A performance shot taken through a clown's legs, looking toward the audience

A Sea of Laughter

CWB – USA co-founder Moshe Cohen joins Payasos Sin Fronteras for a tour to Guatemala. The goal of the tour is to visit communities living in poverty in and around Guatemala City, as well as rural communities terrorized by the civil war. In the first two dispatches from his tour, Moshe notices the tiny details that make a place feel like home, no matter where you live. 

Moshe Cohen

Day 2

We spend the morning at the Enfants refugiés du Monde house, in calle 5a, Zona 3, of Guatemala City. I have an impression of cement stucco walls, tiled floor, faded yellow paint. Yesterday I traveled to the country, to kilometer 29 of the El Salvador road, where I performed in Anini, a small orphanage. Some of the kids, between 3 and 5 years old, greeted me by saying, “Papa.” They had hopeful question marks in their innocent eyes. There is a large aquarium at one end of the room and when I peered in, I spotted a little sign planted along the bottom gravel amongst the goldfish that said “Quieramos Padrinos” (we want foster parents). Yow.

I did a show in the main room after receiving a tour of the facility, which amounted to a few crosses and a chapel. Most kids sat in a wide semicircular row of benches, while the disabled and very challenged ones took the middle of the floor. Soon enough, the kids and I are navigating a boat on a sea of laughter. Lots of silliness, lots of fun.

Day 3

The van is stuck in the main market area as we inch through orderly chaos. Diesel fumes permeate the air as trucks idle and unload, while wild-colored 1950s school buses vie for position on their way to the next stop. We head to the ferocaril, where we’re scheduled to perform. I’m not sure what that will means, but I’m about to find out. Bright Guatemalan colors sparkle among street sellers who hawk vegetables piled on cloths, laid down on the street. I spot a discerning indigenous woman inspecting produce, long black hair in braids, with a baby strapped to her back in typical fashion. The driver, Jean-Marie, from ADR quart-monde (fourth world), points out the main-market, straight ahead. It’s a sea of wavy tin roofs, melons in baskets next to piles of black tires, and women carrying plastic buckets on their heads.

Miguel and Anna, from Circ Confetti, and I are busy figuring out how I can back them up on harmonica and ukulele, as they won’t be able to use their tapes at ferocaril, a squat shack community which has evolved alongside the railroad tracks. As I gaze past shadowed groups of individuals, blinded by the bright gleam of railroad ties, I know there’s zero chance of a sound system.

The tracks cut right through a congregation of mechanics and tire repair centers. As you walk along the tracks past the commerce, a mass of corrugated iron slowly transforms into doorways, habitats, and small shacks, with a few people sitting in the sheltered shadows. Small groups of children emerge from doorways, dusty faces on dark indigenous skin. The loose dirt—hot, dark, fine sand—is pure silt. When I trip (on purpose, to the kids’ delight) I watch the little cloud of dust erupt. I’m stunned, the kids laugh.

We change in one woman’s house. It’s neat and organized. As we walk in, I am surprised by the presence of several potted plants. No excess here as my eyes walk past a Formica card table with several covered platters of food. Another surprise, an electric blender with a hint of fruit smoothie on the bottom, red…

The walls are flattened cardboard boxes framed by recycled two by fours. A single electrical wire wraps along a beam linked to a bare bulb, which the woman lights when she leaves, closing the door to let us change. There are strategic holes in the cardboard where differing items live, like  a pen and disposable razor. An assortment of pots, dishes, and glasses live in a red crate on the packed-earth floor, which is swept clean. I’m surprised, as I follow electronic voices around the corner of the makeshift wall into the half-separated bedroom, to see a portable TV player flashing a fuzzy, black and white soap opera. On the same shelf lives an equally outdated radio cassette player. I remark later to Jean-Marie how “together” their little house seems. He agrees, and says  that this is a dynamic family: The father gets work, the mother is very community involved, the kids go to school.

The show is good fun, and afterwards the kids dance with Ramon’s giant puppet and scream with delight as they chase my bubbles.

Later at the van, after we pack up, we wait while Miguel gets the flat tire on his giraffe unicycle repaired. Two kids hanging around the van get Jean-Marie to give them books to read, which they devour, completely absorbed. Jean-Marie brings a traveling library to this community on a weekly basis.

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