Working to restore mental and emotional health

Kosova had to be the most demanding conflict zone that I have visited, and much more intense once centered in Gjakova. The first segment in Prizren involved much travel to perform in different parts of Kosova. We often traveled in the Payasos Sin Fronteras truck (Richard’s lorry that has been painted with PSF logos) that had traveled from Barcelona originally to the refugee camps in Albania. Both Richard, an English circus artist (trapeze, acrobatics) and Paco, PSF logistician, had been working together first in Albania and then in Kosova for the past two and a half months. Together we worked hard all week under extreme heat wave conditions to the joy of many people. Certain shows bordered on complete chaos due to the extreme excitement of the kids. Other shows were warm and tender. When we traveled to the inauguration of several ‘safe areas’, schoolyards generally that had been de-mined, we were part of a ceremony that included incredibly fervent speeches by kids full of words like massacra and victima followed by strong patriotic singing. The security measure given to me the first night was ‘asphalt’ and for three weeks beautiful rolling hills and the steep inclines of Albanian mountains beckoned but remained off-limits. Prizren, however, was safe and in town life seemed quasi normal and the small old town was very full of young adults in the evening bars, cafes and the streets full of conversation.

Gjakova provided a very different experience as the MSF office and house, an oasis, was right in the destroyed old town. The destroyed rubble had been cleared out of the houses and all that remained standing were the side and back walls of the structures, rows of once white walls lining the streets. Blackened holes where windows once lived constantly punctuated the landscape. On market day, Monday, some of the merchants returned, setting up tables in front of their shops and selling. This was a great contrast to Prizren which was bustling on market days and all the stores on the main street were full of merchandise for sale with displays and mannequins set up on the sidewalks.

Working under the umbrella of the Medicos sin Fronteras (Spain) was a very different experience from the usual PSF expedition as MSF is very well equipped. A fleet of 6 Toyota land cruisers and other 4 wheel drive vehicles, plus a local staff of drivers, secretaries and translators to support the ‘team’ of seven. Everyone uses big fat walkie talkies, radios, with a 20- 40-kilometer range to keep in touch. I was driven to all my gigs and called on the radio to get a ride back. As opposed to the week in Prizren, while in Gjakova I never left the city.

The work in Gjakova (pop. 40,000) proved very fulfilling and demanding. The shows were in the elementary schools that were yet to be in session. Therefore announcements were placed on the local radio to tell where the shows would be taking place. In some schools I played for maybe 100 kids whereas others I would be overwhelmed by 300-400 kids. My last show in Kosova was a show at the municipal theatre with Pepe. It was free to the public and standing room only (605 capacity). The show was very lively and well received despite being mobbed on stage by kids just as the show closed with Pepe and I singing my “Going down the Road” song at double time rocker speed with Ukulele and Guitar. (Pepe by this time had lost one string to his guitar and was unable to find a replacement string in Kosova.)

Hospital Visits:

The visits to the Gjakova Hospital as Dr Yoowho were greeted with great enthusiasm by both hospital staff and patients. Regular visits were established every other day during my presence in Gjakova. Dr. Yoowho visited both the pediatrics ward and the rehabilitation clinic. In pediatrics, I did performances in an open space with the children sitting on nice little wooden chairs and relatives and nurses created a circular standing audience. Pepe Viguela accompanied me one time and together we created a wonderful show for a large group of patients, parents and nurses. After the show I would then conduct room visits to both the small two person rooms as well as the larger eight bed units, focusing on the rooms with mothers and younger sick children. I also visited the rehabilitation clinic with both mine victims and broken limb type patients. The children and adult patients were in mixed rooms, 4 to a room thus I found himself working with both several young kids and several young men with revolutionary clothing hanging on the chairs by their beds. The situation worked rather well although the last day an aggressive new male patient with a foot amputation (mine) made the energy on the edge and slightly threatening. I slipped in occasional side conversations of non-verbal nature to the men to indicate that the purpose of this visit was for the children. Aside from the show element of the visits, bubbles, music and magic were the big successes. Due to the depleted physical condition of the hospital (the Serbs stole most medical equipment and destroyed the rest), the clown doctor visits seemed essential to the mental health of the young patients. There was no apparent child-life program established at the hospital. Note that due to severe shortage of any hospital equipment, some typical clown doctor material was eliminated (such as blowing up latex gloves).


As part of the mental health program established between Payasos Sin Fronteras and MSF-Spain, I cooperated with occupational therapist Salvador, and created a series of workshops designed to relieve post-traumatic stress and work with children in mental health prevention.

The focus of the work was a combination of Qi-Gong style exercises, corporeal mime work, and clown movement expression exercises I’d developed. The work was first taught to the teachers in a series of early evening sessions in the MSF office/house garden. The work stressed developing safe methods to express some of the difficult emotions resulting from the conflict with both physical and verbal expression. Mime techniques were taught to allow teachers to conduct storytelling sessions with the children. The program emphasized physical balance and with the Qi-Gong, a sense of harmony. I began and ended the sessions with circle rituals. The teachers and I then cooperated to teach three sessions to the children at one school on the large outside playground. The children were eager and fully engaged in the workshop. The sound of 120 children being wolves howling at the moon brought many neighbors running to peer over the school fence to see what was happening. The teachers expressed the opinion that this work was very important and directly touched the children.

Share this: