April 22, Acteal 300 A powerful place to begin the tour, as the Pillar of Shame statue stands above the community. The statue was erected after the 1998 massacre where 40 people were killed by Paramilitary. I noticed that near the statue of twisted, agonized faces and bodies, there was always a few men spread along the one road watching. They were not armed, unless they had their machetes, and most were in the traditional clothing. They were there, purposefully watching. This sums up my observations about the situation in Chiapas at present. The Indigenous people live by subsistence farming on steep mountain plots, in a lifestyle not unlike they have for hundreds of years. Yet, they know how fragile their existence is, and that not only their lives, but their town, their culture, their language, could be wiped out in a snap. They do not want to sell out to progress. They are strong, self-determined, and committed to staying on their land. They are watching-literally, everyone who comes and goes carefully. They want to be visited by those who support them.
The Payasos were very welcomed in Acteal, as our bringing laughter to them is an exchange of resistance and an affirmation of their staying on their land. The more connection to groups who care and see them, the more chance of their survival. And to have a wild group of clowns chasing each other and spitting water is a very well received joy. And since Payasos Sin Fronteres have been visiting Acteal for years now, there is that exchange: we are watching you Acteal for your safety, and you are watching us to laugh and feel the love.
April 23, Nuevo Yibeljo 150 Having played here before, Rudi made the choice to not perform on the basketball court below where the audience sits on the hill above, but in this small area between the little church and house. The audience filled the areas around us into the tress and along all sides. It made for a wonderfully intimate scene, with the chases into the crowd and trees quite wild. Rudi’s volunteer who puts the hat on blinding himself won the longest to stand there award. Hysterical! As most places, there were many young children really curious about our preparation, peeking into where we were changing. This pueblo was relocated to here a few years ago and is looking more like home than when Rudi visited last time.
April 24 AM El Bosque 350 Our first, but far from last entrance from a church! I enter first on the stilts, and then the other clowns enter through my legs while the opera blares. I feel like I’m birthing them, and often notice the older woman smile at me. The crowd in front of the blue church is excited, as Don Vicky has been announcing “Los Payasos” on the loudspeaker all morning. The Payasos have a reputation here and we had a rocking show with some fun improv with an old man crossing the playing area.
PM San Pedro 450 A first time for the Payasos here, which made it very exciting form the moment the car entered the town area and everyone looked and the children started to follow, til the same reaction on the way out, but with bigger smiles. Because we were such unknowns, and because hardly any outsiders come to this town, everything in the show seemed heightened! The children swarmed away if you got too close too quickly, so when we started the chases in the audience it was wild. I noticed some of the biggest smiles from the older woman here, sitting on the benches in front of the church. It was a magical sunset show watched by the entire town, including the military on the roof of a nearby building. This was the show Rudi decided Michael should stuff the entire orange he has just peeled into his mouth-so Rudi helped him out with that feat. After the show in our playing with the kids, they would touch you and run a bit. Then braver ones where standing closer as we played and the kids 2 or 3 kids back would push and then there would be a mini mosh pit on the ground in front of us. Then the kids would all laugh and stand back up. Really funny.
April 25 AM Florencia 100 On the “road” to Florencia we stopped to talk to a number of men cutting up a large tree we later learned and then saw, were beams for the reconstruction of the church. One of the men was our contact, but was surprised to see us. “I thought you were coming the 25th”, “It is the 25th”. So it goes. There were fewer people than there might have been , but we gathered a good number, including a cow, and did our show under two large trees next to the basketball court. The houses are spread out in this area, and the pueblo tiny, so the joy was in bringing what we had to them. They are not too small a place to be important enough for the clowns to come, is how I felt. Lots of big smiles under that beautiful tree, where the children seemed a bit poorer than other places, and where I met Victor, a small boy who made the most hysterical, fabulous faces as we played outside the house where they fed us a delicious lunch of Mayan tamales.
PM Los Platanos 200 The audience was loving it, we were having a blast, but the conservative Hermanos of the church were uncomfortable with the show…We skipped to the end after our contact Gloria asked us. This is the mixed bag of going to towns through the church I suppose, but it is their town, and if the dancing and slapstick are not what the church men want in front of their church, than we respect that. They still asked us to stay for food. It was a quiet dinner and a wild ride home in the back of the truck. We were all moved greatly by Gloria, the Hermana from El Bosque who set up the shows in San Pedro, Florencia and Los Platanos, as she smiled and moved so gracefully through what might have been an even more awkward situation. She said a prayer after dinner which made most of us cry, and feel so thankful to be doing the work we are doing.
