Group of girls with clown smiling and waving, Lebanon

The “I Love You” Game

 Hannah Gaff joined the 2017 CWB – USA tour to Lebanon and returned for the 2018 tour. She writes about a creative and courageous little girl who invents a new game. 

Hannah Gaff

A Game to Change the World

Hannah with a little girl
Hannah with an audience member in Lebanon.

When I clown in the hospital or on the streets, I listen for the game—the gateway to making a vibrant connection with each human. I offer myself as an object of play, and look to them to see what brings a spark to their eye, a change in their breath, or a giggle. Sometimes we communicate with words, conversation, stories, or witty jokes. But often the play is non-verbal and we communicate simply through body language, emotion, and eye contact.

On Thursday, we perform three shows scheduled in the Akkar District in Northern Lebanon near the Syrian border. It storms all morning, pouring down rain, so our costumes are caked with thick mud from the first show of the day. Our second show is canceled because there isn’t a dry spot for the kids to sit. A teacher at the first school knows of a nearby school that would love to see the show, so we pack into the vans and rush to an impromptu, abbreviated performance. By the time we wrap up our third show of the day, we’re tired, wet, and we’re facing a long drive back to Beirut.

As soon as the show is over, we pack up our props. One bold girl runs up to me and throws her arms around my waist, squeezing so tightly. I kneel down and squeeze back. When I stand back up she grabs onto my arm and drags me out into the schoolyard. Suddenly, three more girls materialize and we start a game of copy-cat: I perform a silly movement, and they repeat it. The bold little girl stays with her arms wrapped around my waist, smiling and laughing up at me. Soon, ten more girls and a few boys gather. We come up with a little song and dance full of laughing and play.

The other clowns finish packing and load into the vans. It’s time to go. I tell them goodbye and thank you, in Arabic. The little girl keeps holding on. When I kneel down to give her a hug, she kisses me on the cheek and says, in clear English, “I love you!” I was a little surprised and in the pause before I could respond, she says again, more emphatically, “I. Love. You!” She squeezes me even tighter. I say back to her, “I love you,” and blow her a kiss. She repeats, and this time the kiss she throws is so powerful it knocks me backward.

The game begins and the other kids join in! I say, “I love you!” and blow a kiss that they all catch. Then they yell, “I LOVE YOU!” and all blow kisses that knock me backwards. This continues until I’m cornered against the van. My little friend grabs my arm, pulls me down and wraps her arms around me for one last hug and kiss on the cheek. I wave from the window, “I love you,” and blow one last kiss that she catches and holds to her cheek. As the vans pulls away, the group of kids chase us down the street blowing kisses and laughing. This one tiny heart came up with a game that could change the world—the I LOVE YOU game.

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