Robin Lara writes about the culture shock of navigating Zimbabwean rules and regulations, and the universal joy of thousands of laughing kids.
September 15, 2019
Our first two shows in Zimbabwe are tomorrow! There are four of us clowns: two Zimbabwean, one South African, and me! We’ve spent three days in intense rehearsal, creating tons of new material for kids here in Harare.
On Tuesday, we begin a long journey to the far reaches of the eastern border. We will spend four days and 8 shows in a refugee camp that currently houses 10,000 people, and will perform in small rural villages along the multi-day drive each way. So far, I’ve loved learning beloved songs in Shona, the language here. Apparently the crowds are going to be very tickled when they see a white lady speaking Shona, and I can’t wait to share their laughter.
Things are very different here, more so than any other place I’ve been. Africa lives by its own rules. Over the past few days, I’ve had to learn an entirely new and precarious system of using money [At this time, Zimbabwe does not have an official currency]; been woken up at 6am by the hostel telling me I have a phone call, which turned out to be someone trying to lure me to a fake meeting; completely broken my leaf blower charger, which is essential to our show; and spent three hours this morning in intense, vomit-y abdominal pain from my anti-malaria pill, which I have to take again when I wake up. Tomorrow is a new day, and even though it’s been up and down, the ups are so so sweet I genuinely can’t wait to find out what the day has in store.
September 17, 2019
I love my clown name this trip! It’s Chingua, given to me by one of the Zimbabwean clowns. In Shona, the language they speak here, it means “white bread.” It suits me well! Everyone laughs when they hear my name, and after the show they call it to get my attention.
Before our second show, we come up to a long wall of classrooms with big glass windows. As soon as the children see us through the glass, there’s no chance of the teachers holding their attention. I smush my face and body up against each window, classroom by classroom, and the whole school is in chaos.
As we test our barely functioning speaker in front of one of the classrooms, the kids pour out and it turns into a dance party. The minister of our partner organization even joins in! His wife can’t believe how much he’s cutting loose.
After we set up at our second show, I walk through the school grounds and find 1,000 kids in orderly lines, on their way to the performance. They’re silent, walking with their hands behind their backs. Much to their teachers’ chagrin, I start making faces and weaving through the lines, saying “excuse me,” over and over. Now they’re much less orderly, and definitely giggling.
We start the show and They. Are. Ready! There is something completely unreal about a collective scream of delight coming from 1,000 children, all at once. I feel it throughout my entire body and am pulled so fully into the present moment.
It’s been hard these first few days. We’ve had to work through so many obstacles and it’s easy to complain, which I’ve done a lot. But right after the first show I have a moment of realization. These kids—the ones who rush us for a group hug, who are so excited that they yell out a repetition of everything we say onstage, who are breathing in dusty red soil all day with none of the daily conveniences we take for granted—they’re why I’m here. I’m fully reminded that I come on CWB – USA tours knowing it’s going to be difficult and uncomfortable, and I’ll be tired, grumpy, and sore. But I don’t feel any of that in this moment. I only feel joy, and I know that I would do anything to be here.
We’re the first group to come and offer this type of work as a humanitarian effort in Zimbabwe. There are aid workers who bring food and medicine, but the idea of bringing joy as a healing service is brand new. What a great opportunity to show how impactful this work can be!