April 26 Oventik, 200 I was grateful to go to Oventik, not so much because there was an audience there dying to see us. There weren’t that many people around, and some were too busy to come see the show. But what we saw there in the Zapatista stronghold, was a 5 on 5 full court woman’s basketball game. Barefoot, dresses, almost all in the same traditional shirt, sprinting up and down the court, playing a really good game of hoops! And at the same time, I saw some men over at the water washing clothes. The people who fought for liberation, were living some forms of it.
The audience was largely teenage boys and then some of the basketball woman arrived. We started the show for 2 people and so really were playing to have fun ourselves and we sure did. The audience was on a hill which I was up and down ten times, and loads of other wacky things happened which left us laughing perhaps even longer than them. Was that the show Rudi hit the woman in the head with the banana piece?
April 30 AM Albarrada organic farm 300 This farm is a trade school for young adults from all over Chiapas. Alianza Civica brought Michael, Zuzka and I there to stay in their guest cabana. The place was so amazing and we were thrilled to get to do a show for them. A group of 50 school kids were visiting the farm at the time too, so they joined the young adults and we had a beautiful audience. The farm not only teaches young people trades which they then take back to their communities, but they raise some animals and grow medicinal herbs and have a radio program in Spanish and two of the Indigenous languages.
PM Santa Ignazia 400 This wasn’t a scheduled show for us, but Alianza Civica was doing a puppet show there, and asked us to come do a short show while they set up, and then we were going to watch their show. There was a big crowd there celebrating Dia del Nino so Rudi and Zuzka did their newspaper routine and then Michael and I did our dance acro routine…and then before the health lady finished talking and the puppet show began, and after the small boys had pulled my skirt off, it started to RAIN! We helped move the puppet stage and sound equipment into the church, and Rudi starts a hat routine in this crowded church where now they have to reset the puppet stage. The lights couldn’t be turned on because no one had the key to that room so the back could barely see the front, so I started doing some acro and then magic in the middle of the church. At one point I noticed Michael on the side playing to those 50 people. A beautiful impromptu moment. Then we were off to our last show of the day.
PM El Bario Relicario 150 We played on the basketball court to the neighborhood, who weren’t sitting there waiting for our arrival, but knew we were coming, and came out when we arrived. It was like a magic trick in itself. The kids and adults seemed thrilled to have this oddity of weirdness and joy arrive on their doorsteps.
May 1 Bario el Cerio 250 This audience was an interesting mix people in the square, street kids and workers with the street kids organization Melel. Our audience was in the round under these huge beautiful trees. There wasn’t the timidness of the rural kids here, and they let the laughter at the slapstick and crazy schtick rip! This show Heather finally sprinted in the chase after a week of being caught, and even jumped in a taxi in her attempt to escape the long-legged Rudi.
PM Colonia altejar 100 Thunder, lighting, and incredible rains blessed San Cristobol that afternoon and we thought the show would be off. Then…the sun came out and we rallied to weave through the streets and find the neighborhood. Only there was no one there at the church. Our spirits were high and energy strong, so Zuzka and I hit the streets to drum up the audience, and Michael started to play with the couple who was having a romantic moment before we drove up. Rudi hit the bench and played director for the show, which we recast as we went along, and had a hilarious time doing each others parts. Life doesn’t get much better than that. Many wide eyes watched that show, as that anything can happen energy was high and we were funny! The surprise of a clown happening was certainly very appreciated in a tucked away neighborhood of a small city in the mountains. “Get in” were Rudi’s last directions of the show as he opened the trunk. Michael and Zuzka got in the trunk and we drove away with the opera music blaring.
This expedition was a great mix of nurturing relationships by returning to communities CWB has been to, and taking the laughter to communities further off the main road, where CWB has not been before. When are you returning? is the question we heard from young and old, organizer and grandmother. The beautiful thing was that because of Rudi and others dedication, we could often answer, next December, or next April. The ongoing nature of CWB in Chiapas is very powerful and important.
Afterward from Moshe Cohen
All the shows were very well received. The shows on april 24 and 25 around El Bosque were in communities that are only accessible by walking, well off the road. We have been trying to go to these communities and they proved to be the highlight of the tour. The community of Acteal has expressed a strong desire to create workshops in the future. Cancellation of workshops by San Andreas and Oventik was due to more pressing needs of the community.
Although the performers were glad to say that tensions in the regions they visited seem to have calmed, that the military has refused to participate in forced expulsions of certain communities from their lands, there are also reports in the news that there is pressure from paramilitary and others still pressuring numerous communities. Also the Plan Pueblo Panama to create a free trade zone in the whole Chiapas area threatens the existence of many communities.
CWB-usa remains committed to bringing joy and laughter to the communities and towns of Chiapas.