way to help (check her out if you want to help, too).
We perform again for many men and some kids. Those kids…oh my goodness. They laugh non-stop and enjoy the show immensely. They love all of our small, silly jokes—not bad for a final day’s lesson. After that show, we play at a train station with members of the Roma community. They hoop and spin balls for a whole hour without getting bored or tired. Also not a bad lesson to learn from kids: Be silly, laugh when you can, and enjoy the tiniest moments of life. Thanks kids.
We’re off to the forests of Serbia. I wonder what’s waiting for us there.