I feel terrible. I’ve been really sick for a few days now with some kind of flu / head cold and the heat is not helping.
The truck bounces down the dusty dirt road. On both sides of the vehicle there is very little, just gravel, dust, some thorny bushes, and some small hills in the distance. Every time it bounces my stomach lurches a little.
We approach the outskirts of the refugee camp: row after row of mud huts with corrugated iron roofs, and not much else. We stop at a market, the normal starting point for each show. We’re already all dressed up, noses on and it’s time to suck it up and stop feeling sorry for myself. We pile out of the truck and the laughs begin.
People don’t really know what to think of us. There are no clowns in their cultures. Wazungu (white people) are normally very serious people who ask them lots of questions and write things down on papers. We wear bright colors, have strange big red noses and do not act like normal wazungu. We act like the fools we are, juggling and playing strange instruments and riffing off whatever the kids and older locals do. Pretty soon we have a large group of curious people following us, pointing, laughing and wondering what the heck this group of weirdos is doing in their camp.
We lead them to a nearby open space and we try to arrange everyone in a big circle so we can have a stage to work with. We draw a line in the dirt, but the circle always gets smaller and smaller through the show as people creep slowly forward. We get the crowd making some noise to try and draw more people. The crowd grows each time we finish a bit and there is applause and cheers.
At first people aren’t really sure what we are doing but fairly soon they realize these idiots are just here to have some fun and we thrill and amaze them with circus skills and amuse them with slapstick and general idiocy. By the time the show ends, everybody wants a part of us. Usually this just means they want to touch us or say a few words to us. Sometimes it means we need to wrestle our props in the car so they don’t disappear. By the end of the show I feel much better, getting energy from the smiles and cheers we receive. We drive off and crowds of kids chase after the truck, yelling and laughing, with stories to tell their friends and family who missed the show.
We are told we are the first people in 25 years who have come here just to entertain the locals. These are forgotten people, who have run from their homes, taking only what they can carry. They come from various conflicts in the region. They are mainly from South Sudan and Sudan, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, and a handful of other countries. More arrive every day, at the moment from South Sudan, but conflicts break out regularly around here, so who knows where the next group will be from. More houses are built all the time to try and keep up. There are now 185,000 people here and counting. The older parts of the camp are more established with bigger markets and much more shade. The newer parts are pretty stark. Everyone here wants to get a ticket to the promised lands in America, Canada, Europe, and wherever they can get to. But only 1% are resettled in this way. The rest stay here and eke out some kind of survival on the handouts they get from the World Food Program.
We only hear good reviews. Both from people in the camp who thank us profusely for what we are doing, and also from the UN workers who keep telling us how wonderful it is to hear laughs coming from these people from whom they normally only hear bad stories and tears. We realize our work here is not only with the refugees, but also with those who work with them, whose lives are also lacking in joy and play, and filled with the sorrow of the hundreds of thousands of people they are trying to help. Our weekend show attracts a truck full of UN workers, all needing a little of the medicine we prescribe.