Water; None. Hospitality; Abundant.

Clown’s Without Borders USA just finished dinner. We returned from the second installment of our three-part tour at around 7:00 pm exhausted, dirty, and happy. We’d been performing in rural Santa Marta, and it’s neighboring communities, for the past three days. The tour is comprised of four clowns, a CWB USA coordinator, a bus driver, and a local coordinator. Our show is a patchwork of outrageous clowns, ridiculous routines, music, and audience participation, and it is our great delight to discover remote, underserved, people, in order to exchange laughter and make new friends.

Our first stop was in a small, beautiful town named Victoria, where we performed in a clean bright Plaza where bougainvillea grows over its walkways. The fifty or so audience members that met us there laughed and smiled and played with us with little reservation. Afterward, we made a few radio spots for the local radio station, grabbed lunch, witnessed a lenten procession, and headed further up the road.

The community of Santa Marta’s history and present state holds my attention and grips my heart. The families here are the survivors of a government sanctioned massacre at the dawn of the Salvadoran Civil War in November 1981. The Salvadoran government laid waste to the entire community, brutally murdering it’s members, killing the livestock, and burning their homes as a means to disable the opposing leftist guerillas in the region. Painfully, the helicopters, tanks, and weapons used by the Salvadoran military were bought in part with money given to them by the U.S. The helicopters were from the U.S. So heartbreaking.

Talking to our local coordinator, she explained how two thousand community members we forced to flee barefoot, carrying their children in their arms, when the military struck the community at full force, in the night. Adults, the elderly, and the very young fled into the countryside and then crossed the river into Honduras seeking refuge. Hundreds died horrifying deaths that I can’t bear to tell you about. Even after escaping El Salvador with their lives, survivors watched their babies die of dysentery, and endured persecution from local Hondurans.

Santa Marta community El Sal 2016
Cabañas, a community center where the clowns performed in Santa Marta, El Salvador.

Miraculously, through international and domestic support, efforts to reestablish communities destroyed by the civil war, like Santa Marta, look to be fruitful. Families who survived in spite of great odds have organized and rebuilt. Clowns Without Borders USA were welcomed into the community and given shelter in the homes of locals. I stayed with a wonderful couple and their two SUPER adorable children. They treated me like I was a member of their family and their sweet daughter gave us her bedroom to stay in and showed us how to turn on her Hello Kitty nightlight. Witnessing and experiencing a day-in-the life of this family was moving. It frustrates me to know the daily struggles Salvadorans, like my host family, navigate in order to get by every day.

To give you an idea of how families in Santa Marta live, when we arrived, our host family checked to see if we had packed water, because Santa Marta hadn’t received water in 31 days. This is very bad. Water is delivered, community to community, by the government or other service providers.  I wasn’t certain how often water lines were scheduled to be opened and pumped to Santa Marta, but when we arrived everyone was almost entirely out of water. Little fish swam in water containers, diligently eating malaria-bearing mosquito eggs and larva, keeping the still water from becoming a health hazard. When the water came on our second day, we awoke to a town full of people busily filling reservoir-like sinks, cisterns, and enormous barrels. Relief!

We performed two shows and gave one workshop in Santa Marta. The first was on a beat up basketball court under a hot sun. My clown, Cacahuata, gets a new boyfriend every show, but finding a volunteer for the job at that show was hard, in spite of the many men in attendance. Many audiences we performed before in El Salvador were shy. At last, a very kind, handsome fellow was finally coaxed onto the stage. I stole a kiss from him and the audience erupted with laughter. So good!

Later in the day, my volunteer boyfriend participated in our workshop for young people in Santa Marta who have a desire to practice clown and create theatre. I had such a wonderful time observing Lucho, Gabi, and Giovanni lead exercises and games for the group. Everyone was a teenager except for one smallish fellow who looked to be seven or eight but was probably a bit older. Out of a group of fifteen or so, he was a standout for strength and engagement in our activities. Lucho taught us the most amazing series of practices where we paired off into twos and counted together, each participant taking turns saying “1, 2, or 3” to one another. Then we would add a clap or absurd gesture to the 1 to 3 count. It got crazy, but as a group I think we all got very focused on our partners and learned to listen better. I’d say that the skill of listening is extremely important to communicating, clowning, and life. Those young people were awesome.

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