Large semi-trucks whoosh past as we sit roadside, chewing coca leaves to combat the altitude. Josie practices tossing her juggling clubs skyward while Washington Taco (AKA ‘Guacho’), our fearless local companion and driver, shakes his head and examines the smoking minivan engine. Unseasonal rains have caused a series of landslides, converting the four-hour drive from rainforest town Lago Agrio to mountainous Tulcan into a 12-hour journey. Now it seems our chariot has collapsed under the added strain. “We’re going to need to stay the night in Quito,” Guacho informs us.
Awaiting the tow truck gives us time for a roadside version of our daily “check in,” an opportunity to reflect on our most recent whirlwind tour stop of six shows over two days in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.
“Quien más tiene un sueño?” (Who else has a dream?) Darina the Chicken asks the crowd of 150 children at a school in Lago Agrio, with large Venezuelan and Colombian immigrant and refugee populations. Hands shoot up in the air: “Princess!” “Policeman!” “My dream is to have MORE dreams,” a clever twist on asking a genie for more wishes. “Yo tambien tengo sueño,” the multitalented clown Lars informs the crowd, capitalizing on the double entendre of ‘sueño’: It can mean either goals or sleepiness. He then promptly falls asleep standing, inciting the delighted laughter of the crowd.
We learn early on that each show will have a life of its own. From sound quality and audience age to the general level of magic in the air, we can’t anticipate which factors will influence the outcome or feel of any particular show. What we can count on is the hope and joyful smiles and stares of the children who approach us post-show, seeking a close-up view and interaction with these crazy clowns:
“Can I touch your nose?”
“I want to be a clown too.”
“Are you coming back tomorrow?”
“When are you coming back?”
The socioeconomic situation in Venezuela has become so dire that families undertake the perilous 1,000+ mile journey to Ecuador—often on foot—for a chance at something better. Once they arrive, they encounter growing xenophobia and an impenetrable job market. Many take to the informal market, selling sandwiches or other items to get by.
Our hour-long show filled with music, juggling, storytelling, and magic did not change the formidable challenges these families face. But for a few minutes it was easy to believe chickens can fly and immigrants can overcome tough odds to build a life for themselves in Ecuador.